Federal leaders lukewarm to ‘crooked bridge’ revival proposal

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on October 18, 2018.

An artist’s impressed of the ‘crooked bridge’ project. Mohamed Azmin says his ministry has not received a formal propsoal to revive the ‘project. Source: Gerbang Perdana

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KUALA LUMPUR: Federal government leaders yesterday expressed reservation about the proposal to revive the “crooked bridge” project, saying it is not a priority due to the current economic situation.

Economic Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali said his ministry has yet to receive a formal proposal from the Johor government to revive the project, which Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad proposed before his first retirement as the country’s fourth premier in 2003.

Speaking to reporters at the Parliament lobby, Mohamed Azmin reiterated that the country’s fiscal position may be an issue if the project is to proceed.

“As we mentioned on many occasions, our fiscal situation is not good at present. So certainly we need to prioritise our infrastructure projects, but I’m sure that the state government will raise this [matter] at federal level,” he said.

“Once we receive the proposal, the ministry will look into this matter and see whether we have the capacity at this point of time to continue with the project, or maybe we can consider when the situation is much better for us,” he said.

Asked what is the government’s current priority in terms of infrastructure projects, Mohamed Azmin said that would be projects that will bring direct benefit to the rakyat such as hospitals, schools and roads.

When first mooted by Dr Mahathir, the crooked bridge, linking Malaysia and Singapore, was to be in the form of a six-lane S-shaped highway that would allow vessels to pass under it, since Singapore refused to demolish its half of the Causeway Link. At that time, the project’s cost was estimated at RM1.1 billion.

On Tuesday, the project was back in the news after Johor Menteri Besar Datuk Osman Sapian told reporters that at a meeting between the state government and Dr Mahathir last month, the premier indicated there would be “no problem” in building the crooked bridge as well as a third bridge linking Johor and Singapore.

Yesterday, Johor DAP chief Liew Chin Tong said the party supports the building of the third bridge but feels the crooked bridge is not an immediate priority. Liew, who is also deputy defence minister, said the government should focus on projects that could ease traffic flow between the two countries effectively.

“I think the crooked bridge is not an immediate need. We can explore, but the priority item now is to ensure the traffic flow is better from both sides. The menteri besar (Osman) talked about both the crooked bridge and the third bridge [and] we think the third bridge is of priority.

“There are many items on the table. Our focus should be on what is more immediate and effective to ensure that whoever needs to travel between the two countries gets the best mode of transport,” he said.

“The position of the DAP is that we are supportive of the third bridge, and the immediate need is to speed up the construction of the [Johor Baru-Singapore] rapid transit system. There is also need to provide travelators to cross the Causeway, as well as [improving] the speed of passing the CIQ (Customs, Immigration and Quarantine Complex),” he added.

Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng, when asked if Malaysia could afford the crooked bridge project, said he has not been briefed on this matter so far.

“This statement [about reviving the project] came from the Johor menteri besar. It is better to refer the matter to him. I have not been informed about this,” he told reporters at the Parliament lobby.

Government backbencher Wong Chen said that while the cost of building the crooked bridge is not known, the project should not be a priority considering the government’s financial situation.

“We need to look at the cost, but I don’t think this should be a priority project in view of the expected tight government budget,” Wong (PH-Subang) told The Edge Financial Daily.

Datuk Seri Najib Razak (BN-Pekan), who attended the Parliament sitting yesterday, said that if the crooked bridge is built, the Causeway Link will look “strange”.

Najib said the Singapore government had indicated to him when he was Malaysia’s prime minister that the island nation does not intend to invest in replacing the Causeway Link since the bridge is still usable.

“The issue now is whether the crooked bridge can bring benefit to the people or not. We also have to consider the challenge on how do we connect with the Singapore part of the Causeway Link during construction because Singapore does not intend to demolish the existing bridge. If only half of the bridge is new while the other half remains the old one, it will be a bit strange from many aspects,” he said.

“When I was the prime minister, I had asked the Singapore prime minister about demolishing the Causeway Link and [to] build a new bridge that is more suitable to the modern age, but he said he wants to maintain the Causeway Link for another 30 years. Singapore was not interested to come up with funds to do it as they think the bridge is still usable. So we didn’t reach an agreement,” he added.