DAP calls on Abdullah to follow-up on the “postponement” of the RM14.5 billion double tracking rail project with the suspension of the construction of RM1.1 billion “crooked half-bridge” to allow for bilateral  co-operation  to build a “bridge of friendship” instead of creating “a symbol of infamy” mocking the  failure in Malaysia-Singapore relations and ASEAN solidarity

Media Conference Statement
- during a visit to the construction site of the crooked half-bridge
by Lim Kit Siang

(Johore Bahru,  Friday): DAP calls on the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to follow-up on the “postponement” of the RM14.5 billion double tracking rail project with the suspension of the construction of RM1.1 billion “crooked half-bridge” to replace Malaysia’s half of the Johore-Singapore causeway to allow for bilateral  co-operation  to build a “bridge of friendship” instead of creating “a symbol of infamy” mocking the failure in Malaysia-Singapore relations and ASEAN solidarity. 

DAP also calls on the Johore Mentri Besar, Datuk Abdul Ghani Othman to declare his stand on the suspension of construction of the RM1.1 billion “crooked half-bridge” for a win-win solution to Malaysia and Singapore and to avoid the international embarrament of a crooked half-bridge as a  permanent symbol of the failure of the ASEAN  spirit between two neighbouring countries and “crooked” governance in Malaysia. 

There can be no urgency to build the RM1.1 billion “crooked half-bridge” to replace Malaysia’s half of the 80-year-old causeway. In fact, all the  rational, national and regional arguments are for the   suspension of its construction to find  a joint  bilateral  “win-win” solution for Malaysia and Singapore to save both countries  and ASEAN from the eternal shame  of the human folly of the engineering feat of a “crooked half-bridge”. 

Apart from the gargantuan profits that could be garnered by Gerbang Perdana Sdn. Bhd., the main contractor for the RM2.5 billion Southern International Gateway (SIG), I challenge anyone in the Johore or Malaysian Governments to list out the national or state benefits in continuing with the project of a “crooked half-bridge” instead of the suspension of its construction to allow for a “win-win” solution through a joint bilateral venture to replace the 80-year-old causeway with a proper bridge instead of “crooked half-bridge” on Malaysia’s half – requiring another “crooked half-bridge” on Singapore’s half in order to replace the island republic’s half of the causeway later. 

Abdullah is making a tour of all the other ASEAN countries next month in his capacity as the new Prime Minister – which is the ideal opportunity for Malaysia and Singapore to discuss  the proposition of a “win-win” joint bilateral venture for a “Bridge of Friendship” instead of a “Bridge of Infamy” of a crooked half-bridge to replace the 80-year-old causeway.

The support of the Johore Bahru Barisan Nasional Youth for the straightening of the RM1.1 billion “crooked half bridge” after the  open support by Johore Bahru UMNO leaders, Deputy Works Minister Datuk Khalid Nordin and former Cabinet Minister Datuk Shahrir Abdul Samad is proof of the widespread,   deep-seated but suppressed dissatisfactions in the country  with many mega projects of the government. 

This was why when the new Prime Minister said  he wanted Barisan Nasional leaders and later  the people to tell him the truth, it was like a breath of fresh air, raising such high hopes and expectations among the people that there would be change in the system of governance as the suppression of legitimate views and differences, including  at all levels of leadership in the Barisan Nasional, had gone on for too long in the country. 

However, the call by the new Prime Minister to the people to tell him the truth has still to be followed up with reforms in institutions, systems,  practices and even laws which are necessary to encourage and empower the people to speak freely and  truthfully, such as giving clear and unmistakable message that the government is serious about press freedom and stands for free and responsible press.   

If the people had been encouraged and empowered to speak the truth, a sea of voices would have been heard not only  from inside the Barisan Nasional but also  from the civil society and the mass media about legitimate disagreements and objections to the building of the RM1.1 billion “crooked half-bridge” and why they do not want a  permanent symbol of shame to Malaysia-Singapore relations, and even worse, an international symbol of “crooked” governance in Malaysia. 

Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Security and Defence Tony Tan has said  that the Singapore Government is prepared for talks if Malaysia wants to discuss the bridge to replace the 80-year causeway, and this is a good start to find a win-win solution to the problem in the best interests of Malaysia and Singapore. 

Ghani should declare his stand on the issue as he had been the strongest proponent of the “crooked half-bridge” in Johore, to state whether the Johore State Government under  his leadership is prepared to give Abdullah full support to end the folly and ignominy of building a “crooked half-bridge”, suspend the construction  to have it straightened out with the co-operation of the two neighbouring governments. 

One reason that has been given for the proposed “indefinite postponement” of the double tracking rail project is that it is not in the Eighth Malaysia Plan and that the new administration of Abdullah wants to give priority for more important socio-economic projects, in particular on education, health-care and agriculture. 

These arguments are  even more persuasive  and pertinent  in the case of the “crooked half-bridge”, as this project was never slated in the Eighth Malaysia Plan and was sprung on the country  as a total  surprise without any  inkling beforehand and rushed to implementation in indecent haste without giving room for public consultation or discussion,  while the the double tracking rail project from Ipoh to Padang Besar and Seremban to Johor Bahru had a high profile and long period of gestation   in the Eight Malaysia Plan   as well as the  subject of more than three years of government-to-government negotiations between Malaysia and the two governments of India and China.  

The  elevated eight-storey high  “crooked half-bridge”, part of the RM2.26 billion new Customs, Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ) Complex in Johore Bahru, is being built only on the Malaysian side or half of the 900-metre 80-year Causeway to allow free passage of watercraft and water currents of the Johore Straits. However,  because of the  very short distance of 450 metres from the Johore/Singapore boundary of the causeway to which it has to be joined, the “crooked  half-bridge” has to be curved and extended more than thrice the distance to 1.4-kilometre  so that heavy vehicles such as lorries can cope with a maximum incline of 4.2 degrees.  

The DAP  had been the only political party to openly oppose the “crooked half-bridge”, as there is   no immediate urgency to start work on the new bridge when the RM2 billion  Johore-Singapore Second Link  is so grossly under-utilised with an average daily traffic volume as low as 10 per cent of its capacity of 200,000 vehicles a day. 

In fact, as  a result of the low traffic volume and toll collection,  the government has to compensate the Second Link concessionaire some RM100 million since its opening  more than five years ago for the shortfall in guaranteed traffic volume and toll revenue.

This was why the DAP had in August spoken up against the indecent haste to start construction and rush the completion of the “crooked half-bridge”, proposing that it should not be built without a national mandate and specific parliamentary approval – and that in any event, the final decision should be left to the new Prime Minister as Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad had only a few months to go before his announced  retirement.

The then new  Transport Minister,  Datuk Chan Kong Choy was however very haughty and arrogant, declaring that the  design and construction of the “crooked half-bridge” would not be altered in any manner even  if Singapore should agree to jointly develop the  project, and that  the possibility of “straightening” the new bridge was nil!  (Sin Chew 3.8.03)   There is no place for such a haughty attitude if Malaysia is serious in wanting to foster closer ASEAN spirit and solidarity.


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman