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(Petaling Jaya, Thursday):
The cancellation of the scenic bridge is an expensive billion ringgit lesson for the BN government not to engage in reckless commercial adventurism that is contrary to professional and comprehensive planning and costing. The government, through its Works Ministry, had signed a RM 1.266 billion contract with Gerbang Perdana CIQ Sdn Bhd to pay for the construction costs and other related expenses associated with the construction of the new Integrated Customs, Immigration and Quarantine Complex (“CIQ Complex”) at Bukit Chagar, Johor Bahru.
The scenic bridge became a bridge too far when it could not overcome troubled waters caused by the intransigent opposition of the Singapore government. Finally Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had no choice but to back down and cancel the scenic bridge due to legal complications and implications as well as negative response of Malaysians towards the trade-off in sand and air-space concessions demanded by Singapore to agree to the construction of the bridge.
The question on every Malaysian’s mind is why were these legal complications and implications not considered before the government undertook construction of the CIQ for nearly 1.3 billion. As the New Straits Times reported that even if Malaysia were to build the crooked bridge on our side, we would have to get Singapore’s consent before we even touch one brick of the Causeway to link it to the bridge. What is the use of paying so much money to appoint legal experts if they fail to give the proper legal advice?
Whilst DAP agrees with the sentiments expressed by Malaysians that we should not trade-off our country’s sovereignty and national interests by selling sand and giving up air-space, this does not mean that Malaysians and Singapore do not need a bigger bridge that can overcome traffic congestion and the environmental pollution. However there should be proper planning, discussions and costing. Amongst the main objections, were that the Singapore government that upholds transparency did not know the cost of the bridge nor comfortable with the opaque nature of the contract that is estimated at billions of Singapore dollars.
Failure of the Malaysian government to think and plan ahead has not only caused us to face losses which come to as high as RM 1.266 billion but also affected confidence in the professionalism and competence of both our Foreign Ministry and Malaysians government. First how can the Prime Minister succeed in creating first-class mentality and human capital formation if senior officials in the Foreign Ministry can not get our legal basics right like getting the agreement of Singapore authorities before beginning construction of the scenic bridge project. That is why action must be taken against those government officials who either through negligence or oversight can not get their basic right causing Malaysians to face losses of up to a billion ringgit.
Second, what is going to happen to the RM 1.266 billion CIQ when it is completed? Unless it can be fully utilized, it will become another white elephant. Clearly only the contractor for the CIQ will be well-compensated for the cancellation of this project. Further it is also unfair to the Bukit Cagar Flats residents who had to move out to make way for the project when clearly there is now no need to do so.
Thirdly, what are the plans to alleviate the traffic jams, environmental pollution and slow processing time at the various custom checkpoints. Abandoning the scenic bridge project and calling off all negotiations with Singapore does not mean that these problems that affect the residents of Johor Baru can be ignored.
The Malaysian government must now come up with an alternative plan for Johor Baru residents and learn from this expensive lesson by getting the necessary legal consent where necessary. Otherwise, the Malaysian people, especially Johor Baru residents will be the main loser leaving the contractor Gerbang Perdana and possibly Singapore as the main winners.