Lobbying fee, Sultan's stake add to wariness over Dr M's crooked bridge
News of a RM20million "lobbying fee" and the Sultan of Johor having a personal stake has added to public suspicion that former premier Mahathir Mohamad's crooked bridge project was the usual overpriced government vehicle used to carry out massive corruption in the guise of infrastructure development at the expense of taxpayers' wealth.
Two days ago, Malaysians were shocked to learn of the Sultan's interest in the project mooted by Mahathir in the late 1990s.The information came from a lawsuit undertaken by businessman Shazryl Eskay Abdullah against Merong Mahawangsa Sdn Bhd and its directors.
Shazryl is suing for non-payment of a RM20 million fee to lobby BN leaders such as former Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister Megat Junid Megat Ayub to secure the project for Merong.
The Sultan was then the Tengku Mahkota or Crown Prince and Megat Junid is a well-known crony of Mahathir's. Not surprisingly, the trial has suddenly been postponed because one of the defendants had gone on a "Saudi trip".
“Dr M is trying to inherit a legacy at the expense of the people’s interest. The whole deal must be laid out in a more professional and transparent way. This is why Pakatan Rakyat always encourages open tenders so that as far as possible, nothing substantial is hidden,”PKR secretary-general Saifuddin Nasution told Malaysia Chronicle.
“I think it would be better not to be involved in any business deal as a Sultan," Saifuddin added, when asked to comment on the Sultan's stake. A track record of corruption
The controversial project has been slammed by the Singapore authorities, in particular Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, Mahathir's nemesis from the colonial times.
In 2006, it was cancelled by former premier Abdullah Badawi, who succeeded Mahathir and wanted to improve bi-lateral ties with the city-state. But this cancellation of Mahathir's pet project became one of the main reasons why he turned on Badawi, who was his own chosen and anointed successor, and launched a bitter campaign to oust Badawi from the presidency of their ruling Umno party.
The ensuing feud between the two men paved the way for Najib Razak to topple Badawi. Following Najib's assumption of the country's top job, Mahathir began lobbying again for the project to be revived.
Hailing it as the best solution and an essential mega-project, Mahathir warned that if works were not resumed soon, Johor town might be paralysed by traffic congestion. He said the current infrastructure was insufficient to handle both human and goods traffic especially with the new immigration complex open for use.
Yet, the more Mahathir insisted, the more Malaysians grew wary of him and the bridge.
The 85-year old Mahathir ruled Malaysia with a fist of iron from 1981 to 2003 and has been accused of massive corruption, squandering at least US$100billion on wasteful, extravagant and grossly over-priced mega projects.
“When the crooked bridge project first began, I was all for it. But with our current economic and financial situation, I think it would be better to put it on hold and use the money to subsidise the people’s need,” PAS vice president Mahfuz Omar told Malaysia Chronicle. How to insure value for the nation
However, he agreed with his colleague Salahuddin Ayub that a solution was needed as the traffic problem was real.
“A bridge will enable people to travel between Malaysia and Singapore and this boosts the economy,” Salahuddin, the Kubang Kerian MP, told Malaysdia Chronicle.
But how? The real problem in Malaysian was how to implement projects that helped the people and the nation without incurring financial and economic time-bombs because of endemic graft and dishonesty, the Pakatan Rakyat leaders said.
Until there was a change of culture and mindset, Malaysians must demand for more transparency in public deals including the KL MRT, they added. Otherwise, the poor would keep getting poorer as the federal government continued to slash subsidies to reduce national debt, forcing the people to foot the increase in prices of consumer essentials such as oil, sugar and cooking fuel.
In any case, even if Mahathir managed to get the green light from Najib, the Singapore authorities might still be cool to the project. Their objection could again add to the cost of the already costly deal estimated to be at least a coupe of billion ringgit.
“Both sides have to agree to it and we should consider if there is sufficient cost to see it through,” Seri Setia assemblyman Nik Nazmi told Malaysia Chronicle.