Malaysia's mega-tower plan faces online backlash
Tue, Oct 19, 2010

KUALA LUMPUR - The Malaysian government's proposal to build a 100-storey mega tower in the capital has triggered a backlash from the opposition and on a fast-expanding Facebook petition.

Plans for the tower, to be built by 2020 at a cost of 1.6 billion dollars (S$2 billion), were unveiled by Prime Minister Najib Razak during last week's budget speech, which included a number of major infrastructure projects.

The building, named "Warisan Merdeka" or "Heritage of Independence", would be the tallest in Malaysia, dwarfing the iconic Petronas Twin Towers which were the world's tallest buildings at 88 storeys when completed in 1998.

Najib said that such projects exemplify the spirit of "Malaysia Boleh" or "Malaysia Can!", a national campaign conceived by former premier Mahathir Mohamad, a huge advocate of mega projects.

Mahathir, whose own schemes included the Proton national car and the multi-billion-dollar administrative capital Putrajaya - both of which have failed to thrive - has warmly endorsed the new skyscraper.

But a Facebook page created last Saturday, to which more than 9,600 people had signed up by Tuesday afternoon, has seen an outpouring of criticism from Malaysians who say the money would be better spent elsewhere.

"Malaysia needs better education, better health care, better public transportation, safer neighbourhoods, cleaner water, but not a taller building. We don't need another white elephant!" said the page, which about 600 people were joining each hour.

Many commenters on the page accused the ruling coalition of spending taxpayers' money to boost its own standing, which has slipped badly in recent years in the face of a resurgent opposition.

"I will support this project if you give me the contract!" said a Facebook user named Chee Chuan Tat, referring to endemic crony capitalism linked to the Barisan Nasional coalition.

"It's taxpayers' money, and taxpayers say NO," said Adrian Matthew Yee.

Opposition lawmaker Fong Kui Lun, in whose constituency the building would be located near the city's chaotic Chinatown, said it would be an eyesore and totally unsuited to the crowded downtown district.

"What the building will do is to destroy the character of the area while creating a traffic nightmare for all," he told AFP.

"There are more than enough office spaces in downtown KL and this will cause a glut of office space, becoming a white elephant like many of the other government projects."

Tony Pua, also from the Democratic Action Party which is part of the opposition alliance, said the online criticism was a sign that citizens are concerned it may end up like other scandal-ridden government projects.

"The country does not need another mega project as the era of mega projects is gone and most Malaysians are not impressed by them any more," he said.

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