Mukhriz revisits Kulim airport proposal

By P PREM KUMAR / Pic By ISMAIL CHE RUS

THE discouraging fiscal condition of the federal government will not deter the Kedah state government’s optimism to construct the proposed Kulim International Airport (KIA).

The proposed cargo airport, which was first mooted during Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir’s (picture) maiden stint as the Kedah mentri besar (MB) between 2013 and 2016, is expected to be primarily driven by private investments.

Speaking to The Malaysian Reserve, Mukhriz said the state government is finalising the detailed design of the airport before presenting it to the federal government by year-end.

“We are currently finalising the concept and design to be presented to the federal government, hopefully by end of this year…If we couldn’t (meet the deadline), it has to be (presented) in the first quarter of next year,” said the two-term MB.

The project’s construction cost has escalated from the initial RM1.6 billion as proposed in 2013, taking into account the five-year delay and current operating environment.

“It was RM1.6 billion when I mooted it in 2013. However, it went up to RM4 billion during my predecessor’s time without proper justification and explanation.

“Since I am back, I want to stick to the original plan, but we have already wasted five years. There has been some cost escalation during this period,” Mukhriz said.

However, the project would not be a burden for both the federal and state governments as the KIA is proposed to be private sector-driven.

He said besides not adding to the financial distress of the federal government, the project could also host foreign investors.

“I don’t assume that the federal government would be able to come in to invest, so we have to look at alternative financial solutions to make the airport a reality.

“It could be private firms or to the extent of considering foreign direct investments,” he pointed out.

Mukhriz’s predecessor, Datuk Seri Ahmad Bashah Md Hanipah, had tweaked the KIA proposal to be a huge passenger terminal plus cargo, which had ballooned the overall construction cost up to RM4 billion.

The airport was a point of dispute between then Umno lawmaker Mukhriz and former Penang Chief Minister (CM) Lim Guan Eng when it was first mooted.

Five years later, both of them are part of Pakatan Harapan with Lim being the finance minister, among the last gatekeepers before such projects are sanctioned.

Mukhriz said he has discussed the KIA proposal with current Penang CM Chow Kon Yeow, and the latter did not object to the matter.

“Being primarily a cargo airport, the KIA will not compete with the Penang International Airport, but to complement it.

“I have had discussions with the Penang CM and so far, he doesn’t have any objection on it, but he wants to know more details.”

Mukhriz added that he had also discussed about the project with Lim and Transport Minister Anthony Loke, who were both open to the proposal and want to understand the project and its benefits to Kedah better.

The KIA was proposed to serve as a regional airport for the northern states of Peninsular Malaysia and Southern Thailand. The project, designed with two runways, was slated to start by reclaiming 600ha of rubber estates in Sidam Kanan, near Padang Serai.

Currently, Kedah has two airports, namely the Sultan Abdul Halim Airport in Alor Setar and the Langkawi International Airport.