Guan Eng positive on privately-funded Kulim International Airport

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KUALA LUMPUR (March 21): Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng welcomed the proposed development of the Kulim International Airport as it is privately funded and will help spur economic growth in that region.

The former Penang chief minister also had no qualms about the northern corridor of peninsular Malaysia increasing its international airports to three with the Kulim project, although he acknowledged the need for a feasibility study to be conducted for the proposal.

"There is no issue," said Lim at a press conference at the Parliament lobby here. "I think Penang has done its own feasibility study [for the Penang airport expansion]. We will have to wait for [the same from] Kedah."

From the funding perspective, Lim said the proposal is in line with previous announcement by the government to privatise infrastructure assets.

"Yes, [the project] raises questions if observed from the perspective where a grant is issued by the government. But it is [to be funded via] PFI (private funding initiatives)," Lim said.

"In this aspect, the PFI effort is still ongoing," said Lim, who revealed that it is a joint effort involving both the federal and state governments.

Lim went on to say that if a private party is confident of investing in the project, it is proof of rising investor confidence towards the Malaysian government and the state of Kedah.

"It is a good thing because it can spur economic growth and create more job opportunities," he said. "I view it positively."

The proposed RM1.6 billion Kulim International Airport will be the third international airport in the north of West Malaysia after the Langkawi International Airport and the Penang International Airport in Bayan Lepas.

On news of the proposed Kulim airport, Penang chief minister Chow Kon Yeow reportedly called for feasibility studies to be conducted to evaluate the necessity of the development, highlighting the short 40-minute drive from the proposed site to the Penang airport.

Amid overcapacity, the Penang International Airport is currently slated to undergo an expansion to handle 16 million passengers annually from 6.5 million passengers presently, at a cost of around RM1.3 billion — also funded via PFI.

On related matters, Lim said he agrees with the view of Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad that another bridge should be built at the Malaysia-Singapore Causeway in light of the heavy traffic congestion currently experienced in the existing two bridges.

"I agree that there is a need to build one more bridge to Singapore," said Lim. "But that depends on Singapore. And this issue, I believe will be brought up by the Foreign Affairs Minister."

On March 19, Dr Mahathir said during Invest Malaysia 2019 that Malaysia and Singapore need "at least three to four" bridges, citing how Penang, which has less traffic flow, also plans to build a third connecting road to the mainland.

The proposed development of a third Malaysia-Singapore bridge has raised questions of how it will be funded. In the past, the Malaysian government had to incur high cancellation costs of over RM257.4 million to terminate the RM1.1 billion Crooked Bridge project due to legal implications with Singapore.