Malaysia still keen on replacing Causeway: Khairy

Khairy Jamaluddin

(Today Online) – Malaysia remains keen on the prospect of a new bridge replacing the Causeway, and Malaysian Minister for Youth and Sports Khairy Jamaluddin said he hoped the Prime Ministers of both countries will discuss the issue at the leaders’ retreat in 10 days’ time.

A new bridge would be a symbol for future bilateral relations, said Mr Khairy at a media interview before a talk on Singapore’s need to balance relations with its neighbours. The talk was organised by think tank Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA) yesterday.

“I think it’s an important symbol as well for future bilateral relations, that we’re no longer trapped by the whole notion of having to have that Causeway — we can demolish it and build something,” he said.

“And before we even talk about a rapid transit system between Johor and Singapore and the high-speed rail link, I think we should explore the possibility of whether we can have a bridge. It’ll be nice and I’m sure on both sides they’ll be happy to have the water flow through the Straits,” he added.

Mr Khairy said a new bridge could provide a wider thoroughfare between Singapore and Malaysia, potentially reducing jams. But he was clear that the current Malaysian government is not pursuing the idea of the “crooked bridge” mooted by former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

The “crooked bridge” project involves tearing down Malaysia’s side of the Causeway and replacing it with a six-lane bridge connected to Singapore. The Republic had opposed the work, arguing that it would be a costly affair that would bring few economic benefits.

The Causeway is jointly owned by both countries, and “if you want to replace the Causeway, you should replace it with a straight bridge where there’s agreement on both sides”, said Mr Khairy. He added that Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has raised the issue of a new bridge with his counterpart, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

The crooked bridge is one of the issues recently raised by Dr Mahathir against Mr Najib. Asked about Dr Mahathir’s criticisms of Mr Najib and whether this has affected investor confidence in his country, Mr Khairy pointed to the oversubscription of the Malaysian government’s US$1.5 billion Islamic bonds by six times.

Mr Najib has the backing of the Malaysian Cabinet and the ruling party’s senior leadership, he said. Mr Najib has met with the women’s wing, youth wing, young women’s wing as well as the division chiefs of United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the ruling party. “We’ve all given our support to the Prime Minister and party president,” said Mr Khairy, chairman of UMNO’s youth wing.

He noted that every administration faces challenges, and that Dr Mahathir had also attacked former Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi.

The Cabinet decided not to respond to criticisms of a personal nature, but to address in detail matters of public interest, such as allegations about the government-owned investment firm 1Malaysia Development Bhd.

“I think people have been fed a lot of allegations in great detail, so we really have to ensure that each and every allegation is answered in a comprehensive way. That’s why we’ve asked for a (comprehensive) audit to be done … on all the allegations from the PetroSaudi deal, to how the liabilities have accumulated,” said Mr Khairy.

The audit will make its way to Parliament and to the public accounts committee made up of opposition and government lawmakers. Mr Najib has said he would make sure that anyone found to have embezzled or committed criminal breach of trust would be punished, said Mr Khairy.

Asked about his interest in taking the reins as Prime Minister, Mr Khairy said: “Not at all, none of us are trained and brought up in the party to be interested in the top job. We’re just interested in playing our part.”

Meanwhile, issues on ASEAN identity, geo-political rivalry between China and the United States, nationalism in Indonesia and Singapore-Malaysia ties going forward were discussed at the SIIA’s talk titled Future50: Connecting Singapore And Our Neighbours.

Mr Khairy was joined by former Indonesian Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Dino Patti Djalal. SIIA’s executive director Nicholas Fang moderated and SIIA chairman Simon Tay provided additional comments.

In his opening remarks, Mr Khairy spoke on the need for bilateral relations to “move forward”. “We cannot continue to exist as a counterpoint to one another,” he said. “I think there is an excessive juxtaposition in Malaysia of where we are , and where Singapore is, vis-a-vis the other.

“The choices we have made respectively in terms of structuring our economies and our society, we cannot compare and we cannot continue to obsess about which path the other one took,” he added. “One, it sometimes comes across as condescending, but it also continues to internalise an ‘us and them’ world view between Singapore and Malaysia.”