Rushing the Iskandar Project December 13, 2006Posted by elizabethwong in Democracy, Economy, Malaysia, Politics.
At this very moment, the Iskandar Regional Authority Bill is being rushed through on the last day of Parliament, which will go on until 10.30 pm tonight.
This is, by far, the most controversial bill this end-of-the-year session, with long-term and wide-ranging effects.
First, the question of the Federal government usurping the right of the Johor state government and state assembly to decide on its development, and the whole sticky issue of land.
Land is under the purview of the state. But this new authority will be vested with enormous powers to decide on, say, acquisition and disposal of land.
It is doubtful the Chief Minister of Johor will have any real say in serious decisions, considering this is *the* pet project of the Prime Minister. The latter is factored into the Regional Authority as its chair, apart from being the Minister directly in charge.
This is further strain on the concept of ‘Federation’ or in Malay, “Persekutuan”. Malaysia is considered an “asymmetrical federation” which means not all states have equal rights, due to its peculiarities, or history, or culture. Examples are Sabah, Sarawak who have certain rights when it comes to state citizenship and immigration.
Two. There is little accountability, and I’m being generous here. Section 49 of the bill is on Secrecy, where matters discussed are confidential, and persons involved in the project are sworn to secrecy.
Section 50 and 51 essentially gives wide-ranging immunity to the Regional Authority. No court or lawsuit can touch them, even if they make mistakes or do something wrong, so long as those decisions were made in “good faith”.
This is bad news. No investor would dare to put any money in a project that sidelines responsibility.
For example: A Penang-based Multinational Company (MNC) moves to Johor, as it is promised no-taxation for the first 5 years, a building to house its factory and workers etc. if some of these conditions do not materialise, the Regional Authority cannot be sued, because it made these offers in “good faith” but due to unforeseen circumstances, isn’t able to deliver. The MNC will be left in a lurch.
Three. Reports and accounts are presented to the Prime Minister and can be demanded by the Minister in charge. However, there is no provision to present these reports to the Parliament, which is forced to give the necessary financial support, if directed.
Where is the accountability? Shouldn’t a project of this magnitude, involving billions of dollars (and multiply this by 3.67 to make it Ringgit) of public funds and human resources, be put under the scrutiny of the Parliament?
These are just three broad concerns. There will be further analysis on this. But without doubt this bill will be passed tonight to the detriment of the nation.