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Reaching out to coastal stakeholders

Reaching out to coastal stakeholders

Published by The Star• 20/11/2021

The Gertak Sanggul PPSN is a well-visited resource centre for fishermen in the area, and its existence had also triggered the setting up of several small businesses around it, which is an encouraging sign of the potential for spillover from the proposed reclamation.

TRADITIONAL fishermen based in the southern part of Penang island are expected to be impacted in various ways by the proposed Penang South Reclamation (PSR), a state government project to add three islands adjacent to the Penang International Airport.


The proponent of the 1,821ha project that is expected to be developed over 20 to 50 years has reached out to these stakeholders for the past seven years in various ways.


In 2016, it built the first service centre – Pusat Perkhidmatan Setempat Nelayan (PPSN) – for fishermen at Permatang Damar Laut, followed by another at Gertak Sanggul in 2017.


In October this year, another PPSN was set up at Sungai Batu, and will be officially opened on Dec 11. At the same time, the PPSN at Gertak Sanggul and Permatang Damar Laut were renovated this year so that they could be more effective in serving the local community.


The setting up of the PPSN has been invaluable in helping Penang update the list of fishermen to ensure only the truly deserving get to enjoy the benefits to be given out under PSR’s comprehensive Social Impact Management Plan (SIMP).

Ismail Lai’s crumbling fibreglass fishing boat which is around 30 years old illustrates the plight of traditional fishermen in the southern part of Penang island, which roundly stand to benefit from comprehensive assistance should PSR go ahead.

Joint investigations involving the Fisheries Development Authority of Malaysia (LKIM), the Fisheries Department (DOF), as well as the state government under the auspices of PPSN found that there are currently 952 fishermen from nine fishery units in the Penang island south area.


Of this number, about 450 of them are from Tier 1 areas – places expected to be directly impacted by the reclamation – such as Permatang Tepi Laut, Sungai Batu, Teluk Kumbar and Gertak Sanggul.


Through these community service centres, the state government was able to reach out to these stakeholders in a transparent manner, and garnered feedback on what they wanted in terms of welfare and long-term wellbeing.


Essentially, there are three key types of stakeholders, namely those who wish to remain as fishermen, those who are keen to explore new job opportunities, and not forgetting the children of the fishermen. Each group has their specific individual needs and the SIMP is carefully crafted to meet these needs.


Facilitating the continuity of traditional fisheries and more


Those who want to continue fishing during and after the reclamation will be given financial and material assistance to ensure they will be able to continue with their preferred life.


For eligible claimants under PSR, the state government will provide ex-gratia of RM20,000 to each skipper (tekong), in addition to new boats and engines. The sum will be transferred to the recipients directly, rather than going through any intermediary, to curb any possible misappropriation.

An immediate beneficiary from PSR is the daughter of a fisherman from Penang south, Zuraini Mad Zin, who is now a senior information officer at the PPSN.

In this regard, the ex-gratia offered is rather substantial compared to previous reclamation projects in Penang. For example, the ex-gratia for a boat skipper for reclamation for the Second Penang Bridge, Jelutong, and the north-east coast (Seri Tanjung Pinang) ranges from RM5,000 to RM15,000.


The state will also build four all-tidal-level jetties supported by a 250m-wide dredged channel to enable these fishermen to have round-the-clock access to the sea, which is not the case currently as they are at the mercy of the tides due to the shallow mudflat near to the proposed reclamation site.


Improving accessibility to education and employment


For those who are ready to move on to other professions, or to supplement their income from fishing, approximately 600 job opportunities – mainly in construction – will be offered as soon as reclamation begins. This will address the core problem of low income faced by these artisanal fishermen, many of whom also take on part-time jobs to make ends meet.


Approximately a third of the job opportunities are marine-related and can easily be taken up by the fishermen with minimum reskilling.

Saaroni Hasan, 71, a fisherman from Permatang Tepi Laut, said none of those who objected to PSR has stepped forward to offer structured assistance to traditional fishermen, especially those struggling with abject poverty.

When topside construction on the reclaimed islands is in full swing, up to 10,000 job opportunities may be created, in addition to various business opportunities.


Taking a long-term view, PSR’s social impact management plan also caters to young children of fishermen, so that they can be ready to enter the modern workforce that works in a safer and more stable environment, compared to artisanal fisheries.


There are plans to provide comprehensive support to enable the children to be future-ready (and break away from the poverty cycle) through free tuition for those sitting for the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia next year, as well as for other students when the new academic term begins next year.


In the near term, vocational training will also be given to those who are suited for it, while tertiary education scholarships will be dished out when PSR gets approval to proceed.


Immediate job creation and provision of relief to the community


Even before construction begins, these PPSN already managed to offer jobs to more than a dozen villagers, including some fishermen and their children.


With activities around PPSN picking up, there is also a spillover of business to stalls and other small businesses surrounding the PPSNs.

Even before construction begins, the PPSN already managed to offer jobs to more than a dozen villagers, including some fishermen and their children, such as Adam Ifwa Anuar, 23, the grandchild of a fisherman who was hired as an information officer in 2019.

Adam Ifwa Anuar, 23, the grandchild of a fisherman, was hired as an information officer in 2019. A graduate of the Balik Pulau Vocational College, Adam said he is not that academically inclined, and had worked various odd jobs, including at a plantation in Perak, before coming home to work for the PPSN.


“My vocational training has been put to beneficial use by doing all the wiring jobs at the PPSN, as well as other jobs that may be a bit too small to hire a contractor for,” said Adam, who added that he still helps his grandfather out as part of his fishing boat crew on his days off.


He added that some fishermen he knows had also signed up for courses that will make them navigators (jurumudi) that are certified by the Marine Department, after the invitation was extended through the various PPSN.


“With this Marine Department cert, they can also pilot small passenger boats in future, either to ferry construction workers around, or just to cater to tourists.


We have shortlisted the first batch of 10 fishermen for this course that should be held by this year,” said a senior information officer of the PPSN, Zuraini Mad Zin, who happens to be the daughter of a fisherman from Penang island south area.


Meanwhile, the Gertak Sanggul PPSN managed to reach out to a couple who fell on hard times after the head of the household, Mohd Ismail Lai Abdullah, 75, got into an accident. His wife, Siti Fatimah Abdullah, 59, said PPSN officers stepped up to help as soon as they learned of their plight.


Ismail and Siti Fatimah fish in their rickety 30-year-old boat that is in danger of disintegrating after decades of wear and tear. PPSN brought in an auditor to examine their boat, so that an appeal could be forwarded to authorities to expedite the approval for a new boat and engine, even though on principle, such aid is conditional upon PSR being given the green light.

The Gertak Sanggul PPSN managed to provide immediate relief for Mohd Ismail Lai Abdullah, 75, seen here with his wife Siti Fatimah Abdullah, 59, and their grandson, as the family grapples with poverty, which Siti Fatimah said will be addressed comprehensively if PSR can go on.

These days, fishermen also drop by at the various PPSN to try to make sense of yet another deferment of PSR caused by a technicality with the Environmental Impact Assessment.


“Those who objected to PSR and ‘won’ at the recent DOE hearing may feel good about themselves, but then, how does it change things for the rest of us? We are still living hand to mouth, and really need the assistance that comes with the PSR,” said Saaroni Hasan, 71, a fisherman from Permatang Tepi Laut.


For Siti Fatimah, there is little time to waste in uplifting her community from poverty.


“I want to see change in my life, and the reclamation has this promise of changing things for the better for all of us.”

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