There's a dangerous pattern emanating from the government's unchallenged sale of ideas.
As perception is almost all that matters in politics, public discomfort over the following issues pose grave repercussions for the ruling government.
Who benefits from the big deals?
One man speaking of the need for the MRT (Mass Rail Transit) – damn the politics behind the debate about it – does not remove our responsibility in questioning whether it makes economic sense.
At the end of the day, the government will pay the contractors. Surely there is a need to justify the payment of a huge amount of money derived mainly from the government. How will the government recover the capital outlay? Gamuda and MMC Corporation Bhd are interested to build the tunnel only.
Gamuda has already built the SMART Tunnel with its technology partner from Germany.
We don’t exactly know the role of MMC which is perhaps performing the role of a project’s political partner.
Then we have the collusion of project delivery partners (PDP) and public private partnerships (PPP).
The perception is that behind every major economic project are well-connected groups, who are usually the same people and politicians who stand to gain huge personal gains.
It’s becoming endemic now that every big project announced by those who champion them will generate suspicions. It is not unfounded that these are jackpots for certain people.
Unchallenged sale of ideas
The same people seem to be getting good deals.
This will reinforce our earlier belief that the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) is but an amalgamation of individual business plans submitted by private companies.
What minister Idris Jala did was to compile them into a perspective economic blueprint for the country, sell it to a pliant selected group, and then it’s sold as the national plan for economic expansion.
Perhaps buoyed by an unchallenged sale of the big idea, we seem to be seeing a lot of closed-deal projects nowadays.
A few months ago, it was the MRT project. A few days ago it was the contracting out by Petronas of the Berantai oil and gas field.
This is closely followed by an announcement that a LOI (Letter of Intent) has been given to Ekovest-MRCB JV to do the River of Life project. This is a RM 17 billion project that seems to be given as a matter of fact to the PDP.
Ekovest is closely linked to (Home Minister) Hishammuddin Tun Hussein.
MRCB is basically an Umno front company.
The project is part of the greater Kuala Lumpur Master Plan. It’s Kuala Lumpur again. Property around that stretch will of course increase.
Expertise is buyable
The prices will drive out those not market-sensitive. I am now using a term that lessens the pain to those reading.
They can’t afford the property prices along the river and will move out to semi-rural or semi-urban areas.
The PDP project delivery partner will build condominiums and other social amenities there. They will beautify the river as far as the project goes.
We don’t know whether there was open bidding for this project. Nowadays, we are told of such kind of news as a fait acompli. It’s a done deal.
Gamuda-MMC got the MRT project in the same manner. They made a proposal and managed to convince the government that it’s a catalyst and can spur wide spillover effects.
Now the Land Transport Commission (SPAD) comes into the picture, does the groundwork and rushed through to hand over to our esteemed PDP.
The PDP will do the same thing they did when they constructed the SMART tunnel. They will subcontract it. Anyone given the same chance can do the same thing. Expertise is buyable.
With Ekovest and MRCB getting this River of Life project, we get a different dimension.
The last time Ekovest got the DUKE highway, they contracted it out immediately.
When they got some land in Iskandar Region, they sold it off for large profits.
Ekovest and MRCB then function no differently from any other Bumiputera company. This government should stop fooling the people. They know who is behind Ekovest and MRCB.
No wonder Hishammuddin can campaign around in a helicopter belonging to Ekovest.
So when they are given the River of Life project, we have the right to ask – whose life?
Are we paying for the life of excesses of Ekovest’s owners and directors of MRCB? What happens then to the life of the river?
When the concept of river of life emerged in early 2000, the expectation was that rivers will be engineered and managed so that the rivers themselves become alive.
The focus is on the rivers and not the land around them and the property development around them.
There seems to be a pattern fitting into the big picture.
All the EPPs (Entry Point Projects) seemed spoken for by companies linked to the government. The government then risks becoming a government from the rich, for the rich and to the rich.
Our leaders in government should take lessons that are happening around the world.
This year of the rabbit is also fast becoming a year of riots and demonstrations which have morphed into dangerous movements to hasten the downfall of governments.
Mohd Ariff Sabri Aziz is a former Pulau Manis state assemblyman and now FMT columnist. FMT