Martin Luther King Jr once said:
“I have a dream!”
Of course, he was shot dead and his actual dream had died with him. Well, no one really knows what were those dreams that he had…the ones he never mentioned. And one witty sarcasm would sound something like:
“Even if you are on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”
If you look at the title closely, the first letter of each word resembles a familiar acronym to many people in Johor…or maybe not: IIB. And why not? Because I think that this whole idea of the Iskandar Malaysia region is a stupid one. Maybe not totally, but stupid nevertheless. I’m not going to do analysis after analysis etc etc when I read this because I am going to write this as how I see it, and as how I feel about it. One thing that you have to remember throughout this posting is that ISKANDAR MALAYSIA IS NOT MADE TO COMPETE WITH SINGAPORE, BUT TO COMPLEMENT IT IN THE WAY SHENZHEN COMPLEMENTS HONG KONG.
The core of the Iskandar Malaysia region right now is what is known as Nusajaya – a piece of land owned by UEM that has been developed into landed properties. That project began long before my father was part of UEM (this was like back in the mid 1990s), and made its first sales two decades after it started. I mean, who in the right mind would want to move to JB? Personally, I wouldn’t mind going there once in a while to eat – food’s good but getting more expensive nowadays (a glass of Teh O panas in DUNGU Bay costs RM2.00). But unless I have a real reason to move there, I wouldn’t give it a thought. My only reason for wanting to relocate there last year was because the company that Wifey worked for then, moved there from KL. They bought several shoplots at DUNGU Bay, moved everyone there, then maintained the KL office so they can have meetings with clients there. Therefore, they spend like 3-4 days in KL having meetings with clients and investors. They leave for KL on a Friday, spend the weekend in KL, then conduct meetings in KL on Mondays through Wednesdays, then work in their JB office on Thursdays, and the whole cycle starts again Fridays. So, imagine having to move your family to JB, then you spend more than half a week in KL having meetings. They should just shut down the KL office and get their potential investors to stay and have meetings in JB. After all, the products they plan to sell are in JB.
Apart from the announcement of Legoland wanting to operate in IM, nothing else have actually taken off. And why Legoland? Who on earth would want to go and play with Legos there? The new state administrative center located there is causing civil servants to complain. Previously, they didn’t have to travel far to work. Now not only do they have to leave home earlier, they even have to pay toll to get to work. Unlike Putrajaya, I don’t think there are any quarters there for the peasants working for the state government.
The whole idea of Iskandar Malaysia is to have one huge development project in an area of 2,217-sq km. Initially, there was to be a monorail system or something that would run from the eastern side of south Johor, to the west. That’s over 100km long. But of course, that, and the fact that there is a glut of office space, houses as well as abandoned housing projects, in that region, don’t seem to worry those people at IIB/IRDA at all. Back in 2007, they planned to have 13 million people housed in the IM by 2025. The whole of Malaya, in 1957, only had about 7.3 million people in it. 43 years later, it only had about 23.27 million people. That’s a growth of 15.97 million people over 43 years, or roughly an annual increase in population by 371,400 per annum. The whole state of Johor only had 2.7 million inhabitants in 2000. Even with that kind of proximity to Singapore, Johor still has problems getting people to move there for good – unless they come from Johor and have been working in KL, and would like to retire there. So, how on earth does IIB/IRDA plan to have an exodus of 13 million people (more than half the population of Malaysia now) to the IM region? Even KL with a population of more than a million cannot create enough volume for its mass rail transit systems to make money; what more having a rail system that runs more than a hundred kilometers within the IM?
Then there was this idea to turn IM into a medical hub, more for recovering and recuperating surgery patients etc from Singapore to rest and get proper medical care. So I’m in Singapore, they cut up. Then, instead of pushing me into the recovery room, they put me into this luxurious ambulance and transfer me across the Gelang Patah-Tuas link (Second Link), into a hospital located within the IM. How absurd is that? Here I am just stapled back into one piece (just), and I’m being wheeled here and there, and having to go through the (probably better than the normal) Immigration and Customs processes, from one country to another, to recover from the surgery. The only thing I may have to declare by the time I get to the Malaysian Customs complex is that I died during the transfer. Imagine also the hassle for my family members to go and visit me everyday. Toll, Immigration, Customs, traffic jam etc. Well, I don’t suppose they would build hospitals in IM to compete with Singapore as competing with Singapore was never the idea for having IM in the first place.
Then, there is this rebranding exercise of JB. IIB bought over DUNGU City Mall that was left empty for quite a long while, and plans to buy the Kotaraya Complex and turn it into an upmarket shopping mall, catering for high-end products probably like what The Gardens is to MidValley in KL. The Kotaraya complex has always been THE center for el-cheapo stuff, mainly for the malay population of both Johor and Singapore. On the other end would be Plaza Angsana due to its proximity to the Second Link. I suppose IIB has not learnt the lessons of the JB Waterfront City project that was abandoned in 2003. Some smart alec thought that having a floating city in front of JB would be a good idea, and the JB Waterfront City was to be its precursor. What they didn’t realise was that JB people needed a floating city as much as they would like to have a hole through their head. Now all that remains of this floating city are dozens of piles that were driven into the seabed that remain to this day as another blight on the JB seafront.
They should also learn that Singaporeans throng JB to buy cheap goods at Giant, Tesco, Carrefour, Extra etc. And if they want to buy stuff like Gucci, Coach and what-nots, they’ll go to Holiday Plaza. Now, that is one shopping mall that does not need rebranding to stay alive. It has been there since 1985, and probably named so because it was built next to what was the Holiday Inn Johor Bahru. That hotel has since changed its management and name, but Holiday Plaza is a brand in itself. If you look at its neon signage, it has old school disco font. Ask any el-cheapo shoppers almost anywhere from the central to southern part of Malaysia (and even Singapore) and the name Holiday Plaza would be the first thing on their mind. Reputation builds brands. Therefore, Kotaraya, Angsana and Holiday Plaza, all have their own brand and brand name. Efforts to re-brand them into something else would, in my opinion, end up disastrously.
I can go on and on about IM, there’s almost no end to it. Development is all about explosion. It explodes outwards, grow in strength, where one development creates satellite developments, much like KL, PJ, Shah Alam. It expands when it is saturated. You do not implode and call that development. There is no sense creating infrastructure when you cannot have the kind of saturation and volume you need to sustain that development. I don’t have to be an urban planner or an economist to know that. That is why it is called DEVELOPment.
Oh, and of IM complementing Singapore much like Shenzhen complementing Hong Kong, remember, in the end, Shenzhen and Hong Kong are in one country. Two different countries never complement each other. They always compete.