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(Petaling Jaya, Monday): Former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed may discover democracy late in life but it is better late than never to have public referendum than can return power to decide whether Prime Minister Datuk Abdullah Ahmad Badawi made the correct decision to forgo Mahathirís crooked bridge to Singapore. Such a public referendum can stop the confusion and debate between Mahathir and Badawi whether the people supported Mahathirís crooked bridge or supported Badawi in canceling the crooked bridge because of legal implications and public opposition to the supplying of sand on a long-term basis and the use of air space by Singaporeís military.
Government Backbenchers Club chairman Datuk Shahrir Samad was wrong to reject Mahathirís call for a referendum of Johorís residents by reason that Mahathir did not have one when he decided to build the crooked bridge across the Johor Straits. Two wrongs do not make a right. Just because Mahathir was wrong in not calling for a referendum when he was a Prime Minister does not mean that calling for a referendum is wrong. Or is the real reason for rejection due to Mahathir suggesting it when he is now no longer Prime Minister?
Such a referendum is also necessary as the public is confused that the same Cabinet that approved the crooked bridge then was basically the same one that now opposed it. After all Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi himself, Datuk Seri Rafidah Aziz, Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu, Datuk Seri Dr Lim Keng Yaik and Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting were the ministers who agreed with Dr Mahathir on building the bridge.
The public has a right to know why they supported the bridge then blindly. Only a public referendum can decide how such a decision was reached on the validity of Mahathirís contentions that Malaysia has a legal right to remove the water pipes by giving 6 months notice and that it is not in our national or sovereign interests to surrender to Singapore.
The crooked bridge debacle is a good 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 (ďCIQ ComplexĒ) at Bukit Chagar, Johor Bahru.
The question on every Malaysianís 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 Singaporeís 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 countryís 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, why should Malaysian taxpayers forced to bear the costs of cancellation of the crooked bridge or scenic bridge by paying compensation of hundreds of millions of ringgit to the contractor. Is it ethical for the contractor to be allowed to blindly benefit for a project which they need not complete?
Fourthly, 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.
DAP supports Mahathirís call for a public referendum as it is not only a test for democracy but also to uphold accountability and transparency in concluding public debate on who made the right decision in the national interests to approve or cancel the crooked bridge to Singapore.