Malaysians must build Bandar Malaysia

While labour intensive works can go to foreigners, the more specialised tasks should be done by Malaysians

AFTER almost two years in limbo and the many heavenly promises including the participation of a world-class developer, the government has revived the Kuala Lumpur Air Base project.

More widely known as Bandar Malaysia, the project attracted as many controversies as Donald Trump’s tryst with women. Putrajaya does not want the Bandar Malaysia project, which sits on a 486-acre (196.7ha) prime site, to rot like the eyesore Plaza Rakyat.

Few choices that the government has. It is a massive project on the last few “precious” land in the capital.

The estimated gross development value (GDV) is quoted at around RM140 billion.

But GDV, in truth, is often bloated. More often than not, the figures are overexaggerated. It is, after all, an easy narrative to sell to the public like fish to penguins.

Detractors are also quick to demonise the government over its decision to revive the project though some of the commentators are a slice short of a loaf.

There were suggestions that due to the huge GDV, the government should lead the development and subsequently reap a much higher profit.

We all know how bad the government is in doing business.

The most recent is the 1MDB (1Malaysia Development Bhd) financial debacle, which can be a dedicated chapter in a business study textbook.

Financially, the government is burdened enough. The present government’s liabilities, including committed government guarantees, are already RM75 billion.

State-owned funds and agencies’ debts guaranteed by the government could feed a small nation. Any government’s participation in the debt-heavy project would only heighten the financial risks.

As repeatedly echoed, the government has no business being in business. The private sector must bear the risk and likewise the profit. The government can’t have the cake and eat it, too.

Clearly, there are bright spots on the revised deal for Bandar Malaysia.

The government slapped new conditions on the master developer IWH-CREC Sdn Bhd. Putrajaya has insisted on the construction of 10,000 units of subsidised affordable homes compared to 5,000 units previously.

An 85-acre park to be called People’s Park will be created, almost double the 48.6 acres proposed under the previous deal.

The park should be our equivalent of New York’s Central Park or London’s Hyde Park.

Two other key components under the new deal — the participation of local contractors including Bumiputera in the project and the use of local resources.

Common in past projects involving China’s contractors and developers were totally manned by workers from the mainland, much to the ire of locals. Even technical and engineering specialists to the extent like welders were brought in from China.

The government must not allow a repeat of this in the Bandar Malaysia project. Proper monitoring must be put in place to ensure the involvement of locals in the project.

It is not sufficient to rubber-stamp the percentage of local contractors or Bumiputera participation.

While labour intensive works can go to foreigners, the more specialised tasks should be done by Malaysians. The government should introduce a dashboard to track the participation of locals in the engineering and construction works.

Such a move would be important in an environment where many graduates are complaining about the lack of job opportunities.

Similar to the construction of highways in the mid-1980s during a period of recession, it spurred the careers of engineering graduates.

Bandar Malaysia can and should resonate with similar hopes.

It is, after all, called Bandar Malaysia.

Mohamad Azlan Jaafar is the editor-in-chief of The Malaysian Reserve.