Prime Minister Pak Lah unveiled a USD105 billion (RM382 billion) blueprint today to turn the area around its second-largest city into a prosperous Asian metropolis, and include the determination to overcome its reputation for street crime and broken dreams.
It's a plan for 20 years worth of projects to transform Johor Baru and its surrounds.
Pak Lah: "Our vision is to make south Johor the new international address for business, investment, leisure and culture."
Abdullah said investment of USD13 billion (RM60 billion) would be needed in the first five years from 2006-2010 to build roads, rail and other infrastructure required to set the stage for an influx of private investment, which is expected to come largely from Singapore.
Johor Baru is home to about 1 million people on the southern tip of the Malaysian peninsula, on the doorstep of one of Asia's richest financial capitals, Singapore, but poor relations between the two countries have left the two cities estranged.
"I think a lot lies on how the Malaysian government tackles the Singapore factor," said Wan Abdullah Wan Ibrahim, managing director of UEM Land, which owns the single largest slice of property in the south Johor development zone (25,000 acres).
"Somehow along the way, they will just have to learn to work together for mutual benefit," he told reporters in a briefing held on the eve of the premier's announcement.
"I think, for once, we have got all these things addressed," he said, referring to the government's new master plan.
But a local ruling-party MP said it was time to suppress this instinct and welcome more Singaporean investment.
"The best way for us to get early results is to look at what we can do to complement Singapore," said Nur Jazlan Mohamed, who is an UMNO MP.
Now, UMNO acknowledged openly that in order for Pak Lah's dream to succeed, Malaysia needs Singaporean investment and the fact that UMNO is prepared to look for ways to complement Singapore - in the words of Nur Jazlan: "...look at what we can do to complement Singapore."
Have UMNO forgotten the "Pantai Hospital Episode"? Didn't Khairy complain the fact that Mokhzani (Mahathir's son) sold his stakes to the Chinese, who later sold it to Parkway Holding of Singapore?
The hypothethical poser is: If Singaporean businessmen and govt are willing to invest in Johor, wouldn't that reduce the Malay Equity? Would there be a shout of discrimination and inequality, uneven playing fields, and marginalization? Would another "Pantai Hospital Episode" be repeated some time in the future, after Singapore had made their investments? Further, Singaporean businessmen are not going to give up 30% equity shares unless it's by way of consideration or payment in kind. I believe Singaporean businessmen would have to consider the political risk associated with the Malaysian govt's policy within the context of NEP and Malay Agenda.
In the last few years, we can observed the dwindling investments by Singaporean in the state of Johor. Even if you observed the property development market, the houses are not selling. Pelangi Bhd who used to sell about RM300 million worth of houses in the last few years, are currently struggling to achieve revenue of 50% of what they had consistently achieved over the last 10 years. Even Kouk Brothers and their new development outfit Berinda isn't doing any better. Development projects for SP Setia Bhd and Tai Mah Holding are in their sunset period. Singaporeans just aren't buying and investing. Why? Political risk!
Sometimes, it's so unpredictable... one day, we hear, Singapore thy sworn enemy, now we hear, Singapore to be our strategic partner, that we (UMNO) are looking into ways to complement them, and we (UMNO) have to work together for mutual benefits. Next thing, after pouring in your money and invested, the cry may be: