SOURCE: The Vibes | Published on 22 May 2021 12:00PM
More than 20 workers, including engineers, managers, supposedly given the boot by Consortium Zenith Construction.
GEORGE TOWN – The fate of the controversial RM6.3 billion Penang undersea tunnel project, which was packaged with three highways on the island, has become gloomier after its project delivery partner is said to have laid off more than 20 workers, including engineers and managers.
Consortium Zenith Construction (CZC) Sdn Bhd has apparently shed the jobs since the start of this year. At the same time, the company revealed that it is bringing in heavy machinery to commence the construction phase.
Presently, no earthworks appear to be done at the site where the ground-breaking ceremony was held and attended by Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow in 2019 for a 6km highway to be built under package two.
The highway is set to link Bandar Baru Air Itam to the Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway to enable a five-minute drive compared with the present route that takes about 40 minutes.
The project was supposed to start last year and end by April 2023.
An insider familiar with the matter said the lay-offs began when a new majority-stake partner – Kedah-based ECK Development Sdn Bhd – bought a controlling stake in the group entrusted to execute the mammoth infrastructure project.
“I was told nothing has moved yet, despite reports of construction machinery coming in,” said the insider, who requested anonymity.
He said some of the workers have filed grievances with the industrial relations office here.
Penang govt aware of lay-offs
State Infrastructure Committee chairman Zairil Khir Johari said the state is aware of the lay-offs but views it as an internal exercise by the company.
“It could be a company restructuring but, in any case, the state cannot simply intervene. We just hope that the developer followed the necessary law when removing employees,” he said.
Zairil said that the movement control orders (MCOs) as a result of the prevailing Covid-19 pandemic has put a spanner in the ability of CZC to follow its pre-scheduled timetable for construction.
“We were informed that ECK (which took over control of CZC) is serious about completing the project and we are in constant communication with them on getting the project ready,” Zairil said.
ECK Development, which is led by Kedah-based construction tycoon Tan Sri Khor Eng Chuen, is also reportedly the master developer of the MBI Desaku township project in Kulim, which reportedly has affluent buyers from China keen to invest in the sprawling residential property.
Meanwhile, a top executive at ECK Development based here said queries about the retrenchments will be forwarded to the company headquarters.
“I can assure you that ECK is transparent about the entire project.”
Meanwhile, Penang Forum executive council member Lim Mah Hui, an economist, said that, with the pandemic and rising costs as well as environmental concerns owing to climate change, it is best to rethink and re-strategise the state’s Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP).
“I had anticipated such problems as, even without the pandemic, the financial costs are staggering,” he said.
Besides package two, the whole project includes the package one highway from Tg Bungah to Teluk Bahang (10.53km) and package three from Gurney Drive to the Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway. (4.1km).
The main project is the 7.2km undersea tunnel from George Town to Butterworth.
ECK is also reportedly the main partner of the Kedah government for the proposed Kulim International Airport, which will focus more on the cargo transhipment sector.
The tunnel project has been under consistent fire since former chief minister Lim Guan Eng announced in 2012 the plans to establish a third link between the island and mainland to complement the two bridges.
Since then, there has been contention from civil societies and political parties over the project’s viability.
Former CZC executive director Datuk Zarul Ahmad Mohd Zulkifli also had to relinquish interest in the project after he was said to be involved in the proceedings of a court case involving Lim.
The company’s chairman, Tan Sri Azmi Khalid, has also reportedly quit CZC, leaving only its senior director Datuk Lee Chee Hoe as the only holdover from the original management team.