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FEER: Birth of a City
By Lorien Holland

5/5/2001 5:37 pm Sat

[Bandar Putrajaya yang mencecah USD$10.6 bilion itu masih lengang kerana pegawai kerajaan sendiri enggan berpindah ke sana. Banyak yang masih menetap di bandaraya untuk berulang. Bayangkan cuma ada SATU sahaja stesen minyak petrol di sana! Kebanyakkan restoran hampir tidak berpelanggan langsung. Rumah kediaman pula banyak yang tidak berpenghuni.

Syarikat Putrajaya Holdings menafikan projek pembinaannya tergendala. Tetapi mengikut jurutera-jurutera yang terlibat di sana banyak jambatan tidak dapat dibina begitu juga sistem monorel bawah tanah.

Projek ERL (RM2.4 bilion) sendiri tidak siap mengikut jadual sepatutnya pada 1998. Hanya 2/3 siap pada Mac 2001 lepas dan dijangka beroperasi April 2002.

Begitu juga KLIA yang bernilai USD$3.5 bilion - ia baru sahaja ditinggalkan oleh kumpulan syarikat Aeroflot. Inilah sebahagian daripada wawasan Mahathir yang akan mengurangkan lebih USD$20 bilion dari kantung negara semuanya.

Projek MSC pula tidak menyumbangkan sebarang impak kepada ekonomi sebagaimana yang diakui oleh Mahathir sendiri. Pada awalnya ia memanggil gergasi IT dunia untuk mencerna syarikat IT kecil dalam negara. Sekarang baru ia sedar ia perlu mencerna syarikat IT kecil untuk memanggil syarikat IT besar dunia.

Ada setengah pihak mengkritik bandar moden itu tidak mempamirkan ciri-ciri tempatan. Ia lebih kepada ciri-ciri rojak idaman Mahathir seorang yang mahu dia diabadikan seperti Shah Jahan di India. Lagipun dia berasal dari Kerala, India ... patutlah perangainya sedemikian. - Editor]

The Far Eastern Economic Review
Issue cover-dated 10th May 2001

Birth of a City

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is determined to create a new administrative capital--and torpedo the naysayers

By Lorien Holland/PUTRAJAYA

THE AMERICANS built one; so did the Turks and the Australians. Now the Malaysians are halfway through. The feat? Creating an administrative capital from scratch.

Set on 4,581 hectares of land 30 kilometres south of the present capital of Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya--as the new city is named--is rising out of land once covered by dense oil-palm plantations.

Constructing a new city is tricky business under the best of circumstances, but even more so when the driving force behind the 23 billion ringgit ($10.6 billion) project is Malaysia's long-serving Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

Mahathir, who's eyed a new federal capital for most of his two decades in power, is pressing ahead with Putrajaya despite Malaysia's continuing economic gloom and despite criticism that the project is too costly and should be scaled back. He's also moving forward despite the fact that many of Malaysia's other major infrastructure projects, such as the Bakun Dam in East Malaysia, have been delayed for lack of funds.

"All these things [at Putrajaya] are done not for today," said Mahathir at the new capital's recent inauguration as a federal territory. "They are done for the future. Of course, they look big today but in the future they will look very small." Whether that's true of course remains to be seen. But few would question that the development is ambitious.

In addition to the actual city, the new development boasts the $3.5 billion Kuala Lumpur International Airport and the Multimedia Super Corridor, Malaysia's answer to Silicon Valley. When finished, in around 2020, this 60-kilometre stretch of development will house both Putrajaya and Cyberjaya, its hi-tech twin city, and a rail link between the old capital and the airport.

If all goes according to plan, the cost for the development for the government will be a heady $20 billion. Whether all will go exactly to plan is far from clear. The airport, the MSC and the new cities are already experiencing significant teething problems. In Putrajaya these include construction delays, opposition charges of overspending, and resistance to the move by Kuala Lumpur government officials.

This last problem means that with the exception of the Prime Minister's Department and Home Ministry, which already made the move to the new city, all other ministries are still firmly rooted in Kuala Lumpur--and like it that way.


"Putrajaya is an infrastructure-led project, and it will take off because the government will make it take off," says Lim Eng Chong, director of property consultants Henry Butcher Lim and Long in Kuala Lumpur. "Government departments will have to move there and so will civil servants, and they will provide the critical mass."

By 2012, when all government ministries are slated to move in--along with 76,000 civil servants--the population of Putrajaya is forecast to be 330,000, and Cyberjaya is expected to have some substance, too.

Meanwhile, today, most of the housing in Putrajaya is unoccupied, roads are deserted, only one petrol station is operational and the few open restaurants are virtually empty. The only signs of life revolve around the large, green-domed prime minister's office, the enormous pink Putra mosque, and the slightly smaller prime minister's residence.

The residence particularly has been singled out for fierce criticism. The opposition charges that large amounts of public funds were wasted on the building. And jailed former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim claims it cost 200 million ringgit, not the 80 million ringgit figure given by the government.

Construction delays, the bane of any major construction project, are also dogging Putrajaya. Although Putrajaya Holdings, the developer, insists in press releases that construction is on schedule and in some areas is ahead of schedule, engineers involved with the project disagree. They say some bridge construction has been delayed, as has the underground monorail project which aims to make the centre of Putrajaya a pedestrian zone. Putrajaya Holdings declined to comment.

The delay in the rail link to the airport, which should have been completed with the airport in 1998, is yet another impediment. The operator, Express Rail Link, says on its website that the 2.4 billion ringgit project was two-thirds complete by the end of March 2001 and should finally start operations on April 20, 2002. When this happens, the railway will enable passengers to halve their travelling time to the airport from Kuala Lumpur to 30 minutes.

Finally, another problem with Putrajaya is that city planners appear to have made little effort to reflect Malaysia's multicultural makeup. Obvious Chinese or Indian influence, for example, is missing, even though both groups have a strong presence in Malaysia's urban areas.

"Driving around Putrajaya, you would have no idea that Malaysia is a multicultural society," says an ethnic Chinese architect. "At the centre, there is that enormous mosque and a replica of the Isfahan bridge in Iran."

Besides these problems, Mahathir's vision has run into difficulties elsewhere: the Multimedia Super Corridor.

A recent confidential study by management consultants McKinsey & Co. found that the MSC, with its centre in Cyberjaya, had not attracted substantial investor interest from global technology companies. Also, it found the corridor has had no significant impact on the country's economy, despite hefty government efforts to transform it into a hi-tech centre.

Othman Yeop Abdullah, executive chairman of Multimedia Development Corporation, the state-run project management firm, concedes that changes in Cyberjaya's development plan need to be made, but insists that the vision of creating a hi-tech backbone remains valid.

"At the start, we thought we had to attract the big players to spawn small players," he says. "Now it is almost the reverse. We have to spawn small players in order to attract the big ones."

Despite it all, Mahathir remains resolutely behind the project and his vision of Malaysia as a developed, hi-tech nation. "We need time," he said at Putrajaya's recent inauguration. "People may think that we waste money and all that, but it is not so."