Thursday, July 12, 2007

Quo Vadis National Interest
And Sovereignty In IDR?

Datuk Rejal Arbee

What is it with the Iskandar Development Region (IDR) that matters of national interests and national integrity can be compromised all for the sake of development? We seem to want to be so accommodative to the foreigners that national interests and sovereignty seems to have been thrown out of the window. So our own well being do not matter anymore in IDR?

The latest in a series of decisions that seem to favour foreigners is the requirement that local architecture firms wanting jobs in the IDR need to forge partnerships with a selected group of foreign architects already identified by Khazanah. Isn’t this a reversal of the normal requirement where a foreign company needing certain contracts have to get a local partner/s to ensure among others transfer of technology?

It looks like the IDR is indeed something very special. Is there any other country in the world which gives such preference to foreigners? It seems that Malaysian Institute of Architects (PAM) have protested this unprecedented requirement but to no avail.

And now some environmental groups have expressed fear of an ecological disaster waiting to happen to the Sungai Pulai estuary within the IDR because of the various industries being planned for the area including the building of the RM100 million 40ha man-made island at Tanjung Bin to be the site of a RM1.4 billion project aimed at making the country a regional petroleum hub.

The bunkering terminal near the tip of Johor’s southeastern coast near to the Port of Tanjung Pelepas (PTP), will be used to provide integrated services and uninterrupted bunkering to ships. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi when officiating the ground-breaking ceremony for the reclamation works on Thursday (July 5) said the Asia Petroleum Hub will create opportunities in the maritime industry as well as promote the emergence of marine support activities.


However ecological groups are now questioning the setting up of the various heavy and medium-sized industries in the Sungai Pulai estuary which is an estuarine river system having minimal freshwater influx from the upstream watershed. Thus the tidal ebbs and flows will not bring about the outflow of wastewater discharged by the various industries to be set up there into the sea but will be brought back by the high tides into the estuary.

The area will then become polluted and would affect the Merambong seagrass and other seagrass which support sensitive marine species like seahorses and dugong at the mouth of the Sungai Pulai. They are calling for a DEIA (Detailed Environmental Impact Assessment) for the area which could comprehensively assess the cumulative impact of the industries on the ecosystem of the area. This is needed because discharge by individual heavy and medium-sized industries might not individually cause an impact but the accumulative impact of all the industries together, that is the total pollution load, will create a major environmental disaster in the Sungai Pulai estuary.

So what gives for the IDR? Earlier moves were afoot that could compromise the sovereignty of the area beginning with the unprecedented proposal to allow free flow of Singaporeans into the region without any travel papers as if they are going into their own territory. It was only when the people were shocked with disbelief at such blatant ‘giveaway’ that the government was forced to back track and abandon any thought of providing the Singaporeans such unprecedented freedom of excess.

Then there is this decision by the Advisory Panel announced by one of its members, former Deputy Prime Minister, Tan Sri Musa Hitam that the Bumiputeras cannot expect any undue privileges provided by the NEP for jobs in the IDR. He said they could no longer depend on preferential or special treatment from the government to secure projects in the IDR but should instead take advantage of the opportunities provided. But the Bumiputera entities need to prove their worth to be considered.

Musa seem to blame the whole Bumiputera business community for the problem, when it was the government’s patronage system that had created it in the first place. And who are these Bumiputeras given the preferential treatment? Aren’t they the rent seekers, the types who have access or connections to those who can give out the largesse? They are the ones who on getting the contracts hawked them out to the non-Bumiputeras for peanuts. And to blame the Bumiputeras as a whole for this is a disgrace.


The rent seekers should not only not be welcomed in the IDR but throughout the country. The NEP itself should not be blamed but those in positions of making the decisions should be blamed for the excesses. In any case the people needed to be reminded that the Bumiputera entities do not mean 100 percent Bumiputera owned since even partnerships where 49 percent of the equity owned by non-bumis are still considered as Bumi entities. What can be more accommodative than this?

The problem over awarding of projects is not really due to the policy’s shortcomings but how it was administered and implemented. It is good that the patronage system be done away with so that those not qualified not be awarded any contract. Conversely the qualified Bumiputeras including the genuine 51-49 partnership should not now be discriminated against especially in the IDR.

Unfortunately there are those in the corridors of power who do not see the positive side of the NEP. Thus moves are afoot to use the IDR to dismantle the NEP. But as stated by former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad affirmative action if used judiciously could yield good results. If implemented correctly there would not be dissentions instead it could dissipate tensions arising from economic disparities between the races and even among the races. It is when nothing is done to overcome such disparities that tensions will arise and can compromise national stability.

It is bad enough that for the IDR, a joint ministerial committee between Singapore and Malaysia had been set up entrusted to plan and oversee development and progress of the region. It is as if without the island republic being made part of such a joint committee, Singaporeans will not want to invest there.

Thus the continued outcry among the people especially those who value national sovereignty and integrity over what is happening in the name of development of the IDR. The feeling is that Malaysia should be the sole deciding authority and not to share it with a foreign government for development in our sovereign area. Participation by the foreigners should also be on our terms.


The Johoreans especially including Umno politicians are still questioning why the nation’s sovereignty is being eroded bit by bit all for the sake of expediency of the IDR? The question of sovereignty is very sensitive to the Johoreans. This is understandable, maybe not to Lee Kuan Yew, the Singapore Minister Mentor considering that a number of places in Johore where there are the republic’s water treatment plants being regarded as if they are part of the republic’s territory. The places are all manned by Singaporeans and out of bounds to any others.

To make matters worse places like Pulau Batu Putih (which is only about 15 km off the Penggerang coast and more than 30 km away from Changi and subject to disputed claims by both countries and now before the International Court) and Pulau Pisang (about 100km up the Straits of Malacca opposite Pontian town) where there are lighthouses are still being manned by Singaporeans. In fact at one time the Singaporeans had the gall to even fly Singapore’s flag at the lighthouse in Pulau Pisang where there is no dispute of ownership. The question is why are the Singaporeans still manning the lighthouse especially in Pulau Pisang. Aren’t there Malaysian who can do the job? If not then who is manning the lighthouse in Tanjung Tuan (formerly Cape Rachado)?

And it seems the grand old man of the republic Harry Lee cannot stomach questions by Johore Umno about the possible erosion of sovereignty of the IDR. Thus his latest outburst equating people who questioned the special treatment afforded to the Singaporeans in the IDR as part of a movement to topple Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. He even reminded Singapore companies intending to invest in the IDR not to expect privileged treatment from Malaysia just like the “generous treatment” accorded by China to investors from Hong Kong in Shenzhen province.

Lee Kuan Yew

”Singapore cannot expect the same treatment from Malaysia,” he said in a special interview with Berita Harian (Singapore) last week. Of course the republic should not expect such privileged treatment. After all Singapore is not a territory of Malaysia unlike Hong Kong which is a part of China.

Being the dictator that he was, where nobody in the island republic dared oppose whatever he said or did, he will see ghosts lurking wherever there are dissensions. He is just not used to opposition. To him whatever is shoved down the throat must be accepted, no questions asked. So he equates rumblings against what is going on in the IDR vis-à-vis questions over erosion of sovereignty and national integrity and especially coming from Johore Umno as moves to topple Pa Lah. How ingeneous.

Lee also said IDR could pose pressure to Singapore just like Shenzhen to Hong Kong where industries were being wooed out of Hong Kong into Shenzen. “This has left Hong Kong with only a few manufacturing plants and with high unemployment rate. Hong Kong’s economy is now dependent on the service sector….If Singapore loses many industries to IDR, we will face serious unemployment problem as not all factory workers can find jobs in the service sector,” so said Harry Lee.

What is his motive in saying all this? Is this not a veiled threat by him to eke out even more concessions from the IDR? Is the presence of “invisible fingers” of foreigners that are slowly, but surely, having influence on the leadership as one blogger put it still not enough?


www.Cucu Tok Janggut said...

Saya berasa amat sedih sekali dengan apa yang sedang berlaku. Pendedahan demi pendedahan dibuat tetapi tiada siapa yang berani bersuara menentang kesalahan yang dilakukan. Dimana semua pendekar dan hulubalang UMNO Johor yang pernah bersuara mengalahkan guruh dilangit, menghunus keris kononya sanggup melakukan apa sahaja untuk menjaga ketuanan Melayu. Jangan sampai negari Johor tergadai, sudahlah...

cyberprince said...

Cucu Tok Janggot:

Terima kasih. Semoga cetusan anda akan mendorong pihak berkenaan berani bersuara demi kedaulatan negara kita.

Salam takzim