(Petaling Jaya, Sunday): The proposed
RM2 billion new Malaysia-Singapore bridge to replace the Johore Causeway
has not only "puzzled" the Singapore Government, but confounded Malaysians
by the suddenness of its announcement raising nagging questions not only
about the state of Malaysia-Singapore relations, the co-ordination of development
projects between Federal-Johore State Government, whether the Government
is now again going for a binge of mega-projects and most important of all,
the real reason behind the latest proposal for the bridge mega-project
at a time of economic recession.
The first announcement of the proposed RM2 billion new Malaysia-Singapore bridge was made by the Johore Works Committee chairman, Datuk Zainal Abdin Zain a week ago, who said that the mega-project, which was approved by the Cabinet recently, would begin construction next year.
Zainal said the 10-lane bridge, which would take three years to complete, would be a boost to Johoreís economy with its multiplier effects on the construction, cement, steel and other related industries.
It was reported that the concessionaire for the new Malaysia-Singapore bridge is a consortium Gerbang Perdana Sdn. Bhd., comprising Merong Mahawangsa Sdn. Bhd (60%), Detik Nagasari Sdn. Bhd (20%) and Diversified Resources Bhd (20%), and that it has been given a 33-year concession by the federal government to design, finance, build, operate and transfer the bridge.
It was also reported that the Gerbang Perdana chairman, Tan Sri Razali Ismail, director Datuk Yahaya A. Jalil and DRB chairman Tan Sri Salleh Sulong briefed the Johore government on the project two weeks ago.
Zainal revealed that working plans are already being prepared and that the consortiumís joint-venture agreement was signed last month.
The proposed RM2 billion new bridge to replace the Johore causeway has caused a string of surprises in the past week.
The sudden announcement of the bridge mega-project and its advanced stage was the first surprise. The second surprise was the Singapore Governmentís total ignorance about the project.
The Singapore Governmentís first reaction was that it was "a bit puzzled" by the report as it had not received any formal proposal from Malaysia for a new bridge to replace the Causeway but it was open to new ideas.
It said that "if building the new link would increase interaction between people and bring about close ties between the two countries, the idea would certainly be considered".
The third surprise was the rather haughty response of the Johore Mentri Besar, Datuk Abdul Ghani Othman asking why the building of a new bridge to replace the Johore Causeway should raise any problems or become an issue, particularly for Singapore, because it is a 100-per-cent Malaysian project.
He said that the building of the new bridge was a part of the effort by the state and federal governments to develop Johore.
Ghani told Berita Harian (22nd January 1999): "Because this project is 100 per cent Malaysian, it only requires continuation on our side of what is already existing on the Singapore side." He said that the building of the new bridge should not be a problem "because Singapore has built their side".
Ghaniís earlier statement in the Nanyang Siang Pau that Singapore had given the go-ahead to replace the Causeway with a bridge was contradicted by the Singapore Government in the Singapore Parliament.
Singapore Foreign Affairs Minister S. Jayakumar said the Singapore Government should be kept informed if the Malaysian government supports the proposal although it was a private sector proposal.
The Singapore National Development Minister and Second Finance Minister, Lim Hng Kiang said a government-to-government agreement must be reached, and then many planning, technical and economic issues such as the proposed crossing points, clearance height, design specifications and road linkages have to be sorted out before a bridge can be built to replace the Causeway.
He said that Singapore was still waiting for an official proposal from Malaysia on building a replacement bridge.
The fourth surprise was the ignorance of the Works Minister, Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu about the advanced stage of the new Malaysia-Singapore bridge plan.
Although Samy Vellu broke his week-long silence on Friday by assuring Singapore that a government-to-government agreement will be reached on the proposed bridge to replace the existing Johore-Singapore causeway, he claimed that the project had been put on hold due to economic problems faced by Malaysia recently and that to date, there had been no directive from the Federal Government to his ministry to sign an agreement with the concession company to implement the project.
Samy Vellu said he wanted to clarify the issue before "it got out of hand".
The problem is the issue has got out of hand, and many are wondering whether Samy Vellu is privy to what is really happening about the bridge project. At present, there are only two persons who can give definitive statements about the project, the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and the Finance Minister, Tun Daim Zainuddin, and one of them should speak up publicly to clarify its status.
Underlying the maze of confusion which has been thrown up in the past week is the question as to what is the real rationale behind the new RM2 billion bridge mega-project to replace the 70-year-old causeway, when a RM1.3 billion Second Link had just been completed to do just that.
The Second Link has proved to be a "white elephant", grossly under-utilised since its opening in March last year, having an average daily traffic volume of only 11,500 vehicles or 5.7 per cent of its maximum traffic load.
This has not only forced the government to pay RM20 million as compensation to the Second Link concessionaire last year for the shortfall in guaranteed traffic volume and toll revenue, it has also aggravated the financial crisis of the companies associated with it, including Renong, United Engineers Malaysia (UEM) and Prolink.
Prolink Development Sdn. Bhd had in fact on January 18, 1999 defaulted
on interest servicing obligations amounting to RM41.35 million in respect
of loan facilities from a number of financial institutions with total principal
outstanding of RM616.28 million - which under ordinary circumstances, would
have triggered off bankruptcy proceedings.
The most important issue for Malaysians is for a satisfactory and convincing explanation that the RM2 billion new Malaysia-Singapore bridge proposal had been advanced in the best interests of Malaysians and not to bail-out the Second Link and troubled companies associated with it, including Renong, UEM and Prolink.
I call on Mahathir or Daim to fully clarify the issues raised by the recent controversy over the new Malaysia-Singapore bridge to replace the Johore causeway.