Why house 45,000 workers in Teluk Kumbar?

THE Penang exco for housing and local government recently announced (or boasted?) that two developers are applying to build worker dorms in the Teluk Kumbar-Gertak Sanggul area to house 45,000 workers. I guess they must all be for foreign workers as they are the cheapest labour whether in or outside factories.

This huge number will outnumber the locals many times over. Is this a wise plan to “develop” (or destroy) the southern part of the island. Is it something the state should be proud of instead of being ashamed of?  

Why Teluk Kumbar-Gertak Sanggul of all places when common sense tells that there is a much better place to house this huge number of workers and transport them far more easily to and from their workplaces in the Bayan Lepas Free Trade Zone, which depends heavily on foreign labour?

Moving 45,000 workers in and out of Teluk Kumbar-Gertak Sanggul will be a formidable task, even if the road is widened after displacing hundreds of people whose houses and little businesses abut the present road. These workers will be moving during peak hours when a lot of other people are also on the road in their private vehicles. The stretch between Teluk Kumbar and Bayan Lepas is hardly 3km and if you are caught in the jam here during peak hours, it can take at least 45 minutes to get free.

Common sense tells that if the hostels are built in Batu Kawan, which still has a lot of vacant land and could accommodate many times 45,000, transporting them to the same industrial zones on the island would be many, many times easier as the journey would be direct from the hostels to the industries across the second bridge and not over congested public roads.

Planning for such purposes is supposed to be done by the government, not by the developers! It is the prerogative of the state to decide what should be located where, without disrupting the local communities that have lived peacefully for generations. And this is the principle rule regarding the siting of worker hostels. Has the state government forgotten it?

In Penang, the “thinking” or “planning” is left to the developers to do, and the state authorities are happy to approve and announce the developers’ projects, whether they are for the public good or not.  

Comparing transporting the huge number of 45,000 workers in Teluk Kumbar about 15km to the industrial zone over public roads congested at peak hours, to transporting them about 20km from Batu Kawan, the latter should clearly be the first and far better choice. So why is it not?          

From Batu Kawan, hundreds of vehicles transporting the workers would get onto the approach road to the second bridge, travel unobstructed over the bridge steadily at 80km per hour and reach the industrial zone in about 20 minutes (if they don’t exceed the speed limit). The workers would have a pleasant ride not getting caught in traffic jams daily and having to endure a one-hour journey each way to and from their workplaces.

Yet, in the face of the obvious, better, faster, transportation of the huge number of workers from Batu Kawan to the Bayan Lepas Free Trade Zone, the state is pandering to the developers’ plans to house them in Teluk Kumbar. Why? Why is the state government bending over backwards to help developers with their plans that are for their own money-making and not for the public good?

Build worker hostels in Batu Kawan and make good use of the second bridge to transport them faster and comfortably to the industrial zone. Leave Teluk Kumbar alone. It is already a developed area. – May 1, 2021.

* Ravinder Singh reads The Malaysian Insight.

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight.

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