GEORGE TOWN (July 22, 2008) : By Opalyn Mok
The Penang State Assembly was told today the the previous state government had covered up the fact that some couplings for the Penang Bridge had been badly damaged and the bridge could have collapsed if not repaired.
"The previous state government kept this secret and the safety of the people was ignored," state executive councillor Phee Boon Poh (DAP - Sungai Puyu) told the House today.
Phee did not give details on when the damage took place and when it was repaired. Couplings are devices that link the segments that make up a bridge.
"It is due to this that the Opposition should actually support the Penang second bridge project as we would need an alternative," said Phee, who had interjected into Opposition leader Datuk Azhar Ibrahim's (BN - Penaga) debate on the motion of thanks to the Penang Yang di-Pertua for his speech at the opening of the assembly.
Azhar, who was arguing against the need for a second bridge for Penang, then replied that the matter was kept secret because the previous state government did not want to create widespread panic amongst the people.
"We did the repair work. See! it did not collapse at all," said Azhar, a former state executive councillor in the previous state government.
" We can't be announcing to the whole world just because of a few cracks," said Azhar who accused Phee of acting like a small child.
During the state assembly meeting in November last year, Jasmin Mohamad (BN-Sungai Dua) had asked for a full report as he had heard of serious structural cracks on the Penang Bridge.
Then Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon had said he had not received any report on cracks on the bridge and that the repair work on the bridge at that time was the usual maintenance work to replace the cables.
Contacted today, a spokesperson for Penang Bridge Sdn Bhd said the bridge undergoes scheduled maintenance and monitoring work annually.
"There were no such thing as cracks or anything of that nature at all," she said, denying they had to repair cracks under the guise of maintenance work.
Earlier, Azhar said there are 1.78 million vehicles in Penang and if there is an additional bridge, it would cause even more congestion on the island.
To this, Public Works, Utilities and Transport exco Lim Hock Seng (DAP - Bagan Jermal) said there are actually 2.3 million vehicles registered in the state.
"The traffic congestion on the bridge is very serious now and if we do not build the second bridge, in one to two years' time, we will not be able to use the current bridge without sitting there to wait for two hours," he said.
Azhar said the figure of 1.78 million he quoted was obtained from the answer given to him by the current state government, to which Lim admitted he had miscalculated.
Meanwhile, Tan Cheong Heng (DAP – Padang Lallang) asked the government to explain why the cables in the middle of the Penang Bridge were being replaced now.
He noted that when the bridge was opened in 1985, it had been guaranteed to last 100 years.