A week is a long time in politics, so said British PM Harold Wilson in 1964. Due to the fast-changing pace of the political landscape, the fortunes of a politician or political group could change drastically just in the course of a single week. How true it is when we examine this statement against the political scenario in Malaysia in the course of one week before the recent Chinese New Year.
The Year of the Fire Rooster definitely came in with a hot and fiery trail for many of us, much to the chagrin of aspiring project promoters and politicians in power.
It all started when Najib Abdul Razak announced some of the big projects in Malaysia that will involve Chinese companies from China. Projects such as Bandar Malaysia, Tun Razak Exchange, East Coast Railway Line (ECRL) and Forest City in Johor, are all very large-scale projects.
Before that announcement, a number of other equally massive projects were also announced separately which include a large port at Kuala Linggi, Negri Sembilan, Melaka Gateway (a large-scale land reclamation proposal including another big port), the expansion of Kuantan Port and also not forgetting the high speed rail project or MyHSR, which may all involve companies from China.
As usual, these announcements were spun to such an extent to make them all look like foreign direct investment (FDI)-type of projects. Whereas in reality, it is far from that. These projects were directly awarded or given out through no-tender, no-bidding process at all. They were handed over on a platter to various companies from China without proper planning, let alone any strategic thinking in terms of national development agenda or requirements.
Many have also expressed if Malaysia still need Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) prior to the start of all of these projects, which is another issue.
The main question is, our country is currently suffering from a property glut and so is Singapore. (Those in the property sector would not admit that the Malaysian property market as well as that of Singapore, have actually crashed; preferring to call it a slowdown instead.)
But how would it help that under such a scenario, we promote more land reclamation and disguise them all for more property development which would then require more infrastructure and services. Many developers are saying that this approach does not make sense, when there are hardly any buyers and the banks are shying away from lending more to the sector.
Apart from those pertinent questions on the property sector, the other question is, is there such a huge demand for several ports along the Straits of Malacca? Have the current ports like Johor Port, Tg Pelepas, Westport, Northport, (both in Port Klang) and Penang reached their respective capacities?
What will happen to PSA Corporation Ltd in Singapore, the number one port in the world, which is just around the corner? Are they operating at full capacity, too? Or are these new ports going to take over from PSA instead?
And as if not to be outdone, came another bombshell announcement from Port Klang Authority (PKA) chairperson that it is looking at building a RM200 billion port at Carey Island. Now, that is not only a big project but very likely the biggest joke of them all especially when you put it side by side with what transpired at the Port Klang Free Zone (PKFZ), not long ago.
For as a comparison, Tg Pelepas, the largest port in the country at one time, was built at a cost of about RM2 billion and has a capacity of 10 million containers (or Twenty Feet Equivalent Units - TEUs) per year. So this new port at Carey Island would be about 10 times the size of Tg Pelepas. A 100 million TEUs port? (For the record, PSA is now handling about 20 million TEUs per year and it took them more than 50 years to reach that target.)
Perhaps, sensing that the Malaysian government is harping on ridiculousness and equally too bombastic in their political approach especially in calling all these projects as FDIs, our good Dr Mahathir Mohamad started his moves and gave his invaluable insights into the working of his previous government. His comments on the matter are powerful, spot-on and damning, too.
Scrambling for cover
It was interesting to note that his no-nonsense statements, made over years of experience in running a government, did not fall on deaf ears. His full text via chedet.com on Jan 20, 2017, FDI from China, sent many Malaysian politicians scrambling for cover.
Suddenly, from their response and statements in re attacking Dr M, you can easily separate the political green boys from the men of experience; from the politically expedient persons and that of the coward novices in the government.
But more importantly, his statement that when Pakatan Harapan wins the next general election, all of these projects would be reviewed and possibly cancelled sent a big chill down the spines of those Chinese company directors. That statement is overwhelming and has led to cause for concern among the so-called foreign investors. How would you get paid when a government has the right to cancel your contract?
A source mentioned that when they read Dr M’s comments, a number of them met hurriedly at board level and decided to put their interests on Malaysian projects on hold. This is indeed bad news for Malaysian project promoters and politicians in power.
In a course of one week, many large-scale projects are suddenly being put on hold. Chinese companies would rather wait and see the results of the next general election rather that to commit their financial resources now. To many ambitious and greedy government politicians, Dr M is at fault, as he has scared the Chinese (from China) off.
As a result, they now do not have any projects to promote or talk about and no upfront payment, too. Melaka Gateway is not likely to happen and Bandar Malaysia would not be Bandar China so soon.
In a course of one week, our experienced Dr M altered the course and direction of Malaysian political direction and landscape. Well done, Dr M. How the fortunes of many politicians and political groups have change drastically over the course of one week.
So, Harold Wilson was right when he said, one week is too long in politics especially when you also have too long a project to contend with.
DR ROSLI KHAN is a transport economist and currently the VP for the Chartered Institute of Logistics & Transport, Malaysia.