Going by official pronouncements, the era of the mega-projects ended circa November 2003, when premier Abdullah Ahmad Badawi promised news ways of doing business. Closing the Umno general assembly on Nov 20 this year, he affirmed:
“In the past, wealth was generated not by innovation and creativity, but by foreign investment, government contracts and privatisation. Now that era is gone.”
Let’s match his words to deeds to date:
- RM600 million ‘bonus’ for Class F contractors;
- RM400 million for the new National Palace;
- RM220 million for the Agricultural Expo project;
- RM2.8 billion for the second Penang bridge;
- RM50 million to overhaul KTM Bhd;
- RM120 million for fabrication of bus-parts for Sykt Prasarana Negara Sdn Bhd
- RM14.5 billion double-tracking railway project
- RM1.2 billion Penang monorail
to encompass an area about twice the size of Singapore and 48 times that of Putrajaya. The
Employees Provident Fund will invest RM3.4 billion in strategic projects, contributing to the RM47 billion required from 2006-10, and a further RM336 billion from 2011-25.
On Dec 20, Utusan Malaysia quoted government officials as saying that the cabinet had approved a 246km express rail link between Kuala Lumpur and Kuantan, where a new train
station will also be built. The federal government will bear the cost (not revealed) of the project between 2012 and 2015, delivered under the National Infrastructure Plan approved in October.
No more mega-projects?
There are more such projects in the pipeline. It should be noted that these are the projects Malaysia can ill afford. Recently, in order to join the bandwagon the Pahang government has announced a plan to redevelop Kuantan into an investment hub and a new metropolis. The project will probably cost more billions of public money.
This is a contradiction of Abdullah's initial paradigm shift. It is quite obvious that if he is serious in creating a knowledge economy (and a first world mentality), he should allocate more resources to strengthen several core institutions which help to develop minds and human capacity. For example, our tertiary institutions are in need of a serious revamp.
At a round table organised by the Edge, a fellow panelist Dr Nungsari lamented that the government should not have allowed the pro-Bumi NEP process to creep into the local universities. As a result of the affirmative action, many good non-Bumiputera Malay lecturers and academicians were driven away.
Dr Lim Teck Ghee was a prominent socialogist who was driven away by our university when his appointment as a chair in a prestigious Canadian university was rejected by UM - the VC insisted that the university should have the right to nominate whoever it wanted as a chair!
The Abdullah Administration does not demonstrate its understanding of the knowledge economy. Hence, in order to outdo his number 1 critic, Dr M, Abdullah is running to build even bigger (physical) legacy for himself. The Iskandar Development Region is a shining example.
The legacy may be the biggest white elephant in Malaysia.