Saturday, June 24, 2006

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 failedplan. 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 inner most 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 theStraits 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, straightbridge. But they can't build a straight or fullbridge because Singapore will not allow theirhalf of the Causeway to be demolished and they are not interested in building the otherhalf of the bridge on their side or within their territorial waters.

Singapore could of course agree to join Malaysia in this bridge project and agree to theCauseway 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'sfavour. These goodies would be like throwing in the supply of sand, allowing Singapore AirForce planes more flights over Malaysian airspace, plus a re-look at the water agreement.

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 behighly 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. Afull bridge would mean it would have to be straight and therefore low. A half-bridge would force the bridge to curve and therefore it wouldhave to be built highly elevated.

What Dr Mahathir really wanted is the space beneath the bridge which a full bridge wouldnot 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 thePort 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 posea serious threat to the Port of Singapore. To bemore 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 to Johor.

That was what Dr Mahathir really wanted. Hewas 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 fullbridge and would instead ask Malaysia toproceed 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 turnaround and say that they had been tricked and the bridge was merely a Red Herring and that the real motive was to out do 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 evenmore perturbing to Dr Mahathir is thatSingapore did not demand that the supply ofsand be included in the deal. This idea camefrom Malaysia. It was Malaysia that proposedit, 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 exportof 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 thatUmno 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 inrevolt. 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 toSingapore. 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 thebridge project would be aborted, after starting work on it (and incurring a liability of RM100million). 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 wayships could sail to Johor Port through theStraits and the Port of Singapore would continue to dominate this region. Dr Mahathir'splan to build up Johor Port and challenge Singapore's dominance was thwarted. And itwas 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 bridge proposal.

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 indoing 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 adream.

The MV Agusta matter is another issue. DrMahathir was going to use MV Agusta to develop a peoples' car (volks wagen) that could be marketed for as low as RM10,000, orless. 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 youare prepared to pay the higher cost, the time would take too long. MV Agusta was a shortcut and at a cheaper price on top of that.

But MV Agusta was sold off for RM4 and DrMahathir's RM10,000 peoples' car went down the toilet, just like all the others. In fact, thesale 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 MVAgusta? (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 wherebyJapanese 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 weeat 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 theEskimos.

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 thefuneral 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 theBumiputera businessmen are numbered.Malays will have to revert to becoming clerks and drivers again.

Dr Mahathir is beginning to doubt whetherAbdullah knows what he is doing. As far as DrMahathir 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 DrMahathir will not remain silent and allow this state of affairs to continue if, as he put it,Malaysia's sovereignty is jeopardised. DrMahathir would rather take on Abdullah than allow the man to destroy this country. Not justDr 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 of flowers.

No comments: