Abdullah should suspend construction of the RM1.1 billion “crooked half-bridge” to replace Malaysia’s part of the Johore-Singapore causeway to pave the way for a joint project by the two governments to straighten the new bridge so as not to provide a world example of the human folly of engineering feats and a permanent memorial of breakdown of Malaysia-Singapore relations and ASEAN
by Lim Kit Siang
(Petaling Jaya, Monday): When he attended the 30th ASEAN-Japan Commemorative Summit in Tokyo last week, the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi told his ASEAN counterparts to just pick up the telephone and call him if there is anything urgent that needs his attention and has to be settled immediately, and that there is no need to refer these pressing concerns through the normal diplomatic channels.
This commitment to an ASEAN camaraderie, informality, spirit and solidarity is most commendable, and Abdullah is well-placed to demonstrate the existence of such a close ASEAN bond honed by 36 years of regional relationship and community particularly among the five original ASEAN members, and save the region from the international ignominy of building a “crooked half-bridge”.
As well as a follow-up to the “indefinite postponement” of the RM14.5 billion double tracking rail project which is to be formally decided by the Cabinet on Wednesday, Abdullah should suspend the construction of the RM1.1 billion “crooked half-bridge” to replace Malaysia’s part of the Johore-Singapore causeway to pave the way for a joint project by the two governments to straighten the new bridge linking the two countries.
Otherwise, the “crooked half-bridge” at the Southern Gateway of the country will stand not as the latest addition to the list of “man-made wonders” in the world but an international testimony of the human folly of engineering feats and a permanent memorial of the breakdown of Malaysia-Singapore relations and ASEAN.
One reason that has been given for the proposed “indefinite postponement” of the double tracking rail project is that it is not in the Eighth Malaysia Plan and that the new administration of Abdullah wants to give priority for more important socio-economic projects, in particular on education, health-care and agriculture.
These arguments are even more persuasive and pertinent in the case of the “crooked half-bridge”, as this project was never slated in the Eighth Malaysia Plan and was sprung on the country as a total surprise without any inkling beforehand and rushed to implementation in indecent haste without giving room for public consultation or discussion, while the the double tracking rail project from Ipoh to Padang Besar and Seremban to Johor Bahru had a high profile and long period of gestation in the Eight Malaysia Plan as well as the subject of more than three years of government-to-government negotiations between Malaysia and the two governments of India and China.
The elevated eight-storey high “crooked half-bridge”, part of the RM2.26 billion new Customs, Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ) Complex in Johore Bahru, is being built only on the Malaysian side or half of the 900-metre 80-year Causeway to allow free passage of watercraft and water currents of the Johore Straits. However, because of the very short distance of 450 metres from the Johore/Singapore boundary of the causeway to which it has to be joined, the “crooked half-bridge” has to be curved and extended more than thrice the distance to 1.4-kilometre so that heavy vehicles such as lorries can cope with a maximum incline of 4.2 degrees.
The DAP had been the only political party to openly oppose the “crooked half-bridge”, as there is no immediate urgency to start work on the new bridge when the RM2 billion Johore-Singapore Second Link is so grossly under-utilised that it has become a “white elephant” with an average daily traffic volume as low as 10 per cent of its capacity of 200,000 vehicles a day.
In fact, as a result of the low traffic volume and toll collection, the government has to compensate the Second Link concessionaire some RM100 million since its opening more than five years ago for the shortfall in guaranteed traffic volume and toll revenue.
This was why the DAP had in August spoken up against the indecent haste to start construction and rush the completion of the “crooked half-bridge”, proposing that it should not be built without a national mandate and specific parliamentary approval – and that in any event, the final decision should be left to the new Prime Minister as Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad had only a few months to go before his announced retirement.
The then new Transport Minister, Datuk Chan Kong Choy was however very haughty and arrogant, declaring that the design and construction of the “crooked half-bridge” would not be altered in any manner even if Singapore should agree to jointly develop the project, and that the possibility of “straightening” the new bridge was nil! (Sin Chew 3.8.03)
Abdullah should ensure that good sense should prevail, not only in Malaysia-Singapore relations, but also in the mentality and attitude of Malaysian Cabinet Ministers, especially as Johore Bahru UMNO leaders, like Deputy Works Minister Datuk Khalid Nordin and former Cabinet Minister, Datuk Shahrir have found the courage to speak out publicly to oppose the “crooked half-bridge” and call for bilateral co-operation and joint Malaysia-Singapore development of the Southern Gateway project, straightening the “crooked half-bridge” to spare Malaysia of a permanent international embarrassment.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman