IN the new, post-pandemic era, potential players in the RM31bil Mass Railway Transit line three (MRT3) project need to adopt a new mindset.
While they have a track record in civil works under MRT1 and MRT2, the challenges now are to:
> Share out the pie.
> Create more exportable products.
> Reduce dependency on foreign labour.
> Eradicate the “Ali Baba” culture.
> Strengthen technologies in MRT3 systems.
The largest economic enhancement programme so far, has an inclusive element, and strives to also take care of other sectors as well as the unfortunate in society.
Besides those in tier one (with projects where contractors are directly awarded by MRT Corp), the sub-contractors in tiers two and three are also taken care of, to ensure fair distributive work.
“We are looking for five change leaders with a new mindset of sharing, who are not just maximising profits.
“They are like the elders – Abang Long and Kak Long; they cannot just take but must also give to their siblings,’’ said MRT Corp CEO Datuk Zarif Hashim.
In the current situation, it is vital to share as jobs are scarce, savings have been depleted while a lot of people still need to survive.
The challenge is to maximise the returns from the MRT3 jobs and ensure greater socio-economic benefits.
Running along the perimeter of Kuala Lumpur City, the MRT3 Circle Line spans 51km, with 40km of elevated tracks and 11km of underground tunnels.
It will have 31 stations, 10 of which will serve as interchange stations.
This time, the tenders will be conducted differently; they will not only be for the cheapest best price but the best contractor with the best mindset.
Against a track record in civil works, there is a lot of capability in the industry; the challenge is to change the players’ mindset.
These change leaders will help others get back on their feet and create regional champions that can compete.
They will also be a source of revenue for the nation, beyond the completion of MRT3 in 2030.
These leaders must also do things differently, so that they can attract local talent especially in the current situation where foreign labour is difficult to obtain.
Only serious players will be considered; those project owners listing out a lot of nominees especially will come under greater scrutiny.
Within the MRT systems package where local technologies will be beefed up, subcontractors have to put in their money for the first four years, under a form of hybrid financing.
To create exportable products, the MRT3 project will focus on modular construction that can be exported while generating intellectual property (IP) rights that can be licensed out.
The world is now open and free trade agreements allow us to compete while opening up new opportunities.
We must prepare to fight in the open and improve our competitive advantage.
Having built the MRT civil works track record over the past 10 years, it is time to involve more people and spread the benefits.
For once the tier one change leaders are ready to be regional champions, they will bring along the ecosystem of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) with them.
The vision is for the MRT3 launch platform to build more and more champions that, together with the SMEs, can compete internationally.
We should not depend on domestic spending forever to stimulate the economy, but work towards other sources of income.
It is high time something is done to raise further income, as even the sukuk from MRT1 will not be fully paid by 2030, when MRT3 is operational.
With the local expertise in MRT civil works, the systems require strengthening in terms of technologies and skills among Malaysians.
“In terms of systems, we are still far from being self-sufficient; critical parts are still being imported.
“Imagine a situation where we have many different train lines but we are not in control of the technology.
“Players must understand we are not just buying boxes, but we have to do design, customisation, configuration and software coding,’’ said Zarif.
However, the system package will have an element of private risk., unlike the civil portion where the government will pay after two years.
System package contractors put up their own money for the first four years of the MRT3 project, compared to civil packages where the contractors will have to fund themselves for two years.
After four years, the government will pay probably the system contractor from issuance of sukuk.
The repayment for the sukuk, in turn, can potentially be from charging a potential vehicle and environmental fees imposed on vehicles entering the Kuala Lumpur central business district during peak hours.
Vehicles are should be discouraged from entering the city centre, as by 2030, there will be 10 lines forming the Klang Valley Transit Network – four light rail transit, three MRT, one monorail and two Keretapi Tanah Melayu commuters.
At MRT3, things will be done differently. That is the scenario, going forward.
Covid-19 has dented our capacity, and the MRT3 platform will help us rebuild and push to the next level.
To achieve that, the highest level of co-operation and confidence will be required from public and private sectors.
Nobody should attempt to break the chain of good faith under personal interests but all should act in the name of integrity and nationhood.
Yap Leng Kuen is a former StarBiz editor. The views expressed here are the writer’s own.