PENANG Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng today asked Prime Minister Najib Razak why he had “suddenly” described the Penang undersea tunnel project as a waste of funds.

Lim said Najib himself had witnessed the signing of the memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the Penang government and Chinese firm Beijing Urban Construction Group (BUCG) to undertake the project.

He said China’s then prime minister Wen Jiabao was also present at the ceremony in Putrajaya on April 28, 2011.

“Why is he calling the tunnel a waste of public funds and unnecessary now, seven years after he witnessed the signing ceremony?  

“Or is it because the general election is coming? Or has he been influenced by all the lies told by Liow Tiong Lai and Dr Wee Ka Siong?” Lim said at a press conference this morning at Komtar.

Liow and Wee, who are MCA president and deputy president respectively, had criticised and made statements against the project in recent weeks.

In his blog entry yesterday on, Najib said Penang had no need for the tunnel as there were two bridges connecting the island and the mainland.

“We already have two bridges in Penang. There is no need to waste the rakyat’s money to build the undersea tunnel,” he wrote.

The proposed tunnel from Bagan Ajam in Butterworth to Persiaran Gurney in George Town is part of a larger RM6.3 billion project, also comprising three highways to alleviate the congestion on Penang island.

Lim showed the media a photograph taken at the MoU signing of Najib, Wen, himself and BUCG’s Liu Longhua.

“In case he doesn’t know me, this is me. Najib was standing right beside me  ,” he said.

Lim said Najib should explain his remarks about the tunnel, adding that he was willing to see the latter personally to explain the project.

“I want to give the prime minister the benefit of the doubt.

“He is a busy man. He might have forgotten that he was at the MoU signing.

“Even after we inked the MoU, Penang still called for an open competitive tender for the project.

“We go through open tenders when we do projects, not like the ECRL (East Coast Rail Link) or projects related to Felda or 1MDB (1Malaysia Development Bhd),” he said, referring to the federal government projects.

Lim also said he had mentioned on numerous occasions that the tunnel was not going to be built immediately.

“I have already said that the tunnel won’t be built now, and that it would only be ready in 2027.

“Yes, there are two bridges, but by 2027, they would have reached their maximum carrying capacity. Then, we will need the tunnel,” he said.

The tunnel is at the feasibility study stage, of which 92% has been completed.

The project was awarded to the Malaysian-Chinese Consortium Zenith BUCG Sdn Bhd in 2013.

Another Chinese firm, China Railway Construction Corporation (CRCC), also signed on as the engineering, procurement, construction and design consultant. It will be the main builder of the tunnel.

However, BUCG left the consortium in September 2016 after a crane at its construction site in Kuala Lumpur collapsed and killed a motorist. Zenith Construction took over BUCG’s 95% stake in the consortium.

The consortium is now known as Consortium Zenith Construction Sdn Bhd.

The project and the consortium had been in the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s sights since 2016, following complaints filed by detractors of the project.

Last month, MACC launched an investigation on the project again, remanding several directors and consultants involved.