Tuesday, June 27, 2006
Crooked Bridge - The Other Side of A Coin
People say there is always the other side of a coin. Very interesting article indeed. But I guess we never know who is telling the truth...
They say in legal circles that a verbal agreement is not worth the paper it
is written on. Islam says, if a man breaks his word up to three times, then
do not take him as a friend or comrade. Islamic scholar or ulamak Abdullah
Ahmad Badawi, also currently Prime Minister of Malaysia, gave his word and
he broke it more than three times. Abdullah, therefore, cannot be taken as
a friend either in the western or Islamic perspective.
And who did Abdullah give his word to? He gave it to previous Prime
Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad -- and of course to all Malaysians in his
2004 Election Manifesto, which he has also broken. And what did he promise
Dr Mahathir? Many things, amongst which are that the Scenic or 'Crooked'
Bridge would not be abandoned, the double tracking railway line would be
pursued, and the national car, Proton, would be supported -- just to
mention but three.
After Dr Mahathir announced his resignation to a shocked Umno General
Assembly in mid-2002, Abdullah and Dr Mahathir spent 15 months in countless
conferences to discuss what the former should and would do when he finally
takes over as Prime Minister in November 2003. Dr Mahathir went into great
detail and explained at length why he did what he did in his 22 years as
Malaysia's Prime Minister. Dr Mahathir had a reason for his many perceived
lunatic moves. Even Abdullah, who was his deputy soon after Anwar Ibrahim's
exit in September 1998, could not understand everything that Dr Mahathir
did. Now he does.
Abdullah sat there taking pages after pages of notes as Dr Mahathir gave
him a 15-month crash course in Mahanomics (synonymous with Reaganomics). By
the end of the 15-month training and orientation programme, Abdullah
understood fully what was in the head of that strange animal called
Mahathir. More importantly, Abdullah now saw the logic in Dr Mahathir's
every move and agreed that, though sometimes somewhat devious, many of
these moves were actually quite necessary in the pursuit of the bigger
Many of Dr Mahathir's moves would certainly appear loony to the
uninitiated. They would appear even stranger when viewed in the backdrop of
what was perceived as a failed plan. Dr Mahathir was a blunderer and the
many disasters he left as a legacy to Abdullah in November 2003 laid
testimony to this. But Abdullah knew they were no disasters. He did not
know earlier of course. But 15 months of sitting in front of Dr Mahathir
and taking notes as the Prime Minister imparted his innermost thoughts left
Abdullah with no doubts that this old man knew what he was up to and these
moves could only be labelled as brilliant.
Take the Scenic or 'Crooked' Bridge as one example. No one would disagree
if we were to say that this is the most stupid idea yet to come out of Dr
Mahathir's mind. Why build half a bridge? Why build such a silly looking
bridge that would wind its way around because it had to join the Causeway
halfway across the Straits of Johor or Tebrau Straits?
If they built a full bridge, then the bridge could be built straight, lower
and shorter at maybe almost the same cost as half a bridge. But now they
are building half a bridge, so it has to be crooked and higher -- and the
cost for half a bridge is not half the cost of a full, straight bridge. But
they can't build a straight or full bridge because Singapore will not allow
their half of the Causeway to be demolished and they are not interested in
building the other half of the bridge on their side or within their
Singapore could of course agree to join Malaysia in this bridge project and
agree to the Causeway being demolished and a full, straight bridge be built
to replace the Causeway. But Singapore wanted the bridge to be packaged
with a lot of other goodies, all in Singapore's favour. These goodies would
be like throwing in the supply of sand, allowing Singapore Air Force planes
more flights over Malaysian air space, plus a re-look at the water
Dr Mahathir did not agree to this. He would not package the bridge with all
these other issues and he wanted each issue to be an issue by itself and to
be negotiated separately and on its own merits. Dr Mahathir was no fool. He
knew if he rejected Singapore's demand for a packaged deal, then Singapore
would not agree to the bridge. Malaysia could go on with the bridge if it
wanted, but it can only build a bridge on Malaysia's side, not on
Singapore's side. Therefore it would have to be a silly-looking half-bridge
that would need to be highly elevated and winding.
That was exactly what Dr Mahathir wanted. He wanted Singapore to reject the
full, straight bridge idea and stipulate that Malaysia can only build half
a bridge if it still insisted on proceeding with the plan. Dr Mahathir did
not want a full bridge. He wanted a half-bridge. A full bridge would mean
it would have to be straight and therefore low. A half-bridge would force
the bridge to curve and therefore it would have to be built highly
What Dr Mahathir really wanted is the space beneath the bridge which a full
bridge would not offer while a half-bridge would. And why did he want this
space? He wanted it because he wanted large container ships and oil tankers
to be able to sail under the bridge.
The Straits of Melaka is one of the busiest sea lanes in the world. But
ships plying the Straits cannot reach Johor Port unless they sail around
Singapore. So they would rather stop at the Port of Singapore instead of
coming to Johor. Even ships carrying goods bound for Malaysia would rather
stop at Singapore for transhipment to Malaysia rather than sail to
Malaysia. Once there is a highly elevated bridge, then the ships can bypass
Singapore and come straight to Malaysia.
In short, a highly elevated 'crooked' bridge would boost the viability of
Johor Port and pose a serious threat to the Port of Singapore. To be more
dramatic, the bridge could actually kill the Port of Singapore and make
Johor Port the new centre for imports to and exports from Malaysia -- plus
for those Indonesian importers and exporters as well who currently would
rather use Singapore than sail the extra distance around Singapore to come
That was what Dr Mahathir really wanted. He was not actually interested in
the bridge. He was more interested in Malaysia overtaking Singapore in the
port business. And the crooked, high, half-bridge would be able to achieve
this. A straight, low, full bridge would not. Dr Mahathir very cleverly
manoeuvred so that Singapore would disagree with the full bridge and would
instead ask Malaysia to proceed with half a bridge. Once they said that, Dr
Mahathir got them exactly where he wanted them. The half-bridge is
Singapore's idea, not Dr Mahathir's, so Singapore cannot now turn around
and say that they had been tricked and the bridge was merely a Red Herring
and that the real motive was to outdo the Port of Singapore.
Somehow, along the way, Malaysia's Foreign Minister packaged the supply of
sand and more SAF flights over Malaysian air space in the bridge deal. Dr
Mahathir never agreed to this. But Abdullah did for reasons known only to
himself and his son-in-law, Khairy Jamaluddin. The sand would of course
come from Johor and those individuals who will be awarded the contract to
supply sand to Singapore are family members of those involved in the
decision-making process at the very top echelons of power -- those walking
in the corridors of power. The supply of sand is not a government effort
but a private arrangement. What is even more perturbing to Dr Mahathir is
that Singapore did not demand that the supply of sand be included in the
deal. This idea came from Malaysia. It was Malaysia that proposed it, not
Singapore that demanded it.
When the Johor Menteri Besar found out about the supply of sand arrangement
he was outraged. Dr Mahathir had banned the export of sand back in 1997 and
Johor was quite happy with this as the sand was coming from Johor and it is
the politicians and their cronies who are making hundreds of millions out
of it. For the first time in his life this very polished man who always has
a sweet smile for anyone he encounters lost his cool. He never raises his
voice, especially to the Prime Minister. But that day he did and he told
the Prime Minister that Umno Johor will strongly oppose any Johor sand
being sold to Singapore. Even the palace got into the act and there was a
danger of another Constitutional Crisis erupting.
In short, there was a mutiny and Johor was in revolt. A crisis never before
seen in Malaysian history was about to explode. This was a state-federal
conflict in the making. Abdullah had blundered big time. He had agreed that
the bridge would include the supply of sand to Singapore. Now Johor, the
source of the sand, put its foot down and threatened to resist at whatever
cost, and Johor can be as independent as Kelantan if it so wishes. They
would also reveal the names of all those who stand to benefit from this
supply of sand; family members of those at the very top of the Abdullah
administration. If you think the Mahathir-Anwar crisis was exciting, the
supply of sand to Singapore would dwarf this by far.
Two days later, Abdullah announced that the bridge project would be
aborted, after starting work on it (and incurring a liability of RM100
million). Three weeks before that, Parliament had reiterated the bridge
project would go on and the Minister of Works himself assured Parliament
that this would be so. But now it was off. They would not be proceeding
with the bridge. They could not proceed with it. To proceed with it would
mean they have to supply sand to Singapore. And this would create a massive
crisis between the federal government and the Johor state government. The
only way out of the supply of sand commitment would be to abort the bridge
project. No bridge, no sand, and no federal government-Johor state
government crisis, plain and simple.
But it is out of the frying pan, into the fire. Without the bridge, there
would be no way ships could sail to Johor Port through the Straits and the
Port of Singapore would continue to dominate this region. Dr Mahathir's
plan to build up Johor Port and challenge Singapore's dominance was
thwarted. And it was thwarted by no other than his successor who had
promised him that the bridge would go on. And it was thwarted because some
greedy people in the decision-making team had tried to get rich quick
through selling sand to Singapore by packaging the sand supply deal in the
Dr Mahathir was hopping mad. Abdullah had made a big booboo, and to get out
of this booboo he cancelled the bridge project. Abdullah was trying to save
his arse. But in doing so he sacrificed Malaysia. Johor Port would now have
to remain as pathetic as it has always been. And the Port of Singapore
would remain the big wheel of this region. Flushed down the toilet is Dr
Mahathir's plan for overtaking Singapore. And, to make it worse, Abdullah
had promised Dr Mahathir the bridge would go on. And he understood fully
well why it must. And he realised that the bridge was for the good of
Malaysia's commerce. But saving his arse was his first priority. Saving
Johor Port has to come second.
That is the story of the 'Crooked' Bridge. There are many other stories
such as about the double tracking railway line, the national car, and more.
Suffice to say, the double tracking railway line had the same objective as
the 'Crooked' Bridge; in that Malaysia's commerce would improve and
Singapore's dominance in the region would be given a serious challenge. But
Abdullah aborted this as well.
The double tracking railway line was actually the first move. Once the
double tracking was done, then the high speed train was supposed to follow.
Imagine the day when one could live in a cheaper town like Ipoh where
property prices are half those in the big city, yet work in Kuala Lumpur --
and the time it takes to get to work from Ipoh would be faster than driving
from Subang Jaya to Kuala Lumpur today. The small towns would boom and
development would be spread out throughout the country instead of
concentrated in a few key areas like it is today. But that too now remains
just a dream.
The MV Agusta matter is another issue. Dr Mahathir was going to use MV
Agusta to develop a peoples' car (volks wagen) that could be marketed for
as low as RM10,000, or less. MV Agusta had the technology to do this and
the cost to buy MV Agusta, in spite of it debts, was still lower than
embarking on this project doing your own R&D from scratch. R&D costs
billions of Ringgit and to develop a car from scratch would not only cost
more but would be time consuming as well. Even if you are prepared to pay
the higher cost, the time would take too long. MV Agusta was a short cut
and at a cheaper price on top of that.
But MV Agusta was sold off for RM4 and Dr Mahathir's RM10,000 peoples' car
went down the toilet, just like all the others. In fact, the sale of MV
Agusta itself raises other questions. How did they decide who to sell it to
and do those in the decision-making process have an interest in the company
that bought MV Agusta? (Which raises the issue of conflict of interest.) Dr
Mahathir knows the real story, as he does about who those sand suppliers
are, but he is not revealing all, at least not just yet.
It is not that Abdullah is ignorant about all this. He knows the agenda
behind the 'Crooked' Bridge, double tracking railway line, MV Agusta, and
much more. He knows that all these are mere catalysts for bigger things.
And he agreed that these are necessary for the future of the country. Yet
he dismantled them one by one just to make it appear like Dr Mahathir is
stupid and that all his ideas are stupid. It is all about politics and of
trying to undermine Dr Mahathir. And what better way to do this than to
dismantle what Dr Mahathir started and give the impression that the
previous Prime Minister was a nut case. So the country suffers. So what?
That is the small picture. The big picture is: Dr Mahathir is embarrassed.
The Free Trade Agreement (FTA) is another thing that Dr Mahathir was and
still is against. All those years he was prime minister he resisted the
FTA. Then, late last year, Abdullah secretly signed the FTA with Japan
whereby Japanese automobiles would have free access to the Malaysian market
while Malaysian vegetables would have free access to the Japanese market.
Malaysian vegetables? What vegetables do we have that we can export to
Japan? We do not even grow enough for our own consumption and almost
everything we eat needs to be supplemented with imports. Anyway, do the
Japanese eat our vegetables? Abdullah might as well have signed an FTA with
Canada whereby we export ice cubes to the Eskimos.
The FTA Abdullah signed with Japan was so confidential that even the
Cabinet did not know about it until Abdullah informed its members later,
after it had been signed. The Cabinet members were shocked, but by then it
was too late to do anything about it. And how is Proton going to survive
once Japanese cars get free access to the Malaysian market when even Europe
and the United States can't compete with them?
Proton is a dead man walking. Its days are numbered and it will be just a
matter of time when the national car folds. As the Malays would say: siap
kain kapan (prepare the funeral shroud).
Now the United States also wants the FTA with Malaysia signed and the
US-Malaysia FTA would open all government contracts and procurement to US
companies. That is the end of the New Economic Policy. The days of the
Bumiputera businessmen are numbered. Malays will have to revert to becoming
clerks and drivers again.
Dr Mahathir is beginning to doubt whether Abdullah knows what he is doing.
As far as Dr Mahathir is concerned, whatever he did, he did with the
interest of the nation at heart. But Abdullah's moves, the way Dr Mahathir
sees it, are moves of a traitor who does not care about the country's
interest. Dr Mahathir is quite prepared to allow Abdullah to run this
country the way he, as Prime Minister, sees fit. But Dr Mahathir will not
remain silent and allow this state of affairs to continue if, as he put it,
Malaysia's sovereignty is jeopardised. Dr Mahathir would rather take on
Abdullah than allow the man to destroy this country. Not just Dr Mahathir,
but many Umno veterans as well believe that power in the hands of Abdullah
is like giving a flower to a monkey. Monkeys do not appreciate the beauty