GEORGE TOWN: Penang Barisan Nasional is asking the National Economic Council (NEC) to review the proposal to sell Penang Port to tycoon Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary.
Chairman Teng Chang Yeow said the NEC should deliberate further on the needs and demands of the shipping industry and other members of the business community as well as consider public sentiment.
The call appears to be a reaction to DAP’s heavy criticism of the proposed sale.
DAP leaders have said the sale would thwart Penang’s projected growth into a vibrant regional economic hub and explained that this was the reason behind the state government’s bid to buy the port last year.
The federal government, however, decided to sell it to Syed Mokhtar.
Teng, who chaired a state BN meeting today, told reporters afterwards that the proposed privatisation had not been finalised.
“It’s not late to call for a review,” he said.
Asked to explain Penang BN’s stand on the sale, Teng was non-committal, reiterating that it would wait for the outcome of the review and take it from there.
Penang Port was the biggest port in the region until 1933, when Singapore outpaced it. Until the 1950s, it was still bigger than Port Klang. Johor did not have any port then.
But now Syed Mokhtar wants to use Penang Port as a feeder port for his Port Tanjung Pelepas in Johor.
The state government has said it would be a great tragedy for Penang to see the port degenerate into a private feeder port for another private port.
Teng said the privatisation plan and Penang BN’s proposal to reinstate Penang’s free port status were different issues.
Penang BN has said it would act on the free port proposal if it were to regain Penang in the coming election.
“The proposal is part of the overall plan to turn Penang into an international tourism haven,” Teng said.
Penang was a free port until 1965, when the government began to remove that status in phases, completing the exercise in 1969.
The DAP has asked BN to explain the economic viability of reinstating the free port status, including the number of jobs that would be created.
According to the 1964 Penang Master Plan, some 25,000 workers were dependent on the free port status. However, most jobs done manually by port workers in 1964 have since been mechanised.