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Fishermen are pictured mending their nets at Bayan Lepas June 16, 2021. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin
Fishermen are pictured mending their nets at Bayan Lepas June 16, 2021. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

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GEORGE TOWN, Sept 8 ― The Appeal Board under the Environmental Quality (Appeal Board) Regulations 2003 has set aside the environmental impact assessment (EIA) approval for the Penang South Reclamation (PSR) today.

The Appeal Board has allowed the preliminary objections submitted by fisherman, Zakaria Ismail, against the approval of the PSR EIA.

In allowing the objection, the approval by the Department of Environment (DoE) director general (DG) on the PSR EIA was also set aside as it was ultra vires, null and void.

Zakaria’s main lawyer Meenakshi Raman said this simply meant that the approval for the EIA is no longer valid.

“Since the decision of the approval for the EIA is not valid, the environmental management plan (EMP), which forms a small section of the EIA, is also not valid,” she told a press conference here.

Zakaria, who is the Sungai Batu fishermen unit chief, was representing 185 fishermen to appeal against the approval of the PSR EIA.

In his appeal, he stated that the approval by the DoE DG dated June 15 in 2019 for the EIA of the 4,500-acre reclamation project is not in accordance with the development plan or physical plan approved by the relevant approving authority.

The board agreed with his objections by stating that the EIA report was approved based on a draft structure plan that was not approved by the state authority yet.

The EIA application was made based on the draft Penang Structure Plan 2030 instead of the Penang Structure Plan 2020.

The approval for the EIA was given on June 15 in 2019 but at that time, the draft Penang Structure Plan 2030 was not legally effective yet as it was only assented by the governor on August 28 in 2019 and it was gazetted on October 24 in 2019.

The board states that the relevant plan at the time for the approval of the EIA was the Penang Structure Plan 2020, so therefore the approval of the EIA was not valid, null and void.

“The board did not need to consider any other grounds or the merits of this appeal,” it said in delivering its decision.

According to Meenakshi, this meant that the project owner of PSR will have to resubmit the EIA for approval by the DoE.

“They will have to go through the whole process of submission again, we don’t know if they will submit the same EIA or submit a fresh EIA this time,” she said.

She further said that the decision by the Appeal Board is final in accordance with the Environmental Quality Act.

“According to the act, once the decision is made by the appeals board, it is not appealable but lawyers can still take it up for judicial review,” she said.

Zakaria who was also present at today’s news conference, hailed the Appeal Board’s decision.

“This issue is not about me or the fishermen, it is important for all of us as this is about food security and we do not need an imbalance in development that can affect food security,” he said.

Meenakshi, who is also Sahabat Alam Malaysia president, said that this is not over yet as they will still have to continue fighting against the project.

She hoped that the DoE DG will follow the proper process in evaluating the PSR EIA when the state submitted it again for approval.

“We will have to see what happens then, we don’t know what will transpire but the right for us to appeal again is always there,” she said.

The PSR is a massive reclamation project to create three islands off the southern coast of Penang island.

The islands, loosely named A, B and C, will measure a total 4,500 acres (1,821 ha) in land size off the coast from Permatang Damar Laut.

The PSI project was first introduced back in 2015 as the funding module of the RM46 billion Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP) after SRS Consortium was appointed as the project delivery partner (PDP) for the PTMP on August 14, 2015.

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