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Fwd: MGG The Second Bridge and Singapore
By web aNtu

5/9/2000 8:29 am Tue

THE JOHORE mentri besar, Dato' Abdul Ghani Othman, finally admits the absence of a Malaysian-Singapore agreement hinders the building of the new second bridge to replace the Causeway. The proposed RM1.5 billion Southern International Gateway is planned without consulting Singapore, which having built its customs, immigration and quarantine centre at Woodlands to cater for Malaysians coming through Johore Bahru, is not about to see its investment to waste. While the gateway is seen as yet another sign of necessary modernity, the commercial and political fallout of the Gelang Patah link to Singapore, so under-used that often the car that drives through is the only one in sight over the bridge, makes the destruction of the causeway necessary. That would, while the bridge is built, make it the only gateway to Singapore. This could well destroy Johore Bahru's present role, but is that more important than some business men making all that money? It is then the congestion at the causeway provided the excuse for the gateway.

But the planners did not study the project properly, presumed Singapore's assent, decided how and where it would join Singapore, and then present the island republic with its proposal. There were several things wrong with it. The two governments have met over this gateway, but talks have stalled because the Malaysians did not present a proposal to link the gateway to the existing CIQ centre at Woodlands. More important, KTM would have to stop its services at Johore Bahru, for the gateway, as proposed, is built so high off the ground that the gradient is too high for the trains. This would make nonsence of Malaysia's insistence that KTM has a right to services to the island.

The talks have stalled. Malaysia wants KTM to continue its services. Singapore replied that if it had to, the gradient required to enable the trains to link with the bridge would have to begin several kilometres away from Johore Bahru and Woodlands. But Malaysia meanwhile went ahead and announced who would build the project. I had lunch once with one connected with this consortium, who insisted it would go on whether Singapore agreed to or not. This arrogance prevailed through the negotiations. Dato' Ghani tells us what the gateway would look like: ten lanes for heavy vehicles, cars, motorcycles and pedestrians; the Tebrau Straits would be navigable once more; a rail link, a new CIQ to replace the existing Tanjong Putera link. He does not say where it would connect to the island and how it would be linked to Woodlands. The contract was awarded in the usual Bolehland way, in which cronies, siblings, courtiers and hangers-on join in an instant consortium to run the problem at the most expensive way possible. The contract is awarded to a consortium led by Gerbang Perdana Sdn Bhd with Marong Mahawangsa Sdn Bhd (60 per cent of the equity), Diversified Resources Bhd (20 per cent) and Detik Nagasari Sdn Bhd (20 per cent). A company in which a cabinet minister had a substantial interest is one of the major contractors.

Malaysia has not through the project. Singapore has. The headline in the Star today (04 September 00, p14) -- "Singapore's consent needed for project" -- suggests the island republic drags its feet. It is Kuala Lumpur which does. Malaysia should rethink this project; it it be built, it would have to be by a Singapore-Malaysia consortium with contractors selected by international tender. This constant feeding of cronies, siblings, courtiers must end. If this project does go on, it would be how to link it to the CIQ at Woodlands, with the Malaysian end where it leads to. Whether this could still enable the KTM to link to the republic is another issue altogether. So many of bilateral problems with Singapore are addressed by sudden impulses and local financial and political considerations that a solution is all but impossible. The internal political considerations, in the wake of He Who Must Be Destroyed At All Cost's rebellion, so debilitates the administration, that any serious talk about the Southern International Gateway must await until calmer times under a different leader. In any case, neither the consortium nor the government have the RM1.5 billion needed to build it.

M.G.G. Pillai

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