A MASSIVE project in Johor that will reclaim more than 2,000ha from the Straits of Johor and see a new island – or several connected islands – rising out of the sea abutting Singapore’s west coast is turning into a seemingly classic story of rampant big business, huge profits and nagging controversy.
Whether this hoary perception is true or not, the lack of transparency surrounding the project has certainly not helped matters.
Conceived as a luxurious settlement for the rich, Forest City is said to be a 30-year project undertaken by Country Garden Pacific View Sdn Bhd, a joint venture between China’s seventh-largest property developer, Country Garden Holdings Ltd, and the investment arm of the Johor state government, Kumpulan Prasarana Rakyat Johor.
Everything about the project is superlative.
It will be the biggest land reclamation project ever in Malaysia. It will reportedly have a gross development value of RM600bil. And the developer, according to one estimate, stands to walk away with a cool RM290bil. That works out to a staggering RM9.6bil a year, compared to S P Setia Bhd, currently the country’s most profitable developer, which only makes a net profit of about RM410mil.
Unfortunately, much about the project is also hazy.
Exactly what kind of development will take place, timeline included, has not been revealed. There were reports that a stadium for Johor’s football team might be built there. And that Forest City might even be developed into a tourism hub and get duty-free status.
If there is a blueprint for the project, then it is still tucked away in somebody’s desk somewhere.
Meanwhile, environmental issues dog the project.
In June, critics charged that Forest City did not have an environment impact assessment (EIA) done. The state government said the project did not require an EIA, as reclamation work was only for 49ha, one ha short of requiring it, and that reclamation work was being done in phases of 49ha.
Later, the state health and environment committee said that, in fact, a preliminary EIA had been submitted.
There are also worries that the project may lead to siltation and a shallower sea, posing a threat to nearby Port of Tanjung Pelepas.
In addition, our neighbour down south is pretty anxious about how this mega-project so close to its maritime boundaries might affect it. Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has personally written to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak on the matter, asking for clarification.
To begin to get a handle on things, the Johor state government needs to be forthright on all aspects of Forest City’s development. Just lay all the facts on the table. And, they must also candidly address all the issues that have cropped up.