Fighting on for a lasting legacy

KAJ Development Sdn Bhd and Melaka Gateway project founder Michelle Ong during a press conference.

WHEN Michelle Ong, the founder of KAJ Development first thought of the Melaka Gateway project idea, she believes it will be a lasting legacy to benefit the rakyat and future generations. Subsequently, it was transformed into a sustainable project.

Here she shares with you a vision that many people fell in love with and how this project came about.

“Growing up in Kuala Pilah, my late father who was nicknamed “Panjang”, used to earn a mere RM30 by taking wedding photographs to bring up my family of six brothers and sisters while my mum used to sew pants for seven sen each for extra income. Back then, my siblings and I had to share one room.

Coming from such humble beginnings, I wanted to make sure my family can live a comfortable life.

With this enterprising spirit, my family and I built a company that has generated billions for Malaysia over the last four decades, with exports to Australia, Asia, South America, Middle East and more.

With such an achievement, anyone else would have been happy to retire comfortably. But I am at an age where I want to create more opportunities for the next generation and if they were given the chance, they have the capability to do so much more.

My dream for Malaysia, which has now become the Melaka Gateway project will create a beautiful picture for the future generation. That said, I want to build a legacy for Malaysia and its people to highlight how great our country is if we dare to dream.

As a nation, we need to dream bigger to achieve our full potential. More specifically in Melaka, the locals should have better opportunities, beyond just tourism.

The strategic location of the Straits of Melaka sits on major shipping and trading routes and yet it is an area that remains untapped.

Before I got to this stage, I was already sponsoring children who had potential by paying for their education, providing them with the necessary support to start up businesses and even helping those who went on hajj.

Thinking on how much more I could help them, my idea grew to become a sustainable mega project while raising the profile of Melaka on the world map. And when I presented my idea at the World Bank Summit, people came up to me and said ‘I would like to invest in your project’ before I even started any actual groundwork.

When I came back and presented my Melaka Gateway project idea to the Malaysian government, they saw the potential of my project to bring development to the state and possibly becoming the new mega catalyst for development in the country.

In the next 10 years or so, the project is even capable to help Melaka achieve the top spot in economic contribution to the nation’s GDP, equal to or possibly exceeding Selangor or Penang.

Besides, the project has also been endorsed as a national project by two of our ex-prime ministers from both sides. If the project did not have the potential to benefit my fellow Malaysians, this would not be the case.

The Melaka Gateway project is something that I have invested my heart and soul in over the years. Many investors that I have spoken to have committed billions of US dollars because they believe in me being able to execute this project to become the next big thing for Melaka and Malaysia.

One of our loyal investors, Dr Charlie In of Raffles Financial said, ‘We are proud to be associated with this prestigious initiative to make Melaka a significant oil and gas hub and cruise liners preferred port-of-call in the heart of the RCEP region.’

The most important factor for me was to make sure this is not a white elephant and I had to prove this Melaka Gateway project would start generating income even before its major components come into realisation and I have proven it is possible. Anything that happens to the Melaka Gateway project from now on is my responsibility and all the investors are committed to me and the project.

Although, there were some unexpected problems along the way, what has given me comfort during the hard times is the trust and support I have received from my family, colleagues and both local and international investors.

In the past, there have been many other land reclamation projects in Melaka, with some having been in place for many years before us but with the Melaka Gateway project, we are going beyond that to build an ecosystem.

When I first started this project I was guided by the principles where the past presents the future. Historically, the strategic location of Melaka has allowed it to be a centre of trade spanning the Middle East, India and China.

To restore Melaka as the centre of international trade is not impossible but to make this a reality today, creating an ecosystem is essential. If I had merely done land reclamation, it would not have worked.

It is with this project that we will be able to shift Melaka from a predominantly weekend economy to a 365-day economy.

  • Gross development value: RM68bil

  • The number of jobs to be created: 40,000 to 45,000 over the next 10 years

  • Contribution to Malaysia’s GDP by 2030: RM125bil

  • Multiplier effect value: RM1.188tril

Having spent close to a decade planning and nurturing this project, I realised my vision also needed validation from experts.

With approximately RM1bil spent on all kinds of studies done by international experts, one notable study by PWC Asia, Ernst & Young JLL (Hong Kong), Deloitte (Malaysia) and Broadway Malyan (London) states there are so many reasons why I’m the right person to continue on this project but more importantly, I’m also doing it because I want to make a difference for the benefit of our people and country, as profit alone doesn’t interest me because I have already achieved that.

As it is important to have a legacy we can all be proud of, I implore the federal and state government to allow me to continue spearheading this mega project because besides it being very difficult for anyone else to catch up quickly, I strongly believe I can steer it to the glory I had first envisioned.”

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