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WHOSE OPINION MATTERS: LESSONS FROM A STAKEHOLDER ENGAGEMENT PROCESS FOR PENANG, MALAYSIA

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Abstract

Transportation-related decisions, like many other public policy issues, are complex. They involve multiple stakeholders, often with conflicting interests, and influence multiple sustainability dimensions over space and time. In response to this complexity, governments often make decisions based mainly on advice from experts, offering limited opportunities for public participation in the decision making process. This study examines stakeholder involvement in a transportation plan in Penang, Malaysia. The study employs a qualitative methodology and uses select indicators to evaluate the engagement process. Despite a concerted effort to engage the public, the government failed to resolve conflicts with key stakeholder groups. Three key findings emerge from the assessment: first, a poorly designed process can be counterproductive, resulting in delays and loss of trust; second, involving stakeholders at a later stage limits opportunities for meaningful stakeholder contribution; and third, stakeholder groups can mobilize and shift the balance of political power. For all these reasons and more, decisions in the public arena must go beyond meeting the mandated requirements, and move towards a deliberative process aiming for shared decision-making. The study proposes a set of recommendations for a more effective process.
WHOSE OPINION MATTERS: LESSONS
FROM A STAKEHOLDER ENGAGEMENT
PROCESS FOR PENANG, MALAYSIA
Minal Pathak
Malaysia Sustainable Cities Program, Working Paper Series
1
© Minal Pathak & Massachusetts Institute of Technology 2017
WHOSE OPINION MATTERS:
LESSONS FROM A STAKEHOLDER
ENGAGEMENT PROCESS FOR
PENANG, MALAYSIA
by Minal Pathak
MIT-UTM Malaysia Sustainable Cities Program
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Abstract
Transportation-related decisions, like many other public policy
issues, are complex. They involve multiple stakeholders, often with
conflicting interests, and influence multiple sustainability dimensions
over space and time. In response to this complexity, governments often
make decisions based mainly on advice from experts, offering limited
opportunities for public participation in the decision making process.
This study examines stakeholder involvement in a transportation
plan in Penang, Malaysia. The study employs a qualitative
methodology and uses select indicators to evaluate the engagement
process. Despite a concerted effort to engage the public, the
government failed to resolve conflicts with key stakeholder groups.
Three key findings emerge from the assessment: first, a poorly
designed process can be counterproductive, resulting in delays and
loss of trust; second, involving stakeholders at a later stage limits
opportunities for meaningful stakeholder contribution; and third,
stakeholder groups can mobilize and shift the balance of political
power. For all these reasons and more, decisions in the public arena
must go beyond meeting the mandated requirements, and move
towards a deliberative process aiming for shared decision-making. The
study proposes a set of recommendations for a more effective process.
Introduction
Urban transportation decisions involve multiple stakeholders and
agencies, often with conflicting interests. Increasingly, policy makers
are faced with the challenge of balancing immediate concernsfor
example, improving mobilitywith long-term sustainability concerns.
While transportation investments are expected to enhance mobility and
subsequently generate positive economic and social impacts, these
may also cause unintended adverse impacts. Transportation decisions
affect individuals differently based on the socio-economic status of
WHOSE OPINION MATTERS: LESSONS
FROM A STAKEHOLDER ENGAGEMENT
PROCESS FOR PENANG, MALAYSIA
Minal Pathak
Malaysia Sustainable Cities Program, Working Paper Series
2
© Minal Pathak & Massachusetts Institute of Technology 2017
those individuals (Geurs, Boon, and Van Wee 2009), which makes
representation of all stakeholders critical for achieving a socially just
outcome.
Principle 10 of the 1982 Rio Declaration on Environment and
Development called for states to “facilitate and encourage public
awareness and participation by making information widely available
(UNEP 1992). This was reaffirmed in Goal 16 of the 2015 United
Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which calls for promoting and
building peaceful and inclusive societies and institutions. A key target
of Goal 16 is to ensure “responsive, inclusive, participatory and
representative decision-making at all levels” (United Nations 2016).
In practice, the decision-making process for transportation
networks, systems, and infrastructures is often top-down, managed by
policy makers in consultation with technical experts. Like most other
public policy realms, however, transportation projects involve multiple
actors (private and public), thereby making them wicked problems
(Head 2008; Cascetta and Pagliara 2013). Therefore, technological
solutions may not truly represent the needs and expectations of certain
constituencies, especially those in disadvantaged groups. With the
evolving nature of transportation planning involving multiple agencies,
sectors, and modes, traditional decision-making structures are less
relevant in the changing context (Nijkamp and Blaas 1994; Booth and
Richardson 2001). This calls for strengthening people’s participation to
ensure more democratic decisions that are acceptable to all parties.
In practice, engaging stakeholders is complex, especially in
developing countries where the practice of stakeholder engagement is
relatively less mature. In such contexts, the capacity of the
governments in designing the processes, schedule, and costs of the
process, andmore importantthe ability of the participants to
understand what is expected and be willing to contribute, are important
considerations (Marzuki 2008; Nadeem and Fischer 2011).
Malaysia presents one such context. As the country advances
from a developing- to a developed-country status, urban areas are
witnessing large-scale transformations as they become world-class
cities. With financial and technical resource limitations, support by the
private sector is sought to fund and deliver mega-projects. The top-
down, private-developer-driven planning and implementation
processes raise questions about the extent of public inputs and
environmental considerations in local decision-making. This could also
exacerbate existing inequalities, as stakeholders feel marginalized in
large-scale privately led public projects. And since these decisions
involve long-term lock-ins, exclusionary processes can create lasting
social inequalities.
WHOSE OPINION MATTERS: LESSONS
FROM A STAKEHOLDER ENGAGEMENT
PROCESS FOR PENANG, MALAYSIA
Minal Pathak
Malaysia Sustainable Cities Program, Working Paper Series
3
© Minal Pathak & Massachusetts Institute of Technology 2017
Figure 1. Location of Penang state, Malaysia
As federal regulations regarding citizen participation continue to
evolve, subnational governments in Malaysia are increasingly seeking
public inputs. Simultaneously, as communities are becoming more
aware of the impacts caused by mega-projects, they are demanding
greater government accountability. This study looks at stakeholder
engagement for a mega transportation plan in Penang, Malaysia
(Figure 1). Given the rapid development context of Malaysia and amid
an evolving regulatory climate of public participation, the paper
attempts to answer the following question: How effectively did the
government engage stakeholders in transportation planning? The
policy prescriptions for a more inclusive and participatory stakeholder
engagement process outlined in the paper may be useful to guide
future stakeholder engagement for other cities in Malaysia and related
contexts.
Stakeholder engagement in decision-making
The arguments in favor of soliciting public inputs in decision-
making include meeting legal requirements, leveraging local
WHOSE OPINION MATTERS: LESSONS
FROM A STAKEHOLDER ENGAGEMENT
PROCESS FOR PENANG, MALAYSIA
Minal Pathak
Malaysia Sustainable Cities Program, Working Paper Series
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© Minal Pathak & Massachusetts Institute of Technology 2017
knowledge, and realizing democratic principles of fairness and equity. It
is argued that citizens, especially the most vulnerable, have a right to
know and be consulted on policies that affect them (Enserink and
Koppenjan 2007). Citizen involvement can help leverage local
knowledge, lead to creative decisions, and produce better plans. Since
the decisions are co-owned, these have a higher rate of
implementation and stability in the long run (Susskind and Cruikshank
1987; Burby 2007). But the the benefits of public participation in
planning have been the subject of debate. Counter-arguments state
that participation can be expensive, time-consuming, and lead to
intractable conflicts, delay, and mistrust (Innes and Booher 2004).
Poorly designed processes can result in failure or delays in
implementation, lawsuits, or stalemate situations
1
. There is also a view
that technical decisions are best made by governments and their
advisors, and listening to citizens may lead to bad decisions.
2
Participation processes can range from genuine outreach and search
for significant inputs to inform the plan to tightly controlled processes
aimed mainly at satisfying relevant legal requirements, with little
concern for the opinions of the majority.
Based on the drivers of participation, Susskind and Elliott (1983)
highlight three forms of engagement:
i. paternalism, where the elected officials dominate the
participation process;
ii. conflict between citizens and elected officials to seize
control of resource allocation or policy decisions; and
iii. co-production, where policy makers and residents make
joint decisions.
Arnsteins (1969) ladder of participation is among the most cited
works on public participation. It outlines eight levels of public
participation, based on the degree of citizen influence. Arnstein
classifies unidirectional information-giving and consultation processes
as low forms of participation. The ideal state of citizen empowerment,
according to Arnstein, is characterized by processes which involve
partnerships and where people have a higher control over decision-
making (ibid).
As an extension of Arnstein’s ladder, the Spectrum of Public
Participation proposed by the International Association of Public
Participation (IAP 2017) outlines five stages, starting from the
information-giving stage at the lower end, followed by the consultation
stage where public feedback is sought and a more progressive stage of
direct involvement and partnership with people. The most desirable
stage empowers people as decision-making agents.
Again, this view has been challenged by a group of practitioners
who argue that final decision-making powers should in fact rest with the
authorities and not directly decided by people. They propose an
alternative to the IAP spectrum, outlining five stages: inform, consult,
advise, decide, and implement. Here, consensus building is the core
element at each step, as the collaborative approaches finally result in
WHOSE OPINION MATTERS: LESSONS
FROM A STAKEHOLDER ENGAGEMENT
PROCESS FOR PENANG, MALAYSIA
Minal Pathak
Malaysia Sustainable Cities Program, Working Paper Series
5
© Minal Pathak & Massachusetts Institute of Technology 2017
multi-party agreements to implement joint action (Orenstein, et al.
2008).
While there is a significant body of literature discussing the
methods of participation and their effectiveness in different contexts,
few studies discuss findings from developing countries. This study,
which evaluates the public engagement process in Malaysia, attempts
to address this gap. Such an evaluation can help to provide insight on
how well government policies are translated in practice, and to aid in
the design of more effective processes (Charnley and Engelbert 2005).
The following section discusses the evaluation criteria.
Evaluating stakeholder engagement
The evaluation of stakeholder engagement can include an
assessment of the process, the outputs of the engagement, or the
outcomes, andin some casesa combination of these (Rowe and
Frewer 2000; Rowe 2004). “Outputs” are the policies, projects, or plans
resulting from the process would be. Outcomes include long-term
impacts, such as enhanced social, intellectual, and political capital;
institutional evolution; innovative approaches; and environmental
outcomes (Mandarano 2008). From the temporal perspective, an
evaluation could include a short-term or medium-term assessment of a
process or a long-term reflective evaluation of outcomesfor instance,
evaluation of environmental outcomes such as ecosystem
regeneration.
Key evaluation indicators in literature on stakeholder
engagement include stakeholder mapping and representation, the
stage of involvement, the overall design of the process, transparency,
and the level of information shared with citizens (Brody, Godschalk,
and Burby 2003; Rowe and Frewer 2000). Walls, Rowe, and Frewer
(2011) also identify the degree of influence of the process on the
outcome as an important criteria.
An evaluation of stakeholder-engagement presents challenges
of setting the boundary of the assessment, choosing the indicators, and
accessing the relevant data and information. Since the stakeholder
engagement process is still underway in Penang, it was not possible to
include indicators that assess the outputs or long-term outcomes of the
engagement process. The assessment in this study is therefore limited
to assessing the process of engagement. The availability of data and
information for measurement was also a consideration in selecting the
indicators. The initial set of indicators was adapted from Rowe and
Frewer (2000) and Mandarano (2008). These indicators are relevant to
the objectives of the study as they captured all of the key attributes of
stakeholder engagement: representation, transparency, influence,
feedback methods, and resources. The initial criteria were discussed
with selected stakeholders and their inputs shaped the final criteria
(Table 3).
WHOSE OPINION MATTERS: LESSONS
FROM A STAKEHOLDER ENGAGEMENT
PROCESS FOR PENANG, MALAYSIA
Minal Pathak
Malaysia Sustainable Cities Program, Working Paper Series
6
© Minal Pathak & Massachusetts Institute of Technology 2017
The political and planning context in
Malaysia
Malaysia is a federal constitutional monarchy with a three-tiered
governance structure. The federal government retains power over
several resources and responsibilities, including transportation, while
the states control land, forests, and water. The planning, regulation,
and enforcement of transport in peninsular Malaysia is overseen by
Malaysia’s Land Public Transport Commission or Suruhanjaya
Pengangkutan Awam Darat (SPAD). The National Master Plan sets the
targets, strategies, and policies that guide public transport planning
throughout peninsular Malaysia, and the state authorities oversee
implementation of the Plan. Although states and local authorities can
develop and fund their own transport plans, major transport projects
require federal approval. For instance, the state is responsible for
improving pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure and has jurisdiction
over bus stops and terminals, but relies on cooperation with the federal
government to operate the bus system, or implement new rail systems.
Public participation is mandated for rail projects, town and
structure plans, and any projects that may cause significant
environmental impacts
3
. In mid-2005, the federal Department of
Environment (DoE) formally mandated all Detailed Environmental
Impact Assessments to include at least one opinion survey and one
public dialogue
4
. The choice of the methods to be used, however, is left
to the consultant. Earlier studies highlight challenges to public
participation in Malaysia, such as inadequate capacity and limited
information on the processes, limitations of methods used, and the
capacity and attitude of the people (Marzuki 2008). Despite
administrative and enforcement issues, the EIA process continues to
function and evolve (Briffett, Obbard, and Mackee 2004).
Interest represented
Government
Federal government
State government
Local government
Business groups
Private consultants
Developer
Taxi/Uber operators
Academia/Think tank
NGOs
Heritage experts
Fishermen
Independent
WHOSE OPINION MATTERS: LESSONS
FROM A STAKEHOLDER ENGAGEMENT
PROCESS FOR PENANG, MALAYSIA
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Malaysia Sustainable Cities Program, Working Paper Series
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© Minal Pathak & Massachusetts Institute of Technology 2017
Table 1. Breakdown of interviewees
Data and methods
The paper follows a qualitative methodology using the inductive
approach (Burnard et al. 2008). An initial literature review of
government reports, publications from think tanks and NGOs, blogs,
and newspaper articles helped frame the research problem and identify
the initial interviewees.
The second component was a field survey involving interviews
with stakeholders. Fifty-three detailed interviews were conducted with
representatives from government, academia, environmental and civil
society organizations, and private organizations in Penang and Kuala
Lumpur. These interviews were conducted between September 2016
and January 2017. Table 1 shows a breakdown of the people
interviewed. Government officials included representatives from the
Members of Parliament at the federal level, elected representatives of
the state government, and local councillors. Other groups included
private business representatives, fishermen, environmental experts,
members of heritage organizations and NGOs, and independent
activists. The initial list included key stakeholders who had taken a
public position on the issue. Subsequently, the snowball method was
used, where the first round of interviewees helped identify the next
group. While the questions followed a broad structure common for all
respondents, interviews were open-ended to capture the understanding
of different categories of stakeholders.
The study followed an iterative process, in which interviews
were analyzed in parallel. This process allowed for, and necessitated
changes to, the identification of interviewees and the interview
questions. The questions were posed to elicit information on how
stakeholders viewed the proposal in question, their interests, and their
assessment of the process related to the selected indicators (Table3).
Answers were then summarized to understand the sequence of events
between 2008 and 2017, and to capture the different stakeholder
positions. Figure 2 outlines the key timeline of events as they unfolded.
Case study: Penang Transport Master Plan
The case study area
The state of Penang is located on the northwest coast of
Peninsular Malaysia (Figure 1). Its capital, George Town, is designated
as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its population of 1.7 million is
divided between the island and the mainland. With 2,372 people per
square kilometer, the population density on Penang Island is the
highest in the country. The demand for land on the island has outpaced
supply for development,
5
resulting in developers seeking to build by
reclaiming coastal land. Two reclamation projects are currently under
construction in the north of Penang Island, a decision that has created
controversy due to its impact on the local environment and fisheries.
WHOSE OPINION MATTERS: LESSONS
FROM A STAKEHOLDER ENGAGEMENT
PROCESS FOR PENANG, MALAYSIA
Minal Pathak
Malaysia Sustainable Cities Program, Working Paper Series
8
© Minal Pathak & Massachusetts Institute of Technology 2017
Penang is led by an opposition coalition of the Democratic
Action Party (DAP) and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR). The opposition
was elected in 2008 after defeating the Barisa National (National Front)
that had dominated regional politics for more than three decades. The
federal control over transportation and the political tensions between
the state and federal governments poses challenges for planning and
implementation for urban transportation. Penang has a strong and
active civil society that has historically played an important role in
pressuring the government to promote the interests of pedestrians,
cyclists, public transport users, and mobility-impaired groups
(Rasagam, 2000)
6
. In 2008, a loose coalition of civil society
organizations came together as the Penang Forum to advocate for
sustainable development in Penang.
The Penang Transport Plan
Propelled by the national push to promote the car industry in the
1980s, and also supported by increasing population and economic
growth, Penang has witnessed a rapid increase in vehicle ownership.
Penang has the highest annual vehicle registration growth in Malaysia
(Mohd 2012) and the second highest per capita vehicle ownership in
the country, after Kuala Lumpur (Chee and Fernandez 2013). In 2010,
Penang’s public transport met only 3 percent of the total travel
demand, while the remaining 97 percent was met by private transport
(Penang Monthly 2015). This resulted in severe congestion, as well as
negative environmental and health impacts.
In response to inquiries from NGOs that were keen to address
the pressing issue of congestion, in 2011 the Penang state government
appointed a team of consultants led by Halcrow Consultants to develop
a transport master plan strategy. After conducting a detailed public
engagement process
7
, the Halcrow strategy was adopted as the
Penang Transport Master Plan Strategy, and government officials
issued a Request for Proposals to develop the Halcrow strategy into an
implementable plan. The winning consortium was appointed as the
Project Delivery Partner (PDP). The PDP modified the Halcrow
strategy,
8
proposing the alternative “Penang Transport Master Plan
(PTMP), involving highways, roadways, new rail infrastructure (Light
Rail Transit [LRT] and monorail), a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) network,
and electric trams in the heritage zone (PTMP 2015). The total
estimated cost of the new plan was 11 billion USD. But lacking
authority over public transportation budgeting (a federal-level concern)
and having only limited financial resources of its own, the state
government pursued the sale of land to finance the plan. Given the
scarcity of land on the island, the proposed funding model was based
on coastal reclamation of three islands on Penang’s southern coast.
These would be auctioned by the state as land parcels to fund the
PTMP.
WHOSE OPINION MATTERS: LESSONS
FROM A STAKEHOLDER ENGAGEMENT
PROCESS FOR PENANG, MALAYSIA
Minal Pathak
Malaysia Sustainable Cities Program, Working Paper Series
9
© Minal Pathak & Massachusetts Institute of Technology 2017
2017
Project construction is postponed
State government decides to shift
transport hub away from Siah Boey
heritage market
Business groups voice support for
the PTMP
2016
Fishermen group organizes protest
against reclamation
December: EIA consultants present
draft findings about impacts on
reclamation. Fishermen stage
organized protest
Stakeholders build coalitions
Protest over land acquisition for a
highway construction for land
belonging to Chinese girls high
school
State government organizes public
presentation to respond to Penang
Forum’s concerns
July: NGOs release alternate plan
“Better, Cheaper, Faster”
Penang Forum voices concerns
A Penang forum member submits
request to UNESCO expressing
concern over potential harm to Siah
Boey, an old heritage market
April: Launch of the official PTMP
website
March: Submission of LRT for
federal approval
2015
December: Public briefings are
initiated
October: EIA consultants are
appointed
August: The state government
appoints SRS Consortium as the
Project Delivery Partner
2014
A request of proposals is
announced to select consultant to
implement the Halcrow plan
2013
Chief Minister officiates the Penang
Transport Master Plan Strategy
2012
Halcrow and team release reports
outlining Penang’s Master Plan
Strategy
WHOSE OPINION MATTERS: LESSONS
FROM A STAKEHOLDER ENGAGEMENT
PROCESS FOR PENANG, MALAYSIA
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© Minal Pathak & Massachusetts Institute of Technology 2017
2011
May: Government appoints private
consultants led by Halcrow to
develop transport strategy
2010
Penang Transport Council drafts
terms of reference for the master
plan and initiates a tender process
to appoint consultants
2009
Penang Transport Council makes
recommendation to the State
government for a Transport Master
Plan
Figure 2. Timeline of key events
The consultation process
After announcing the plan, the state government and the PDP
sought public input during town hall sessions, one-to-one engagement,
and through online and print media (Annex Table 1). Between
December 2015 and September 2016, 26 town hall meetings were
conducted for different groups of stakeholders, including business
groups, residents, local government, and fishermen groups, among
others. These typically involved a presentation followed by a brief
question-and-answer session. The stakeholder groups included the
groups that would be directly impacted by the project.
9
The
environmental impact assessment (EIA) and Social Impact
Assessment (SIA) consultants carried out on-the-ground
engagements
10
with affected stakeholders through focus groups and
interviews. The government launched an official website providing
information about the plan where people could also submit online
feedback. Service centers were opened to address specific concerns of
the fishermen community and other locals to submit queries or
feedback.
Concerns
Stakeholder
suggestions
Stakeholder
positions
Costs
Environment
Fisheries
Aesthetics &
heritage
Other
Residents
Preserving the
environment
for future
generation
Highway
construction
may affect
hills
Impact the
social and
cultural values
Impact on
heritage
Construction
activities
Physical and
cultural
sustainability
Concerns
over
property
acquisition
Concerns
over
affordable
housing in
the new
plan
Compensation for
property acquisition
Contrasting
views
State
government
report indicates
that a number
of people
support the
project
Some are
unsure
Business
Concerns
over
property
acquisition
Could possibly
include measures
for alternate and
cleaner vehicles
Construction
activities should not
lead to congestion
Congestion is a
major issue and
will aggravate
in coming years
Will deliver
economic
development
benefits
Support the
WHOSE OPINION MATTERS: LESSONS
FROM A STAKEHOLDER ENGAGEMENT
PROCESS FOR PENANG, MALAYSIA
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Malaysia Sustainable Cities Program, Working Paper Series
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© Minal Pathak & Massachusetts Institute of Technology 2017
project
NGOs
Very high
capital
investment
Penang does
not have
resources to
support the
O&M costs.
No clarity on
the O&M
Long-term
irreversible
environmental
impacts from
reclamation
Current plan
prioritizes cars
instead of
public
transport
Environmental
resources
compromised
for business
interests
Impact on
fisheries will
be a threat to
Penang’s food
security
Will increase
cost of fish, a
staple food for
locals
Direct impact
on heritage
sites from
construction
Decline in
George
Town’s
heritage value
Project will
benefit a
select few
and may not
solve
congestion
Proposals should be
suited to the local
context
Proposed an
alternate plan:
Instead of elevated
LRT and monorail
which are more
expensive, an
integrated plan
combining at-grade
rail systems, trams,
integrated with
buses water
transport, non-
motorized transport
and demand
management
measures to reduce
car use
The proposal is
too ambitious
Do not support
Environ-
mental
groups
Reclamation
would lead to
siltation
Impact on
coastal
ecosystems
biodiversity
Hill cutting
may lead to
landslides or
erosion
The value of
some beaches
will be lost
Construction
of highways
will impact
Penang hills
Funding options
that do not require
reclamation
If reclamation is
required, consider
other alternative
options to minimize
environmental
impacts, such as
extending the
coastline instead of
creating islands
The present
plan is
environment-
ally
unsustainable,
especially the
impacts from
land
reclamation
Do not support
Fishermen
Pollution from
dredging and
construction
activities
Will lose
access to the
sea
Loss of
livelihood,
especially for
full-time
fishermen
Marginaliza-
tion due to
influx of
foreign
workers
Marine
pollution
Development that
does not impact
housing or
livelihoods
Alternatives to
compensate
fishermen for loss
of livelihood
Replacement area
for fishing boats
Group 1: Do
not support
Group 2:
Support
Group 3:
Support
provided
proper
compensation
is offered
Heritage
organiza-
tions
A planned
transportation
interchange
will affect the
old heritage
market
Consideration of
alternatives that are
more compatible
with Penang’s
heritage status
Instead of elevated
LRT, consider bus
systems, trams
Existing plan is
not compatible
with Penang’s
heritage
Do not support
the plan in its
present form
Local
council
Not
adequate
state and
local
resources
Local council
not
consulted
Local governments
should have more
say in decision-
making
Proposals should be
more integrated
with local efforts
towards improving
non-motorized
transport, as well as
existing systems
Several local
councilors are
not in support
of the plan
Need more
evidence
before lending
support
Think
tanks/
academics
Costs
inflated due
to high
population
and
ridership
projections
Project
design did
not
integrate
local
knowledge/
experts
Possible
alternatives to
land
reclamation
not
considered
Proposed
projects could
compromise
local
environment
Higher focus
on property
develop-
ment than
transport
Plan not far-
sighted
fails to
include low
carbon
considera-
tions,
accessibility,
demand
manage-
ment
Plan should be
more holistic
integrated between
island and
mainland,
integrated across
modes, make better
use of existing
transport systems
(buses, ferry)
An independent
review of the
technical and
financial viability of
the transport
master plan
New proposals
losing sight of
original aim
No position
Table 2. Matrix showing key issues of concern for stakeholders
WHOSE OPINION MATTERS: LESSONS
FROM A STAKEHOLDER ENGAGEMENT
PROCESS FOR PENANG, MALAYSIA
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© Minal Pathak & Massachusetts Institute of Technology 2017
Stakeholder concerns
Although official reports indicate support from a majority of
residents and business groups, the plan is opposed by two key
stakeholder groups: the fishermen and NGOs. Table 2 summarizes
different stakeholder groups and their concerns as identified through
the interview process.
The proposed reclamation area serves as fishing ground for
traditional fishing communities that operate along the south coast,
where the main catch is prawns and crabs. The fishing community in
the area, comprising around 1,000 fishermen, is concerned that
reclamation will limit their access to the sea. They argue that this would
be the final blow to their livelihood, which is already under pressure
from declining catch in recent years due to marine pollution and
reclamation elsewhere on the island. This is especially a concern for
the marginal fishermen with small boats that limit their access to
deeper waters.
NGOs have been the most vocal critics of the transport master
plan. Fully expecting that the Penang Transport Master Plan would
address their longstanding proposals for reducing congestion, civil
society was taken by surprise with the announcement of the PTMP and
its funding model. Their main concern is that by emphasizing high-
investment rail lines, the state missed the opportunity for cheaper and
more sustainable options, including improving the existing public
transport systems and non-motorized transport infrastructure. Major
investments in highways and roadways without complementary
measures for demand management, according to NGO
representatives, would fail to curtail private automobile use. Heritage
organizations have voiced concerns over the impacts of the transport
plan on the George Town heritage sites. Environmental experts are
primarily concerned about the potential impact of reclamation on
coastal ecosystems. They argue that altered sea water flow, change in
sea bed conditions, and marine pollution would adversely affect the
region’s biodiversity and fish production, threatening Penang’s food
security.
11
Independent experts and think tanks have questioned the scale
of these projects, especially as they will be carried out through private-
sector contracts. They feel the plan is too ambitious, and contest the
population and ridership assumptions for PTMP. The viability of
property development on reclaimed land as a reliable funding model
has also been questioned.
12
Collective action from stakeholder groups
Not satisfied with the official responses to the concerns they had
voiced in the town hall meetings, the Penang Forum released a
alternate plan titled Better, Cheaper, Faster as a counter plan to the
PTMP (Penang Forum 2016). The plan presented modern trams and
dedicated bus lanes as the preferred way forward, instead of the high
investment rail-based systems proposed by the state. According to the
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Penang Forum, compared to the PTMP, their plan was better”—in that
it promoted higher accessibility and lower environmental footprint
cheaper in terms of investment and operating costs, and faster to
construct. The state government publicly dismissed the alternate plan
as a conceptual idea that did not include any economic or technical
feasibility considerations.
Concerned about the negative impact of the PTMP on George
Town’s heritage sites, a Penang Forum member sent a letter to
UNESCO to draw their attention to the heritage risk. One of the
objections was over a planned transport interchange that overlapped a
historic market in the city. After several public exchanges, the
government conceded to the demands of the NGOs and agreed to
relocate the transport hub, though the Penang Forum continued to
voice strong objections to the larger plan. In May 2016, the state
government made a public presentation to respond to all the issues
raised by NGOs. The resulting back and forth exchange between the
NGOs and the state government was heavily publicized in local
newspapers and social media. NGOs continued to mobilize and draw
attention of the people to the potential adverse impacts of the PTMP.
A group of opposing fishermen first staged an organized protest
against the proposed reclamation in December 2015.
13
Subsequently,
the PDP and the state government engaged in discussions with the
fishing community and proposed potential alternate employment
opportunities (e.g. as boat operators, tourism, etc.) from the project.
According to the fishermen, there had been no meaningful engagement
and they did not trust the government, in part reflecting a recent
reclamation project in the north of the island which had resulted in very
low compensation being given to the local fishermen. The fishing
community remains divided, however; some fishermen anticipate the
project will bring better infrastructure and new employment
opportunities, and are therefore supportive of the project.
One of the interviewees, who heads the Fishermen’s
Association in one village, voiced strong concern:
“Currently, our average income per month is very low. We work
hard for our living. With our main resource being taken for land
reclamation, we will lose our only source of income. With the islands
we may have to go a bit further than this area. However, our boat has
only a small engine. We will oppose the project, no matter what
happens.”
Official reports by the state government indicate a majority
approval from residents and the business community. According to the
report, the percentage of fishermen supporting the project has
increased from 3 percent in the first survey to 41 percent in the second
survey.
14
Members from academia and think tanks, however, have
questioned these findings. A leading senior civil rights activist’s
frustration was apparent:
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“The people have to be aware of the costs and the best thinking
on the topic. You cannot judge by popular vote. We are going to the
worst kind of populism—it appears manipulative.”
In late 2016, the state government and the PDP held a public
hearing to present preliminary EIA findings to fishermen. In response,
led by the Head of the Fishermen’s Association, a large number of
fishermen staged a protest using banners written in Bahasa Malay
saying “Save our fishing activity areas” and “Penang fishermen
crushed by greedy reclamation project.
15
In 2017, members of the
Malaysian Business Council voiced support for the project, but the
fishermen and NGOs continued to oppose it. With federal approvals
pending, project construction had reached a roadblock.
Lessons from Malaysia: Toward a
meaningful stakeholder engagement
process
Most interviewees agreed that the stakeholder engagement
process for the PTMP was the largest ever for a transportation project
in Malaysia. They particularly noted experiences from Kuala Lumpur
and elsewhere, where similar projects were implemented with little or
no participation. Interviewees commented that though that participation
was limited, the state government had displayed flexibility in
accommodating requests from special groups.
16
Table 3 summarizes
the findings of the study.
Category
Criteria
Questions/attributes
Assessment from the case study
Member
Representation
Were all
stakeholders/groups
identified and represented?
The government made efforts to invite
diverse stakeholder groups
Were the chosen
representatives agreed upon
mutually?
The government attempted to invite
organization heads or senior people.
For one to one surveys, the
representatives include resident groups,
local business community leaders, etc.
However, for town hall meetings, it is
unclear if the choice of representatives
was mutually agreed upon
Incentive for
participation
Were stakeholders provided
with incentives to
participate?
No incentives were provided
Process
Clarity on
timing and level
of engagement
At what stage of decision-
making were inputs sought?
The government sought public inputs
after announcing the plan
Was there a clear strategy
outlining the goals, methods,
and implementation?
There was some preparation regarding
the methods and facilitation; however,
a coherent strategy outlining the goals
and expectations was missing
Was the nature and scope of
the engagement exercise
agreed upon by all the
The government did not offer clarity on
its expectations regarding the process
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stakeholders?
Resources
Did the participants have
enough access to details
(plan
documents/studies/impacts/
alternatives) to make
informed opinions?
Information on the proposed
alignments for public transport and
highways was provided on the website.
Participants did not have access to
additional detailed information, such as
the consideration of alternatives and
key assumptions
Was technical information
communicated to
stakeholders in a simplified
way?
Details were not made publicly
available
Transparency
Were the discussions and
decisions related to the plan
transparent?
No. Several interviewees commented
on a lack of transparency, as they were
unsure of the methodology of surveys
and how the decisions were made
Communication
Did the process encourage
the search for creative
alternate solutions?
Alternatives were not discussed
Was the language of
communication
understandable to the
participants?
Yes, the sessions were conducted in
three languages, including the local
language
Were the participants given
sufficient opportunities to
provide feedback? Were
they informed about
whether their concerns were
incorporated? If feedback
was not incorporated, were
reasons given and were
these acceptable?
Several avenues were provided for
giving feedback. The questions were
answered during the town hall sessions.
There was no clarity on if and how the
feedback was incorporated
When conflicts arose, how
were the contending
interests managed?
In several cases, the state government
made efforts to resolve conflicts
through direct dialogue with relevant
organizations. Several issues, however,
remain unresolved
Independence
Was the process
independent of dominance
by more powerful parties?17
With the private developer and the
state jointly conducting the
engagement, some stakeholders felt
the process was not independent
Outcome
Influence
Did the final agreement
adequately represent the
interests of the participants?
Several groups feel the plan does not
incorporate their interests
Table 3. Summary of findings
The state government’s intentions in conducting the
engagement process were to inform the people about the project and
gain political legitimacy. The process complied with federal
requirements, and reports indicate approval from a majority of
participants. Clearly, the government thought that a broad stakeholder
buy-in could help accelerate federal approvals. Quite the contrary
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happened. Consultations brought conflicts out in the open, and
widened the distance between the perceived positions of the
government and opposing stakeholders. The following section outlines
dominant themes as they emerged from the analysis of the qualitative
interviews, and proposes suggestions for handling these differently.
Stakeholder mapping and analysis is a key first step
Mega projects such as the PTMP will most likely have multiple
stakeholder groups with differing, and often conflicting, interests. The
study finds that despite efforts made to identify stakeholders, reach out
to them and plan these engagements, the process appears reactionary
andto some extentshort-sighted. While involved stakeholders
included the obvious groups, the interests of indirectly affected
stakeholders
18
or special groups (elderly, disabled, women, low income
groups, etc.) do not appear to be adequately represented. Achieving
the objectives of equity and inclusion requires significant efforts to
ensure that the needs of more vulnerable groups are given due
consideration (Geurs, Boon, and Van Wee 2009; Elvy 2014). Using the
appropriate stakeholder mapping technique to identify all stakeholders,
especially the less obvious and the least powerful stakeholders and
their interests, should form the basis for the engagement process
(Prell, Hubacek, and Reed 2009). Bryson (2004) identifies several
techniques useful for public managers. Put simply, stakeholder
mapping involves identification of all key stakeholders, and their
interests, as a basis for working on solutions that can best meet
everyone’s interests.
Early and continued engagement provides better
opportunities for deliberation
One of the interviewees commented that stakeholder
engagement was initiated as an afterthought after some back
benchers
19
in the state government raised an issue over lack of
transparency.
20
By the time the town hall meetings were initiated, there
was only room for making minor improvements, such as considering
changes in alignment of the proposed highway and public transport
routes. This decide, announce, defend approach has been critiqued
earlier. In line with Lash’s tripartite model of the people, politicians, and
planners (Lash 1976; Legacy 2010), the study stresses the importance
of deliberation among the three parties at the process design stage as
a more effective way to advance acceptability of a plan.
Set out the strategy and objectives up front
The absence of a clear engagement strategy led to ambiguity,
as stakeholders did not clearly understand the objectives of the
process and what was expected of them. A key lesson that emerges
from the Penang case is that short-term and top-down planning of
stakeholder engagement sessions can lead to inordinate delays or a
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stalled project. Stakeholder engagement processes need a clear
strategy about the aims of the exercise, and a discussion about which
issues are negotiable and which are not (Booth and Richardson 2001).
Collaboratively framing the rules in advance ensures transparency, and
can maintain greater trust among parties and avoid adverse outcomes
at a later stage.
Access to timely, relevant, and adequate
information
One major critique of the process was the lack of information
easily available to the public. Basic information on the plan was
provided on the official website and during the town hall presentations.
The NGOs demanded access to detailed studies including the
assumptions behind the process, alternatives that had been
considered, etc., all of which were kept confidential. The government
reasoned that the contract with the private developer depended on
federal government approval, and the documents could not be made
public before the approval. Some participants critiqued the close-ended
survey questions
21
which, according to them, did not provide
participants with enough information to make an informed decision.
The engagement process and survey methodologies was also not
shared publicly. An interviewee from civil society noted:
“We don’t know how they generate the finding that there was a
high level of support or how they determine that the fishermen object.
We don’t know what questions were asked. We only get to see the top
line. Adequate, timely, and simplified information on possible
alternate options and their benefits and potential costs/risks is a
precondition for receiving relevant and meaningful inputs. Another point
of contention was the appointment of the EIA consultants by the
developer. According to some, this was an obvious conflict of interest
and defeated the purpose of an open EIA process. The stakeholders
had little faith in the data and findings, as many felt the government
was hand in glove with the developer. Instead of relying on experts to
present data and findings, it is suggested that stakeholders and the
government work collectively to establish scientific information.
Referred to as joint fact-finding, the process involves all parties
working together to identify critical scientific and technical questions;
the information needed to answer these; and appoint experts to carry
out studies (Karl, et al. 2007). In Penang’s case, this could have helped
derive a common understanding of the impacts and increased people’s
trust in the consultants (as their appointment would be mutually agreed
upon), resulting in enhanced transparency overall.
Effective process necessitates deliberation
In a couple of instances, the government was able to engage in
dialogue with relevant stakeholders and arrive at consensus. However,
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the efforts were largely geared towards convincing the public to accept
the plan, rather than working with them to arrive at a mutually beneficial
solution. Open hearings in town hall sessions did not allow sufficient
time for deliberation, and stakeholders felt marginalized in the process.
One interviewee, an experienced member of a prominent think tank in
Penang, expressed his dissatisfaction with the town hall sessions:
“The engagement has been one-way, and is about information
sharing. Can’t call it engagement, more about informative approach.
The extent to which this engagement has influenced decision-making
or to the extent that this engagement has shaped any changes in the
plan is very unclear.
The Penang government’s efforts to use more traditional
approaches for achieving a broad buy-in obviously did not work. When
groups with fundamentally different interests are opposed to a
proposal, interactions need to be structured differently. Processes
where time and opportunity is given to deliberate on interests and
concerns have been referred to in different waysas partnerships,
mediation, community-based planning, consensus building, shared
decision-making, and co-management (Healey 2012; Susskind and
Cruikshank 1987). A common theme of these processes is structured
interactions that allow all participants an opportunity to voice their
concerns, think creatively about possible options, and jointly agree on
facts and solutions that best meets everyone’s interests. Since
decisions are co-produced and co-owned, these are most likely to be
implemented and sustained over time. Development of new
partnerships, knowledge, and mutual trust emerge as ancillary benefits.
Competence and resources of stakeholder groups
has a major influence on outcomes
A unique and important factor in Penang’s case was the ability
of civil society to come together and collectively propose alternate
plans and explore different ways to push the government. Several
groups, including NGOs and fishermen groups, were able to mobilize
and thwart the plan. In similar instances elsewhere, organized
collective action from community groups has achieved successful
outcomes (Mcandrews and Marcus 2015; Innes and Booher 2004).
The success of such an effort largely depends on the capacity and
resources of stakeholder groups. In Penang’s case, by not taking
stakeholders on board, the government missed the opportunity to
leverage the local knowledge and skills that these groups possessed.
Involving these groups actively in the planning process could have
added value to the proposals, and perhaps created new and less
expensive solutions more suited to the local context.
Empowering subnational governments
The distribution of powers and responsibilities among different
levels of the government and their coordination has a significant
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bearing on the delivery of national and local sustainability objectives
(Matsumoto, et al. 2014). The federal control over transportation
planning in Malaysia and the political tensions between the federal and
state governments posed significant constraints on the state
government. This, in turn, caused an increased dependence on the
private sector in setting priorities and funding these projects. In the long
run, constitutional reformssuch as devolution of powers to lower
levels of the governmentwould provide higher autonomy to state and
local governments, and enable more efficient delivery of public
services.
In the short- and medium-terms, state and local governments
should be empowered both in terms of technical and financial capacity.
For instance, state and local governments should develop capacity to
design and develop participation facilitators, tools, and methods
towards more effective engagement. Therefore, while the stakeholder
engagement process for PTMP is low on the spectrum of a good
stakeholder process, its evaluation should be seen in light of its
political, institutional, and cultural contexts.
Conclusion
In line with several other reported case studies, the Penang
case reiterates the failure of the traditional top down process of
consultation. It also highlights the pitfalls of a poorly managed and
executed participatory process. An inadequate engagement process
further alienated stakeholders, as they felt the government was
insensitive to their interests. Such conflicts are especially inevitable in
cases such as Penang, where private interests appear to dominate.
Governments presume that consultative processes can serve
dual purposes of meeting the regulations and gaining political
legitimacy. Revisiting the classic planning debate of whether public
participation leads to desirable outcomes, the study illustrates that
participation by itself is not useful. In fact, poorly designed engagement
exposed the weaknesses of the process, allowing opposing groups to
mobilize and thwart the plan. For engagement to be purposive and
meaningful, stakeholders should be involved at an early stage, in a
transparent and deliberative manner. This can reduce the time and
costs, enhance government credibility, improve trust, and help develop
long-term relationships between the government and stakeholders.
Such a process would not only address the principles of fairness and
equity; in all likelihood, the solutions would have a higher probability of
implementation.
Malaysia is on a rapid development curve. Urban and economic
development is expected to result in unprecedented demand for
investment in public infrastructure. The insights from the study offer
timely and relevant inputs for designing inclusive and efficient
participatory processes. The paper sets out key elements as a way
forward.
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Acknowledgements
The author is deeply indebted to interviewees for providing
valuable first-hand information. The study would not have been
possible without their support. Thanks to Yasmin Zaerpoor and
Lawrence Susskind for their insights and comments throughout the
study. Special thanks to Selmah Goldberg for providing valuable
editorial inputs that have improved the readability of the paper.
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Engagement
activity
Stakeholders
Facilitation
Status
State
government
led
engagements
Business groups, Penang
Transport Council,
professional groups,
general public, fishermen
Town hall meetings
conducted jointly by
the State government
and the PDP
A presentation on the
project was followed by
a question and answer
session
Over 2,700 people
attended 26
sessions between
December 2015
and October 2016
Official reports
indicate 25
sessions were
positive and 1
session with the
fishermen ended in
conflict
These sessions
were discontinued
Official PTMP
website
A central source for
information on PTMP
Brief information on
the Transport Master
Plan, including modes
and alignments, and
selected information on
public engagement
sessions
People can submit
feedback/queries
online
277 individuals
provided feedback
State will continue
to update the
website and
respond to queries
On-ground
engagement
LRT
Pan Island
Link
Highway
Southern
Land
Reclamation
People directly affected
by the proposed
projects
E.g. for the LRT line, it
included surveys of
people in George Town
as well as people living
in proximity to the
proposed line
The EIA for reclamation
included the fishermen
who would be directly
affected
These were conducted
by the EIA/SIA
consultants
Methods included
focus groups and
interviews involving
closed questions on
whether they support
the project
Specific concerns were
recorded
In all, 9,340 people
were consulted
Reports indicate
majority approval
in all the surveys
The consultants
have prepared EIA
reports for
submission. The
reports are not yet
available in public
domain
Mainstream
media
The media strategy
included using
newspapers and online
media to:
Address issues on a
macro level (to manage
issues raised by NGOs)
Share positive updates
with the public to boost
confidence
The Support
Penang Master
Plan Facebook
campaign received
over 13,000
positive responses
Online media
pages updated
with recent news
and information on
WHOSE OPINION MATTERS: LESSONS
FROM A STAKEHOLDER ENGAGEMENT
PROCESS FOR PENANG, MALAYSIA
Minal Pathak
Malaysia Sustainable Cities Program, Working Paper Series
26
© Minal Pathak & Massachusetts Institute of Technology 2017
Leverage the voices of
people who support
the project
the project
Fishermen’s
service
centres
Targeted for fishermen
The fishermen outreach
centers set up to allow
fishermen and visitors
to provide feedback
and register for jobs
CSR activities included
providing assistance to
local children,
organizing
competitions, tree
plantation drives, etc.
Visitors included
283 fishermen and
1,065 other
visitors. Over 300
individuals
provided feedback
Activities will be
continued
Plans for more
outreach centres
Annex Table 1. Penang Transport Master Plan engagement framework
22
WHOSE OPINION MATTERS: LESSONS
FROM A STAKEHOLDER ENGAGEMENT
PROCESS FOR PENANG, MALAYSIA
Minal Pathak
Malaysia Sustainable Cities Program, Working Paper Series
27
© Minal Pathak & Massachusetts Institute of Technology 2017
Notes
1
In San Francisco, environmental groups protested the transportation
plan, holding it up for a year. In another instance, a road-widening
project in the Bay Area met with protests and in the absence of efforts
for problem solving, the congestion worsened, leading to all sides as
aggrieved parties (Innes and Booher 2004).
2
Ibid
3
Town and Country Planning Act, 1976
4
Public participation inputs should be sought once during the
preparation of the EIA study and later after the EIA report is available
for public viewing.
5
New development is further constrained by the presence of historic
buildings in George Town and sensitive environmental areas.
6
https://penangforum.net/about/ Accessed March 7, 2017
7
A series of meetings and workshops with representatives of
government bodies, non-government organizations, and interest
groups and public consultation activities followed. After receiving public
inputs on two alternate strategies, the consultants produced a Penang
Transport Master Plan Strategy in 2013.
8
The original Halcrow strategy had proposed a combination of trams
and BRT, highways, and non-motorized transport. The Halcrow report
also suggested demand management measures to reduce private
transport use.
9
For instance, for the LRT, this included people staying in proximity to
the proposed rail line. For the reclamation project, this included the
fishermen and residents from nearby areas.
10
The EIA is in process and therefore discussion in this paper is limited
to the information available from interviews.
11
Interview with Dr. Leong, Head Penang Green Council and Anil
Netto, Aliran
12
Ibid
13
http://www.theedgeproperty.com.my/content/penang-land-
reclamation-assemblyman-claims-protesting-fishermen-welcomed-plan
Accessed March 3, 2017
14
Penang Transport Master Plan Strategic Communications. Briefing
to Strategic Communications Working Committee. Presentation date
12 October, 2016
15
http://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2016/12/18/reclamation-will-
affect-livelihood-says-group/ Accessed January 27, 2017
16
A girl’s high school protested over the highway that would take up
part of the school’s land. An online petition was initiated which received
thousands of supporters on social media and the support of a local
state assemblywoman. Following a negotiation between the state
government and school authorities, the state government announced
that they would not acquire the land belonging to the school.
17
This could mean parties with more resources or political power.
WHOSE OPINION MATTERS: LESSONS
FROM A STAKEHOLDER ENGAGEMENT
PROCESS FOR PENANG, MALAYSIA
Minal Pathak
Malaysia Sustainable Cities Program, Working Paper Series
28
© Minal Pathak & Massachusetts Institute of Technology 2017
18
A large population on the mainland was not consulted, since they
were not directly living along the planned routes. Many of these groups
do not have access to transportation networks.
19
Members of the state government include 7 Executive Committee
Members (ExCOs) who have more executive powers relative to the
remaining 40 members, who are referred to as “back benchers.
20
Interviewees commented that the decision was exclusivei.e., that it
was taken by the State Executive Council (ExCO)
20
and the rest of
the state assembly members were informed later. One interviewee
noted that the process of deciding on the PTMP felt like a “black box”
operation.
21
For example, one of the survey questions included “Do you support
the Light Rail Transit”- yes or no.
22
Source: Penang State Government
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