Thu, May 27, 2010
The Star/Asia News Network
A good deal for Malaysia

[Above: The Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad (KTMB) Tanjung Pagar railway station building will be conserved given its historical significance. It will be a centrepiece for the new proposed development on the site.]

It is a 217ha of land that runs from the north to the south of Singapore - the size of almost 300 standard football fields. A valuation exercise carried out last year found the total land area to be worth up to S$4bil.

The KTM Berhad railway land has been a thorny issue between Malaysia and Singapore for almost 20 years.

There had been plenty of arguments and bad blood over the railway land that was leased from Singapore.

To Malaysia, the land represents its sovereignty while Singapore wants to develop it.

Where previous leaders had failed, two relatively young leaders are set to resolve the KTM land issue because they refused to be bogged down by old issues. It is a breakthrough.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has described the deal as historic while Singapore's Lee Hsien Loong summed it up aptly:

"It is time to rejoice."

Good buddies: Najib (left) and Lee at the press conference in Singapore on Monday.

The KTM Berhad land that stretches from Woodlands and ends in Tanjung Pagar was leased under 1918 colonial ordinance for 999 years.

It is solely for operating a railway line to ferry goods and passengers to Singapore and vice versa.

Over the years, the surrounding areas have been overtaken by development with industries and waste treatment.

The Points of Agreement (POA) was eventually signed on Nov 27, 1990 on the status of the railway land but problems arose as each side had its own interpretation.

Now many Malaysians are questioning just how does Malaysia benefit by giving up the leased land?

What is the big deal with Tan-jung Pagar being relocated to Woodlands on July 1, next year?

For a start, it is as a super good deal for Malaysia.

It goes beyond land. It involves spawning the local economy and the connectivity between Johor and Singapore.

M-S Pte Ltd will be set up by the end of the year with Khazanah Nasional holding a 60% stake and Singapore state investment arm Temasek Holdings holding the remaining 40%.

They will jointly develop the KTM land in Tanjung Pagar, Kranji, Woodlands and Bukit Timah.

At the same time, the six pieces of land earmarked for joint development could be swapped for four pieces of land in Marina South and one in Ophir-Rochor, the city state's prime financial and business districts.

Marina South recently saw the opening of an integrated resort, Marina Bay Sands. Imagine the huge potential of development that can take place here.

Imagine, one day we may just get to see an iconic building in Marina South with Malaysia's influence.

More good things are coming - a rapid transit system link Tanjung Puteri in Johor Baru and Singapore will be developed by 2018.

The link will connect with other public transport services in Johor Baru and the republic.

Some 80,000 Malaysians commute daily to Singapore to work and study. Their travelling time will be cut and traffic congestion across the Causeway and within Johor Baru itself will ease.

Word has it Kempas will be the next railway hub in Johor should Malaysia opt to move the railway station from Singapore soil in 2018.

Singapore has also finally agreed to become a partner in an iconic project in Iskandar Malaysia, the Malaysian growth corridor which sits next to the island city state.

This is the signal that the private sector has been waiting for from the Singapore Government.

Singapore businesses want to invest in Iskandar, knowing its full potential and given the success of China's special Shenzen economic zone.

Khazanah and Temasek will form a 50-50 joint venture company to undertake the development of the iconic wellness township project in Iskandar.

For a start, the launch of the "live work play" wellness township concept will offer traditional and complementary alternative medicine and modern medicine.

Take a pick if you want Malay and Chinese traditional healing or don't be surprised if ayurveda is available too. Where else would one find traditional healing methods in one place?

A new interest is growing among Singapore companies in Iskandar. That also means multinational companies operating in Singapore will take notice too.

When the investments start coming in, more jobs will be created.

Expect more exciting things to happen in the near future.

The negotiations have been tough. Some may argue, we are losing our rights to the railway land but KTM is losing money from the Singapore route.

Legal experts argue that Malaysia's hands are tied. Malaysia's interpretation of when the POA takes effect does not hold water any more.

It has been a long 19 years and six months.

By the time the Tanjung Pagar Railway station moves to Woodlands next year, it would have been 20 years and six months.

Under Najib, Malaysia is quite clear about where it is heading. We cannot wait for another 20 years to get things moving forward.

Sentimental and emotional reasons alone will not get us anywhere.

-The Star/Asia News Network

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