Introduce public consultation guidelines


CAP is compelled to respond to the unwarranted outburst by Penang Chief Minister YB Lim Guan Eng on CAP’s complaint on the lack of public consultation by the State Government on some recent mega projects.

The mega projects in question are the construction of a 6.5 km Gurney Drive-Bagan Ajam undersea tunnel, 12 km road connecting Tanjung Bungah-Teluk Bahang, 4.2 km Gurney Drive-Lebuhraya Tun Dr. Lim Chong Eu bypass and 4.6 km Lebuhraya Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu-Bandar Baru Air Itam bypass.

We reiterate our earlier press statement, namely, that there has been no public consultation on these mega projects.

CAP is shocked to note that both the Chief Minister and his Pegawai Khas Encik Zairil Khir Johari appear to have no understanding of the objects and process of public consultation.

Briefing NGOs generally on the mega projects and making statements about them to the press or in the State Assembly do not constitute public consultation.

Public consultation involves engaging the public at the earliest stage of the decision-making process, providing adequate information about the projects and giving due consideration to the representations and views made by individuals and civil society organisations. Such a process has not been adopted by the State Government with regard to the mega projects. A good example of public consultation is the ongoing process in developing a Transport Master Plan for Penang and the Special Area Plan for the Botanic Gardens.

The key question is: Before signing a Memorandum of Understanding and calling for request proposals for construction of these mega projects, was a preliminary study carried out with regard to the need for, and viability of, these projects, as well as their economic, social and environmental impacts? If such a study has been carried out, why was the information not shared with the public for them to make useful representations to the authorities? It would be disastrous to embark on these projects involving huge costs and serious economic, social and environmental impacts without such a study.

Encik Zairil gave reducing traffic congestion as the reason for implementing these mega projects. The State Government has already engaged consultants to prepare a Transport Master Plan, and the question arises as to why a decision was taken on these mega projects as a solution for traffic congestion even before the consultants had made their recommendations.

It is instructive to note that in response to press queries whether the projects were part of the Transport Master Plan, the Chief Minister responded by characterising these projects as a “bonus”. The notion of a bonus is something that is additional to what has been agreed. Presumably, the Chief Minister has persuaded himself that he is giving the people of Penang a gift in addition to what they bargained for. That may very well be so, but the point is that this is effectively an admission that the projects were never part of the Transport Master Plan. The attempt to pass them off as a “bonus” cannot make them so.

If the government is serious about practising the CAT principle with regard to large public projects, then it should introduce and implement guidelines on public participation. The British government and, in Australia, State Governments have implemented such guidelines. The British guidelines provide that “formal consultation should take place at a stage when there is scope to influence the policy outcome”.

CAP would like to emphasise that our comments and criticism of policies and projects are made solely in the public interest and not designed to advance any political or party interest. For over 45 years we have criticized, without fear or favour, projects and policies which do not bring long-term benefits to society and which have serious adverse social and environmental impacts. We will continue to do so.

In the interest of our people and nation, it is vital that Malaysian politicians, NGOs and the media should embrace a culture of debate and discussion in a spirit of mutual respect.  Most importantly, those who hold public office must always be prepared to accept public criticisms and respond to them with due decorum.

Press Statement, 12 March 2012