Pak Lah: Budget deficit killed the crooked bridge

(The Straits Times) – Outgoing Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi cancelled the so-called crooked bridge project between Johor and Singapore in 2006 because of the huge federal budget deficit then.

He told media editors yesterday that his Cabinet ministers were puzzled by former premier Mahathir Mohamad’s insistence on going ahead with the project.

Datuk Seri Abdullah was asked whether his ties with Tun Dr Mahathir would have been better if the Malaysian government had not scrapped the plans to build the bridge to replace the Johor Causeway.

Abdullah said he had no pre-conceived idea on the project before the decision was made to stop it in April 2006.

“We had to consider it…I didn’t have a pre-conceived idea about it…that I was going to stop it. This was one issue that has been brought up to the Cabinet time and again,” he said.

He said the federal budget had a 5.3 per cent deficit then and if the government had gone ahead with the project, it would not have extra funds to launch an economic stimulus package afterwards.

During his term, Premier Mahathir insisted that he would build an elevated bridge on Malaysia’s side of the border after Singapore said it saw no reason to demolish the Causeway.

Singapore had said it was prepared to agree to the bridge plan if a balance of benefits could be struck for both sides. The S-shaped half-bridge was widely called the “crooked bridge”.

The bridge issue became a major sticking point between Dr Mahathir, who stepped down in October 2003, and his hand-picked successor when the two fell out soon after the project was dropped.

Both leaders had made a public show of rapprochement at Umno’s annual meeting last Saturday. But on Monday, Dr Mahathir told the BBC that “everything went wrong when Abdullah took over”. Yesterday’s comments by Abdullah showed the tension between them remains.

Abdullah said he is convinced that his successor Najib Razak will continue to implement programmes initiated during his administration. He said these included the various development corridors and the Islam Hadhari, or Civilisational Islam, concept that he introduced.