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‘EIA approval is a Raya gift’

‘EIA approval is a Raya gift’

Published by TheStar • 4/5/2023

The Penang South Islands project involves the reclamation and development of three islands covering 1,820ha. The project’s EIA report has been approved.


FISHERMEN who support the Penang South Islands (PSI) project, which recently obtained its Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report approval, are rejoicing in what they describe as a “Hari Raya gift”.


Fajinah Jaafar, 62, said the news brought joy to her household because they had been waiting for the project to kick off for years.


“We are thankful to God for making this wish come true. Alhamdulillah. It is with God’s will that the project EIA report was approved,” said the fisherwoman from Permatang Tepi Laut.


Fellow Permatang Tepi Laut fisherman Zazali Sirun, 55, also said it was much-welcome news.

‘This project is for our children and grandchildren, not us. We must think about their future,’ said Permatang Tepi Laut fisherman Zazali Sirun.


“When the project is ready, investors and tourists will come from all over the world. Our economy will become stronger. There will be many benefits and opportunities. This project is for our children and grandchildren, not us. We must think about their future,” said the father of six, adding that all his children were supportive of PSI and looked forward to finding opportunities in the development.


PSI is a mega project off the southern coast of Penang island that involves the reclamation and development of three islands covering 1,820ha – Island A (930ha), Island B (566ha) and Island C (324ha).


In a recent press statement, Penang Infrastructure Corporation (PIC) said the new 283ha Green Tech Park on Island A for high-tech industries of the future would create over 460,000 jobs and generate a forecasted GDP of RM2.2tril by 2050.


PIC, the Penang government’s special purpose vehicle to implement the PSI project, said the state would continue to implement the Social Impact Management Plan (SIMP) which benefits fishermen from nine fishermen units in southern Penang Island.


The SIMP includes financial aid, larger boats with more powerful engines and modern equipment for boat owners, new jetties, training, job and business opportunities, and education support for fishermen’s children.


The project will also provide a 250m-wide navigation channel that ensures fishermen 24-hour access to the sea. Currently, the fishermen must wait for high tide to venture out.


Lose the ‘backward thinking’


The fishermen supportive of the project all agreed that Penang must continue to progress for the next generation.


“Let’s shed this backward-thinking mindset,” Fajinah said.


“Some of the anti-PSI groups talk about losing fishing ground, but the PSI site is not where fishermen get their 20kg to 40kg of shrimp.


“They get them near the first and second Penang Bridges. The piers of the bridges have become artificial reefs. That’s why fishermen have painted numbers on the piers to mark their fishing territories,” she said.


Fajinah brushed off comments that the reclamation project would bring about disasters.


“Not all developments lead to disasters. People who say so must think they are gods,” she said.

‘We have the right to support any development that brings long-term economic benefits to Penang and Malaysia,’ said Sungai Batu fisherman Haris Abdullah.


Sungai Batu fisherman Haris Abdullah, 62, said fishing activities would continue and fishermen would not be “wiped out” by the project.


“The sea is not a swimming pool that dries up when filled with sand. Fishermen can go further south, east or west of the reclamation site to catch fish. The fishing zone is huge,” he said.


Teluk Kumbar fisherman Lye Phaik Soon, 56, has no doubt that fishermen could continue to make a living during and after the reclamation.


The sea would recover, he said, adding that the fishermen could go further out to catch fish.

“The biggest threat to coastal fishermen is not PSI but trawlers that encroach into our coastal fishing zone, damaging the seabed and marine breeding areas.


“It is a serious problem that needs the government’s immediate attention. Trawlers are the ones that are truly affecting our livelihoods, not the reclamation project,” he said.


Last Wednesday, Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow announced that the project’s EIA report had been approved with 71 conditions. Reclamation works are targeted to begin in the third quarter of this year after the project’s Environmental Management Plan (EMP) is approved.

‘The biggest threat to coastal fishermen is not PSI but trawlers that encroach into our coastal fishing zone,’ said Teluk Kumbar fisherman Lye Phaik Soon.


‘Punished’ for supporting PSI


PSI supporters like Fajinah and Haris feel vindicated when news of the EIA approval came, as they and others like them have been ostracised by their own fishermen association.


The leadership of Pen Mutiara and the local fishermen units in Permatang Tepi Laut, Sungai Batu, Teluk Kumbar and Gertak Sanggul have led the attacks against PSI, and fishermen who support the project have lost their unit memberships and faced difficulty renewing their insurance, boat licences and getting federal aid like fuel subsidy and cost of living allowance for fisherfolk.


Fajinah and Haris both lost their unit memberships, and Haris said they were treated like “criminals”.


“We could not renew our vessel licence. We were denied the federal aid we are entitled to, and we were instructed to lodge police reports to retract our support for PSI.


“It is unfair. We have the right to support any development that brings long-term economic benefits to Penang and Malaysia. None of us committed any crime,” he said.


For Zazali, he never had any problems with his unit in his 20 years as a fisherman until he supported PSI.


He lost his unit membership, and when his licence was expiring in April last year, he was told by the unit that his licence could not be renewed because it had been blacklisted.


He said there was no formal explanation why his licence had been blacklisted, but he was told to make a police report to retract his support for PSI and cancel his SIMP registration.


“Why would I lodge a police report when no crime has been committed? Why should I reject the SIMP when it is the most comprehensive package offered to fishermen?” he said.


Fishermen who stood their ground like Zazali needed to find other ways to get their paperwork endorsed for submission to the relevant agencies. He had to turn to Pusat Perkhidmatan Setempat Nelayan (PPSN) for help.


According to PPSN – which was set up by the state government in fishermen villages in Permatang Damar Laut, Sungai Batu and Gertak Sanggul – more than 80 fishermen had sought help from them to renew their licences and insurance, and apply for fuel subsidy and cost of living allowance as of the end of last month.


Zazali advised other fishermen in the same predicament that they need not have to renew their insurance – a prerequisite for their boat licence – only with their unit leader.


“Now, my insurance is from a different company and that’s not an issue. There is no need to rely on the unit for insurance after all.”


He urged his fellow fishermen not to listen to others but to think and decide for themselves about the PSI development – for their children and grandchildren’s future.

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