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Najib’s ETP sparks turf war

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 28 — The Najib administration’s ambitious plans to build new train lines, taller towers and bigger developments have sparked a turf war between various corporations and politically-connected businessmen for a piece of the action, even as critics lament the lack of reforms outlined by the government.

According to a report in Singapore’s Straits Times newspaper today, the huge number of projects announced in the government’s Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) has caused intense competition among individuals such as Tan Sri Halim Saad, who was said to be behind a proposal to take over PLUS highways.

The report described Datuk Seri Najib Razak (picture) as plotting the country’s largest-ever infrastructure expansion programme.

The government has allocated close to RM100 billion to jump-start a raft of projects.
They range from the controversial RM5 billion 100-storey Warisan Merdeka tower to the RM46 billion mass-rail transit network, a new high-speed rail link between Penang and Singapore as well as more new highways and power plants.

Najib’s ETP is estimated to cost RM443 billion and aims to double per capita income to US$15,000 (RM46,500) within 10 years, to propel Malaysia into the ranks of high-income nations.

But criticisms about Najib’s big projects remain. Ordinary Malaysians have also set up a Facebook page with nearly 200,000 fans so far to protest the construction of Warisan Merdeka.

The online protest underscores significant public dissatisfaction with mega projects and the perceived cronyism attached to the deals.

The Straits Times report quotes the unnamed chief executive of one Malaysian commercial bank as saying: “The problem with the ETP is that so many projects have been identified based on proposals submitted to the government by private companies.

“Those who have been left out are fighting for some action.”

The report identified the parties to the turf war as belonging, like Halim, to those aligned with former PM Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in one group, and a slew of new businessmen personified by tycoons like Desmond Lim, who is understood to be eyeing a major role in developing a new financial district with 1MDB.

Property consultants and private economists worry that huge infrastructure spending could burden the economy and create a property glut that would take years to absorb, the Straits Times reported.
“The new economic model is very much like an Internet start-up,” the chief executive of a boutique financial consultancy with close ties to the government told the Straits Times.

“We have a spending model, but a revenue-generating plan is still absent.”

Manu Bhaskaran, the regional strategist for Centennial group, a United States-based consultancy, was quoted as saying that Najib’s big projects would only provide a short-term boost to the economy.

“Big projects will provide an initial spurt for a couple of years, but overinvestment is going to lead to indigestion, and that will result in prolonged periods of low investment and low growth,” he said.
A recently retired government economist was also quoted by the Straits Times as saying:

“The problem about ETP is that it is just another spending plan with different players given projects.
“There isn’t any reform in the agenda to make the system more transparent.”

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