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The proposed Strait of Malacca bridge: Linking or breaking the region?

Posted: 23 Sep 2013 09:48 PM PDT

The Strait of Malacca bridge project connecting Teluk Gong in Malacca and Dumai in Indonesia. Source: Strait of Malacca Partners Sdn Bhd. 

Mohd Hazmi Mohd Rusli & Wan Izatul Asma Wan Talaat

(TMI) - Plans have been mooted to construct a bridge to link the Indonesian port-city of Dumai in the Sumatran province of Riau with Malacca. This bridge will obviously result to any of these two circumstances; linking or breaking the region.

The groundwork for the project started since 2006 and studies show that the bridge project is technically feasible. If the project is carried out, the bridge has been estimated to cost US$12.5 billion. The Import-Export Bank of China has agreed to finance 85% of the total cost of the bridge project.

This proposed 127.92km-long bridge is said to be capable of fostering new economic opportunities between the two countries particularly in stimulating trade and the tourism industry. Malaysia will undertake to build 48.68km of the bridge while Indonesia will construct the remaining 79.24km.

However, the Indonesian government has announced that they would give priority to the construction of Strait of Sunda bridge over the Strait of Malacca bridge. The Indonesian government intends to first integrate Java-Sumatra as a centre of economic development with the Sunda bridge project.

The Oresund Bridge

The proposed Strait of Malacca Bridge is likely to resemble the Oresund Bridge that connects the Danish capital of Copenhagen in Denmark and Malmo in Sweden. The 16km combined bridge and tunnel stands over the Oresund Sound and connects both nations by road and rail, and it was officially opened to public in June 2000.

When the construction of the bridge over Oresund Sound was proposed, it received adverse criticism from the shipping community as it was thought that it would hamper shipping flow in the Oresund Sound. As a result, Germany submitted a proposal to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to suspend the construction of the bridge.

As a compromise, Sweden suggested that the bridge should be designed in two features; half a bridge and half a tunnel. This compromise was advocated to allow bigger ships to navigate across the Oresund Sound.

It resulted in the increase of the construction expenditure of the bridge to three times more than the cost that was budgeted for in the original plan. Currently the Oresund Bridge carries six million vehicles per year with the railway link transporting eight million people annually across the Oresund Sound.

Besides the Oresund Bridge, the proposed Strait of Malacca bridge will also resemble the proposed 18km Fehmarn Belt Bridge that will connect Germany and Denmark and cut journey times between Copenhagen and Hamburg. This project, that has received opposition from environmentalists and local authorities in German, calling it to be unnecessary, is expected to be completed in 2018.

Given the busy nature of the Strait of Malacca, it is likely that similar impacts to the Oresund Bridge experience, would occur if the Strait of Malacca bridge plan were to be implemented and it is likely that any proposed modifications to the plan would also substantially increase the price of the construction of the bridge.

Environmental implication

It is anticipated that such a huge project would not only adversely affect the coastal ecosystems on both shores of the bridge; it would also affect the Strait as a whole, from hydrological, environmental and economic perspectives.

The movement and speed of currents would be changed by the existence of pillars holding up the bridge, and could potentially alter the nature of the Strait. For example, the seabed ecosystems of the areas where the bridge would be erected would suffer from adverse impacts as a result of piling works and the placement of construction materials.

From the environmental perspective, the project would encroach the nesting grounds of the hawksbill turtle as the construction site of the bridge on the Malaysian side would be around Padang Kemunting, an important nesting area for this species of marine animal.

Given the fact that the construction of the Bridge would itself alter the seabed ecosystems of the Strait, it has the potential to negatively impact the fisheries activities and the marine and coastal tourism industry in that area.

Disrupting shipping traffic

The construction would have the effect of closing down a large portion of the TSS areas of the Strait of Malacca, which would result in potential navigational hazards for ships and thus, hamper traffic flow through the waterway.

The construction and presence of the bridge with its many concrete pillars would not only reduce the speed of vessels sailing through the Strait but would also cause difficulty for large container vessels and oil tankers navigating through this area. Slower movement of shipping traffic would cause congestion in the Strait and this may eventually lead to maritime accidents.

Spills of oil, chemical and noxious substances from such accidents could jeopardise the sensitive marine environment of the Straits of Malacca and Singapore. It would also mean that transits by shipping traffic would take a longer time higher shipping costs increases prices for products sold in markets worldwide.

Tsunami and earthquake threats

Upon completion, the bridge would connect the Malay Peninsula with the Indonesian island of Sumatra. The Malay Peninsula is located on a stable continent which is outside the Pacific Ring of Fire. Sumatra, however, is located within the Pacific Ring of Fire, an area with major seismic activities, and is exposed to the threat of earthquakes and tsunamis.

The 2004 tsunami incident that ravaged Aceh manifestly demonstrated that the region is exposed to these kinds of natural calamities. Should the bridge take a direct hit from another tremor or a tsunami, it is likely to be badly damaged.

The economy of both Malaysia and Indonesia would suffer adversely should the bridge collapse entirely or in parts. Shipping transits in the Strait would be hampered with the debris of the shattered bridge dispersed through the Strait and economic activities such as fisheries and tourism would be heavily impacted.

However, the proponent of the project, the Strait of Malacca Partners Sdn Bhd contended that the site of the bridge is located on a Eurasian plate outside any fault line. Though there is an unfavorable seismic zone approximately 100 km away from the project site, there has been no known record of active or frequent seismic activities in the last ten thousand years.

Linking or breaking?

Another issue which arises is whether the bridge could really foster economic benefits for both countries. Would the level of cost involved in constructing the bridge be justified by subsequent usage?

The cost of constructing the bridge would result in high debt liabilities for both Malaysia and Indonesia which would be passed on to bridge users in higher tolls. In contrast to the Oresund Bridge in the Scandinavian region, both Malaysia and Indonesia are developing States and do not enjoy the relatively high standards of living of Scandinavia.

If the toll imposed on the bridge is too expensive, the public at large may refrain from using it and may revert to using ferries and boats to cross the Strait of Malacca.

In terms of tourism, the bridge may attract more tourists into both countries but this cannot be guaranteed. With the tropical weather conditions which are common in both Malaysia and Indonesia, thunder storms are a natural phenomenon in the evening. Driving across the Strait would be dangerous in this type of weather.

If there is not much vehicle traffic on the bridge, drivers may likely then be exposed to hijacking and other criminal activities like highway robberies and carjacking. The substantial length of the bridge which is likely to be up to 127.92km would make it difficult for the authorities to maintain the safety and security of drivers. 



Malaysian PM Najib walking a political tightrope

Posted: 23 Sep 2013 05:05 PM PDT

Some see October's UMNO elections as paving the way for the return of the Mahathir era, not just with the entry of Mukhriz, but also the son of Mahathir's loyalist Akhramsyah Sanusi, who's challenging the UMNO youth chief post.

Meliss Goh, Channel News Asia

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak may have retained his presidency of the ruling UMNO party unopposed over the weekend but his headaches are far from over.

Analysts say Najib needs a strong team behind him.

He is walking a tight rope between party conservatives who want UMNO to adopt a more hardline approach, and party liberals who insist UMNO should be more inclusive.

Despite having led the ruling coalition into a poorer showing in the 13th general election, Najib insists UMNO did better, adding seven more seats compared to the 2008 elections.

And many analysts were not surprised when both Najib and his deputy Muhyiddin Yassin retained their positions as UMNO president and deputy president unchallenged especially after a slew of pro-Malay programmes were unveiled recently.

Political analyst Keith Leong from public affairs consulting firm KRA group, said: "PM Najib has done a lot to placate the conservatives in the party, so he's really bought himself time in that sense."

Still, all eyes are on the team that gets elected in the coming party polls, with over 146,000 delegates voting for the first time in UMNO's history.

Women's chief Shahrizat Abdul Jalil is expected to sail through re-election, despite facing off two contenders.

Six are vying for the three Vice President posts.

Apart from the three incumbents, old timers Mohd Ali Rustam and Mohd Isa Samad are trying to make a come-back.

Also entering the fray is Mukhriz Mahathir, the youngest son of former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad.

"Of the six, all of them are from the same ideological orientation. They all seem to be conservatives. There doesn't seem to be any odd ball in the pack. There doesn't seem to be any mavericks," Leong pointed out.

Some see October's UMNO elections as paving the way for the return of the Mahathir era, not just with the entry of Mukhriz, but also the son of Mahathir's loyalist Akhramsyah Sanusi, who's challenging the UMNO youth chief post.

Both however have denied they are Dr Mahathir's proxies.



Bumi Agenda: Step forward or backward?

Posted: 23 Sep 2013 12:50 PM PDT

The apparent failure of the ruling BN coalition of parties to even be minimally consulted on the new policy speaks volumes of how much respect Najib has for his non-Umno BN colleagues.

Koon Yew Yin, FMT

Forty two years after the New Economic Policy (NEP) was launched by his father, Tun Abdul Razak, Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak has now followed in his father's footsteps with a new national policy specially aimed at enhancing Malay participation and control of the economy and which is expected to run into the year 2020.

There are many reasons to fear the worst from this new national policy. Firstly unlike the NEP which was initiated following the racial riots of May 1969, this policy is clearly linked to Najib's fear of losing his position as president of Umno in the coming Umno general assembly elections.

Najib has also made references to the fact that the new policy is to reward the Malay voters who supported Umno during the last elections but this appears less strong a reason than his own survival as Umno leader.

Secondly, unlike the NEP which was at least endorsed by a larger multi-racial grouping in the form of the National Operations Council, the main catalyst for the so-called bumiputera empowerment policy has come from Malay pressure groups such as the Malay Economic Action Council (MTEM), Perkasa, right wing Malay media and bloggers and their godfather, Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

In fact the MTEM has claimed the credit for the new policy. Completely side-lined even though the nation is not under emergency rule has been the cabinet as well as Parliament.

The apparent failure of the ruling BN coalition of parties to even be minimally consulted on the new policy speaks volumes of how much respect Najib has for his non-Umno BN colleagues and for the principles of parliamentary democracy.

It also shows that Najib – despite all the rhetoric of 1Malaysia and the inclusive scope of the New Economic Model – is prepared to sacrifice the interest of the non-bumiputera component of the country's population to secure his own and Umno's Malay interest.

Thirdly, the policy appears to be an open-ended one. Its range of initiatives is the entire range of socio-economic sectors where Umno's leadership feels that the Malay position needs to be strengthened – equity ownership, business, human capital, housing, state institutions, private sector jobs, etc.

Fourthly, even though the policy talks about bumiputera and Malay empowerment, it is clear that the main beneficiaries will be Umno members in the business community.

According to media reports, the new initiatives will amount to RM31billion worth but this is likely to be an underestimate. We can expect the figure of government expenditure on the new policy to run into the hundreds of billion by the year 2020.

Impact of the new NEP

Will this massive reallocation of public funds on a racial basis bring about positive benefits? What is likely to happen with the implementation of the new policy?

Policy analyst, Dr Lim Teck Ghee, who in 2006 exposed the government's fiddling of the corporate equity statistics to under-estimate Malay share as well as recently also exposed the fiddling of crime statistics, expects the racial and political manipulation of official statistics to continue.

He also had this to say to an online news portal:

"It looks like the New Economic Model which was supposed to set the strategic policy direction for the country until 2020 and to de-emphasise ethnic based economic policies has now been effectively abandoned.




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