April 27, 2019.
Recollections & Reflections – A commentary by Aziz Hassan
WITH the framework agreement just signed in Beijing, work to revive the Bandar Malaysia project should be able to proceed after whatever financial obligations by master developer IWH-CREC mentioned in a recent announcement are met. The failure to meet these obligations was why work at the former air force base was stopped several months back.
In announcing recently the resumption of the project, Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad quoted Bandar Malaysia’s impact on the economy as a reason, while also mentioning some alterations to the plan announced by the Barisan Nasional government in May 2011 on the 196-hectare site.
Excerpts of a news report quoting Mahathir: “Like the ECRL, the Bandar Malaysia project should be viewed within the larger context of fostering and cementing long-term bilateral relations between Malaysia and China while ensuring such projects add maximum economic value to the country.
“When we conducted our investigations, we found that the company, which was doing the preliminary work on the project, was actually not a Chinese company.
“The Chinese (company) only owned 25 per cent in that company. That is why we changed our stance to reinstate the project.”
It’s all academic now of course but the above should not be ignored in relation to how the Pakatan Harapan leadership makes its decisions on plans mooted by the previous administration and how it justifies these decisions.
Bandar Malaysia was a favourite punching bag of Mahathir’s believers, especially from 2015 to the time of the election last May, but these doubters have now chosen to remain silent.
One issue raised was that Bandar Malaysia was yet another sellout to China while another wrote to question how Malaysia could so easily give away something so strategic security-wise to a foreign country. The question basically centred on sovereignty.
But how could the site be one so critical to national security when the decision had been made to shift the air base to Sendayan? In line with this, all aircraft, big or small, ceased to land or take off from RMAF Sungai Besi.
Sovereignty too should not be an issue because China’s CREC was never going to be a majority or controlling shareholder in the consortium to develop Bandar Malaysia.
The Star’s report on December 31, 2015: “1Malaysia Development Berhad will sign a share sale and purchase agreement to sell 60% of its equity in Bandar Malaysia Sdn. Bhd. to a consortium for RM7.41bililon, the final milestone in its rationalisation plan.
“The buyer, a consortium known as IWH-CREC Sdn. Bhd., is a 60:40 joint venture between Iskandar Waterfront Holding Sdn. Bhd. and China Railway Engineering Corporation.”
Because the sale was a public announcement, it was thus most unbelievable that Mahathir should be talking about an investigation almost a year after Pakatan took over the administration from Barisan Nasional. If at all Mahathir needed reassuring, one phone call to the finance minister should be able to confirm the sale of the stake and who had the bigger share.
That reasoning sounded more like a convenient excuse to justify yet another U-turn by Pakatan to proceed with a billion-ringgit undertaking initiated by a government it booted out last year.
Bandar Malaysia is planned to be a transport hub but whether it will include the high speed railway linking Kuala Lumpur and Singapore will only be known later next year when both governments meet again to decide whether to resume work after agreeing last year to put the project on hold until May 31 next year.
As of now Mahathir doesn’t seem excited about the HSR, as made known in a remark after he had announced the revival of the East Coast Rail Link, but from the way he has shifted his positions on the ECRL and Bandar Malaysia, no one should be absolutely certain Mahathir would call off the HSR.
Before the announcement on Bandar Malaysia came the one on the revival of the East Coast Rail Link, also with some modifications at a reduced cost, which is positive news.
But again let’s take a look at Mahathir’s “before and after” comments.
Highways stimulate economy, not ECRL, says Mahathir — April 8, 2017.
Shah Alam — Former prime minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad took another swipe at the East Coast Rail Link, saying there was little benefit to be derived from the project.
“If you borrow RM55 billion for a train with no passengers, it would be difficult.”
And a paragraph from Mahathir’s press conference on April 15: “Along with seeing a reduction in the project’s cost, the country should see other economic benefits as well. He announced that construction jobs for local workers would increase from the 30 per cent agreed to in the original contract to 40 per cent.”
And in a little under a year, China is beginning to smell like a rose all over again vis-à-vis its foray into the Malaysian economy.