Singapore concern over Johor project

PETALING JAYA: An ambitious project which will see massive land reclamation work near the Johor Second Link has raised eyebrows across the Causeway.

The project called Forest City, which is said to involve several connected islands with a total land size of about 2,000ha – bigger than Pangkor island – could have potential transboundary effects and Singapore is concerned.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has written to his Malaysian counterpart Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak about the project.

This is a follow-up to two third-person notes from Singapore on the matter that were sent to the Foreign Ministry last month.

Another letter was handed to Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Wahid Omar when he was in Singapore for a bilateral meeting recently.

Singapore started voicing its concern after a report appeared in The Star in March on the project by China’s Country Garden Holdings Co Ltd and Kumpulan Prasarana Rakyat Johor.

The project will involve land reclamation to build luxury homes on man-made islands off Pendas in southern Johor.

So far, there have been no indications of environment impact assessment reports over the projects. However, reclamation of parcels of less than 50ha each do not require EIAs.

Parties close to royalty are believed to be linked to the project, which will be developed over more than 30 years.

In a recent The Star report, Kayson Yuen, Country Garden regional president for Malaysia project, said the company had studied the mega project for more than a year before it decided to invest.

Singapore’s first diplomatic note asked Malaysia to provide all relevant information, including an EIA report and an estimate of the project’s completion.

Changing landscape: An aerial view of the Second Link crossing from the Singapore side of Tuas.
Changing landscape: An aerial view of the Second Link crossing from the Singapore side of Tuas.

Singapore then sought clarification and explanation via the second note following Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Khaled Nordin’s assurance in the state assembly recently that the reclamation work would not affect the environment.

The mentri besar was reported to have said that the state government had issued a notice to the developer, Country Garden Pacific View Sdn Bhd, to prepare an action plan to effectively clear any sediment caused by the reclamation work.

Industry sources said the concerns raised by Singapore should be taken seriously.

They said the fact that Singapore chose to raise its concerns at the government-to-government level when land development was a state matter indicated that the island republic was taking the issue very seriously.

“It becomes a federal matter when transboundary and environmental issues are involved,” said one source.

“Singapore is using all channels to raise the matter so Malaysia needs to take this seriously.”

Land being reclaimed in the Straits of Johor.

Malaysian government officials were tight lipped, but assured that there were discussions ongoing with the other side and that relevant agencies in Johor had been asked to provide more details on the project.

There is also a concern that Singapore may lodge a protest with the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) in Hamburg over the reclamation project.

Malaysia went to ITLOS in 2003 when Singapore started land reclamation work, totalling 5,214ha at the eastern and western parts of the Straits of Johor.

ITLOS then directed both countries to conduct a joint study and propose mitigating measures in Tuas and Pulau Tekong.

It also directed Singapore not to conduct reclamation that may cause irreparable damage to Malaysia’s interests or serious harm to the area’s marine environment.

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