By Ravinder Singh
GEORGETOWN, Malaysia--When people put their personal interests before those of the public at large they become unable to see, nor are concerned about the long term future, i.e. real long-time running into centuries ahead. Their vision is limited to here and now, and at most the very near future during their active lifetime at the most.
Those gunning the NGO's which are standing up to the Penang State government's grandiose money making project in the Bay of Teluk Kumbar say that they "really can't fathom why the Penang NGOs and the Penang State Opposition parties are against the Penang South Reclamation (PSR) Project. The PSR is supposed to breathe life into Penang at a time when we are suffocating economically from the effects brought about by the Covid-19 Pandemic. Why cut that lifeline?" [Frightening link between job loss and suicides, NST June 26, 2021].
That the PSR will breathe life into Penang which is "suffocating economically from the effects brought about by the Covid-19 Pandemic" is a joke.
The project "is expected to generate over 300,000 jobs by 2050". That's not during today's Covid-19 Pandemic period! And they don't say that most of those jobs will be for cheap foreign labour, or for modern day slaves.
Some of the undeniable facts are:
1. The fishermen (about 5,000 of them) are very gainfully self employed.
2. The fishermen are not demanding that the government provide them jobs in "safe working environments" on land as fishing in the sea is a very dangerous vocation.
3. The hard, noble work of the fishermen is not for self enrichment as is the mentality of the corporate figures that compete to outdo each other and amass financial wealth. Those fighting tooth and nail for the PSR to proceed fall into this category of selfish, self-centred people.
4. Fishing (particularly inshore fishing) is a one-of-its-kind industry that does not need human input to obtain the final product (as is the case in factories). Thus it is an industry without risks of going bankrupt and laying off large numbers of employees. What is the guarantee that the FDI's that are being worshipped as miracle "solutions" to employment, GDP etc. will still be such lovable things in future centuries? If they are not, could the three PSR islands be dismantled and the rich fishing ground that the place was be restored for fishing again? So should one out of greed be so callous to gamble and destroy a nature-given food-producing area for posterity?
5. At a time when the world (i.e. planet earth) is in such dire environmental straits and world food security is threatened, shouldn't FOOD SECURITY be top of the agenda of any wise government?
6. Fishing in the Bay of Teluk Kumbar is not just about the 5,000 fishermen, but much more -it's an industry that provides sea-food (a very important component of Malaysian diet) to tens of thousands of people daily. Should all these consumer be denied affordable sea-food that provides them cheap protein so that the rich can make more money?
7. Destroying the rich fishing grounds in the Bay of Teluk Kumbar amounts to killing a very critical food producing industry that has run for hundreds of years without being dependent on "raw material sourcing" (as factories do) and that can go on and on for as long as there are people on Penang Island. Is this the wisdom of today's materialistic government?
8. Fishing jobs are available to anyone anytime as they don't depend on paper qualifications, vacancies, interviews, etc. All that is needed is grit. Thus fishermen's children don't have to worry about white collar jobs. There was a young Malay graduate from Kuala Lumpur who went to Singapore and worked as a garbage collector, remember? When circumstances demand it, fishermen's children will take to the sea like ducklings take to water, even if they have acquired degrees.
9. Does the Penang government not want ordinary people to be self-employed (e.g.as fishermen), but to be slaves clothed as employees in factories (whether foreign or local) to help the rich become richer and to be at their mercy for a livelihood?
Instead of blindly gunning the NGO's, the champions of the PSR should, with a conscience, study what government experts in fisheries and the environment have said in official documents as follows:
(A) The Penang state fisheries director wrote, in a letter dated 26 January 2021, to the Malaysian Fisheries Development Board (LKIM) for Penang state:
"Secara dasarnya Jabatan Perikanan Malaysia TIDAK MENYOKONG dengan cadangan tersebut kerana projek tersebut akan membawa kemusnahan kekal kepada ekosistem perikanan seluas 4,500 ekar dan memberikan impak negatif yang sangat besar kepada sumber perikanan, sosioekonomi nelayan dan jaminan bekalan makanan (food security)".
"Principally the Malaysian Fisheries Department DOES NOT SUPPORT the said proposal because the project will cause permanent destruction to the 4,500 acre fisheries ecosystem and have very great negative impact on fishery resources, socio-economy status of the fishermen and food security".
(B) The Director General of Environment wrote, in a letter dated 25 June 2019, to the Penang State Secretary:
"Pihak Jabatan ini ingin menarik perhatian pihak Kerajaan Negeri Pulau Pinang bahawa pembangunan projek akan menyebabkan kemusnahan kekal dan residual impact ke atas ekosistem dataran lumpur (mudflat), fishing ground, kawasan pendaratan penyu, dan sebahagian terumbu karang di Pulau Rimau yang merupakan ekosistem penting kepada sumber perikanan. Kemusnahan kekal ini akan memberi impak negatif yang signifikan kepada sumber perikanan, nelayan dan jaminan sumber bekalan makanan negara".
"This Department would like to draw the attention of the Penang State government that development of the project will cause permanent destruction and residual impact on the mudflat ecosystem, the fishing grounds, turtle landing sites, and parts of the coral reefs in Pulau Rimau which are an important ecosystem for fisheries resources. This permanent destruction will have significant negative impact on fishery resources, the fishermen and food security for the nation."
So the Penang government and its supporters who are ruling party members and people with business interests like real-estate and tourism should not resort to telling untruths to Penangites. The NGO's are only highlighting the concerns expressed by government experts as above. Strong objections to the PSR have also been voiced by researchers and academics, politicians from the Penang ruling coalition (e.g. Nurul Izzah of PKR) and from other parties.
In this age of global climate change, food security and health issues, it is not making money that should top the agenda of those in power, but the well being of the ordinary masses, and FOOD SECURITY should take top place. The Bay of Teluk Kumbar, a 4,500 acre expense of rich sea-food producing area should not, at any cost, be destroyed for posterity.
Note to Editor:
Attached is a picture of a catch from the Bay of Teluk Kumbar - ikan kembung and big prawns. These are not found in "shallow muddy water"; [ as the bay was described by YB Zairil ]. PSR will permanently destroy the breeding grounds of this sea-life that is important food for tens of thousands of people daily.