Putrjaya must engage with Penang on Kulim International Airport

P Ramasamy

6 May 2019, 1:54 am

Updated 2 years ago


ADUN SPEAKS | Even if the federal government has agreed to the expansion of the Penang International Airport (PIA), that does not justify why there is a need for a new Kulim International Airport (KIA) in the new future.

The proposed new KIA is only 40km from the PIA, thus making it difficult to justify building it. If there is a feasibility study, this might be factored in the overall analysis, where there is a real and pressing need for an airport.

If the Alor Setar and Langkawi airports are not fully utilised in the northern region of the peninsula, the clamour for a new airport in Kulim, Kedah, cannot be rationally defended. However, Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad seems to be backing the project, even though the government might not have the funds.

Even if the proposed airport is the preference of Mahathir, however, as with all projects, there is a need for a feasibility study that includes social impact assessment, traffic impact assessment and environmental impact assessment, among others.

If the government cannot fund the proposed airport, it has been said that private financial initiatives (PFI) might be the answer. I believe such assistance has been sought by both state and federal officials. Whether such funding, running into billions of ringgit, might be forthcoming or not is not clear.

Even if private funding is solicited, this alone cannot justify the construction of the new airport.

Anticipating opposition from Penang, the KIA was justified on the grounds that it would be a cargo airport.

Such an argument was advanced by Kedah Menteri Besar Mukhriz Mahathir (photo, above) to ensure some degree of acceptance from the Penang state government.

If billions of ringgit are going to be spent for an airport, I don’t understand why it should just be for the purpose of handling cargo.

I don’t think the Penang government has bought this silly argument. It was brushed aside as something that lacked, not only credibility, but was illogical.

The need for a major development project such as an airport in Kedah, or in the northern region, must be viewed in a broader historical context of race relations and the desire on the part of the Malay-dominated BN to steer development and growth away from Penang.

Under the BN, Penang represented an odd one from other states, not only in its racial composition, but also in terms of urban development and commercialisation. It was the only state where non-Malays, principally Chinese, formed the majority.

The population configuration and the successful nature of commercial and economic development in Penang were an eyesore to those who wielded power at the federal level.

There have been numerous attempts in the past six decades or so by those in power to reduce the significance of Penang’s attraction in the northern region.

Penang’s International Airport can be considered as one of the busiest in Southeast Asia in terms of passenger usage. The other two international airports in Kedah, or the one in Ipoh, can hardly be compared to PIA, both in terms of the volume of passengers, as well as usage by airlines.

There is no logical reason for a new airport in Kulim other than to punish Penang for its success. The debate is not so much about the lack of funds or to opt for PFI.

The present Penang government is not against the proposed new airport; it merely wants the federal government to engage in negotiations so that the best- informed decision can be made.

Definitely, Penang does not want Putrajaya to unilaterally push through the project without engaging in negotiations, resulting in informed decisions.

I believe Putrajaya has failed to understand the sentiments of the people in Penang about the airport. They cannot assume that what is good for the federal government is necessarily good for the Penang state government.

Let me reiterate: we in Penang do not oppose the KIA project, but we want the federal government to listen to our views.

P RAMASAMY is the state assemblyperson for Perai. He is also deputy chief minister (II) for Penang.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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