14 May 2006

Bridge saga makes all poorer

What do sand, airspace and a bridge have in common:

By Chandra Muzaffar

AMBASSADOR-AT-LARGE Tan Sri Ahmad Fuzi Abdul Razak has provided a rational explanation on why the Malaysian government decided not to build "the bridge" to replace the Johor Causeway.
The first three options that he outlined would have been detrimental to our national interest. The first option - acceding to Singapore's request for a lifting of the 1997 ban on the export of sand to Singapore and allowing the Singapore military access to Malaysian airspace as trade-offs for the building of a full straight bridge - would have been perceived by a lot of Malaysians as an affront to our national sovereignty. The second option - building a half bridge to join the Singapore part of the Causeway - would have embroiled us in contentious legal wrangles, sapping our financial resources. The third option - building a half bridge in the hope that eventually it can be linked to a full bridge - would have placed us at Singapore's mercy and subjected the nation to ridicule.

The fourth option - not to build the bridge at all - was perhaps the only way out of a difficult situation. By exercising this option, however, Malaysia has had to pay a heavy price. The Mahathir administration had already constructed a RM1.2 billion Customs, Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ) complex without obtaining a firm, formal agreement from its Singapore counterpart on the building of the bridge. It had also awarded the contract for the bridge to a developer who will now have to be compensated - to the tune of RM100 million. It was neither responsible nor intelligent to make decisions of this sort which have become an "albatross around the neck" of the present government.

The Singapore government also "shot itself in the foot" by insisting upon sand and airspace as the trade-offs for its consent on the bridge. Because of this episode, no Malaysian government in the foreseeable future will even be able to open a discussion with the Singapore government on the question of allowing the Singapore Air Force access to Malaysian airspace. It has merely reinforced the suspicion that pervades a significant segment of the Malaysian populace about the real intentions of the Singapore government which is perceived as a close security ally of both Washington and Tel Aviv. The Singapore government could have used the bridge proposal from the Malaysian government to improve its image among the Malaysian people. True, the bridge would have benefited Malaysia - specifically Southern Johor - more than Singapore but it would have also further enhanced the cross border flow of people and goods to the advantage of the latter. Besides, the water flow in the Johor Strait that the bridge would have facilitated, and the return of marine life, would have benefited both neighbours. More than anything else, a bridge would have been a wonderful symbol of the importance we accord to friendship and understanding between our two peoples.

But when one is obsessed with reaping the most from every situation, when one's kiasu mentality has instilled in one a morbid fear of losing out, how can we expect a magnanimous gesture of goodwill from our dear neighbour?

Dr Chandra Muzaffar is the president of the International Movement for a Just World (Just).

- via Singapore Window

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