Sunday, March 9, 2008

Pak Lah Rejected




Days into the Chinese Year of the Rat, Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi (Pak Lah) was reported to have told the nation it was God who placed him into the PM’s chair and he had worked hard without earning any extra benefit. His problem this time could have been sourced in his home state, Penang. The people there rejected the heart of his table-model Northern Corridor Economic Region (NCER) plan.

It’s about Patrick Lim’s 104-hectare Penang Global City Centre (PGCC). The modest city centre originally planned to offer a culture-attuned setting with only two towers had been changed into a RM20-25 billion high-density suckers’ paradise with 40 high-rise buildings for which at least two flyovers would be needed to ease the traffic through.

The people want it booted out, a reckoning the Prime Minister will have to accept. The state governments have their own development plans and his table models are deemed as intrusions that will finally provide unfair access to his family and his cronies.

Most states do not have enough money to build on their own the required infrastructure, which was what the problem of development had been about outside the Klang Valley. Especially in the east coast states and in Sabah/Sarawak, the money for infrastructure must come mainly from the federal treasury. Pak Lah’s table models of development have little to do with infrastructural development. That’s the main basis of the unbelief.

The Iskandar Development Region (IDR) in Johor was clearly such a case. Johor has her own development plan and needed money for infrastructural development. The development that had proceeded thus far in the IDR far, in fact, to be found in Nusajaya the state had started a long time before.

To all and sundry, Pak Lah enriched his family and friends, and in Trengganu there had been the sort of looting that would be hard to stop from spilling over into a blatant rip-off.

What happened in Trengganu was not quite about a treasure hunt. It was plainly and simply looting. The Monsoon Cup that was clearly a failure had cost RM250 million the first time (2005) and that was raised to RM300 million in 2006, ostensibly to draw the rich and famous to the oil-endowed State that has too few good hotels to host a thousand decent spenders at any one time.

Patrick Lim’s dominance in Trengganu was unbelievably conspicuous, sired by Pak Lah’s son-in-law, Khairy Jamaluddin, plus Pak Lah’s political secretary, Wan Farid Wan Salleh and the man’s brother, Wan Hisham Wan Salleh in the Trengganu chapter.

It would appear to every watcher Pak Lah godfathered the racket. It was the making of a cinch for a spending spree of Trengganu’s oil royalty (Wang Ehsan) amounting to more than RM1 billion a year.

Hundreds of millions were spent in the “Tourism Binge” that was supposed to have kicked off with the Monsoon Cup. On top of the RM550 million cost for the two seasons of Monsoon Cup, RM250 million was spent for a Crystal Mosque on a small island off Kuala Trengganu, RM400 million for a bridge, RM 30 million for 30 chalets, and RM 200 million for IT development.

What came to Kuala Trengganu after that much of spendings? Well, the Giant Supermarket chain opened a store and with Mydin it heralded Kuala Trengganu into the supermarket age.

From that brilliant move in Trengganu Patrick Lim sauntered to the Penang end of the game with great promises. There he had acquired 104 hectares of prime land previously owned by the Penang Turf Club through Abad Naluri Sdn. Bhd., 23 percent owned by Equine Capital Bhd., his flagship.

He acquired it for a song (RM488 million) in 2002. Rezoned for commercial and housing development, the value of the land is believed to have multiplied six or seven times the value he paid for it, before a nail being driven into the dirt. It was a jackpot.

He offered to build a culture centre in a sedate commercial and housing surrounding with only two towers, but changed that to 40 high-rises instead after Pak Lah had become PM. That must have been a move of towering inspiration. The people in Penang want it thrown out and it looks like the nail has been driven into someone’s coffin instead.

The Penang racecourse he would build inside another piece of land he had also acquired, this one in Batu Kawan, conveniently where the new Penang bridge would begin on the mainland. This 450-acre piece of land houses his Crescentia Park, a commercial and housing project inside the Pulau Cassia project of the Penang Development Corporation.

Once again Pak Lah’s table model of development intruded into a state development plan that had been there from a long time before and needed the cash to pay for the infrastructure.

Pak Lah came in with the cash that the state should have gotten from the Malaysia Development Plan anyhow. But through the table models Pak Lah has been launching, a crony found access into the Penang landscape and took the king’s ransom. Though Patrick Lim is also from Penang like Pak Lah, that was not enough to dispel the ill-feelings. The people felt themselves taken for suckers and they acted.

In Trengganu, when the people reacted, two were shot in a hassle with police on Sept. 8 2007 when the police should not have carried any life bullets to manage the crowd of citizens in the first place.

Pak Lah has been riding the high winds and how does he think he can pull the blind to hide this kind of rip-offs and abuses is the big question a lot have been asking. It involves hundreds of millions in Trengganu’s oil money on the one hand and on the other the choicest pieces of land on Penang island and Penang mainland, with changes in the development vision(s) the people finally decided to boot.

This is saying nothing about what people think of his son’s ventures into the Penang money-culture or what role the son-in-law played in the ECM Libra takeover of Avenue Capital. His brother was said to have gained contracts of 15 years duration with the Mindef and with MAS when others have to do with the normal three or five years.

But this Trengganu and Penang jaunt are merely about Patrick Lim, the man former PM, Mahathir Mohamad, had named “Patrick Badawi” and in whose mansion in Perth Pak Lah retired when the whole of Johor was flooded in 2006, leaving 17 dead. Pak Lah, instead, was reported to have gone sailing with the rich Frenchman, Juan Todt, and his fiancé, the famous Michelle Yeoh.

What kind of a godsend Prime Minister does that make Pak Lah? Does he believe God appointed him PM of Malaysia to do the kind of things he has done? Is he about to deny he enriched his family members and a few cronies?

Was that the purpose God had for him? If not, what else has he done? Can he tell us how he had been proactive about moderating the inflation? Did God inspire him to sell Proton’s shares in Augusta for one Euro or had it been some chaps from Singapore? Did he do that right?

Who denied the Monsoon Cup the monsoon winds and waves on both occasions the “Regale” or “Race” was held in Kuala Trengganu, making it possibly the world’s costliest farce? Wasn’t that also God, Yaweh?

Worse of all, he reneged on all his promises to return to the citizens of this beautiful country their civil and human rights to enable the needful, which is to reach for maturity to change, modernize, develop and to integrate into a single nationality before it is too late.

Inside Kamunting detention center are five rather emotional BUT innocent Hindraf leaders. It would be in his better judgment to let them free now, before announcing his retirement.

The problem is simple. The resentment is getting to reach a peak and the longer Pak Lah lingers the worse it will be for the BN and the country. Penang has done right to reject the table model of development Pak Lah has been delivering, one after another, and another. --- a. ghani ismail, 10.2.2008

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