Monday, 14 May 2018

Hard times with Malaysia

Immediately after BN's 60+ year unbroken rule of Malaysia was broken, the politically naive started to ask, "is Singapore next?"

In short, no.

At least, not IMHO. I could of course, be proven wrong. This is after all politics. Not rocket science.

The next questions or comments were along the lines of "Singapore/LHL/PAP backed the wrong horse (BN). Now what? What will happen to the RTS, the HSR, and all the other joint projects?" Or, "Dr M is back! Singapore's gonna get it!"

Well, yes.

Dr M is back, and things are not going to be the same. Or things are going to go back to the bad old days of Dr M.


Some commenters said that Dr M had other priorities, and so he won't have time to bully SG.


Look at Trump. He made time for what he believed was important. Personal and important.

But Mahathir is on a clock.

He has things to do.

But he has a mind of his own. And possibly his own agenda.

Like his Crooked Bridge to replace half the Causeway.

Or saving the National Car, the Proton, as his legacy.

And being pissy to Singapore.

And so social media comments are saying Singapore is in for hard times with Malaysia.


Firstly, as mentioned in my previous post, Mahathir is on a clock (his age), and has one job: warming the PM seat until Anwar can take over.

Secondly, Mahathir is an insecure personality with a grudge against Lee Kuan Yew. Well, Lee is dead. Perhaps this might give him a measure of assurance and security.

Or not. Insecure people are seldom rational and not easily assured.

Thirdly, he might be too busy pursuing his own agenda, although some of his agenda would mean difficulties, and hard times for Singapore, at least in our dealing with Malaysia.

For example, he might be pulling out of several mega-projects. Maybe he really thinks these mega-projects were motivated or initiated by bribes and corruption and truly has no benefit for Malaysia. Or maybe he's just being petty and are cutting these projects because his mega-projects were cut by his successors and in particular Najib.

Whatever the reason, say he pulls out of the High Speed Rail (HSR) and the RTS.

What about SG's investment in the Jurong Lake District (JLD) in preparation for the HSR?

What about it?

The naive view is that the SG govt had evicted Jurong Country Club from their land to develop the JLD in preparation for the arrival of the HSR. And if the HSR does not happen, the JLD development plans will be for nought.


Believe that the SG govt did not consider this scenario in a 20 year development with a country that has a history of reversing their decisions, and not keeping their word. Yes, we had a good run with Najib. Yes, he was good for Singapore. But no, we did not expect him to last another 20 years. Or that relations with Malaysia will always be good.

When the plans to evict Jurong Country Club (and later Raffles Country Club) were announced, I wondered if the government was committing too early. With Malaysia, with long term projects, it is never a given that their word is their bond. At best, their word is an indication of where they want to be... if it is politically convenient.

We should have been more circumspect, I thought. At the time.

Then I realised that the SG Govt was using the HSR as an excuse to close down Jurong Country Club. And later Raffles Country Club. IIRC, there were some criticism that SG had too many golf courses. As early as 2014, there were plans for some of the leases to run out and not be renewed:
The leases of seven golf clubs will expire in the next 10 years.  They will be offered new leases for some of their courses.  The leases will be for differing periods which will end between 31 December 2030 and 31 December 2040. 
So when the HSR came along and land was needed, they used it as an excuse to close down two of the golf courses/country clubs, to free up the land, ostensibly for the HSR terminal, but also to redevelop the site for housing and recreation.

But the truth is the Jurong Lake District was already in the plans BEFORE the announcement of the HSR project. The HSR was simply incorporated into the plans in 2015.

What that means is that if the HSR is scuttled, the JLD plans will proceed. And Jurong Country Club land has been acquired.

Whatever the case, 
Singapore will deal with Malaysia in good faith and in all sincerity, and say what we mean, and mean what we say. We will keep our word and expect Malaysia to keep theirs.

Mahathir's history with SG does not fill one with confidence that he would treat in good faith, but like investments, past performance is no guarantee of future performance.

Maybe without LKY to compare to and compete with, Dr M would be [maybe] less insecure. Perhaps with age, his priorities have changed. Perhaps he has mellowed in his old age. Perhaps he finally realise that the BN way, the racial politics, and the zero sum mentality of the past are handicaps. Perhaps he has had an epiphany.

Or not.

Whatever the case, whatever his frame of mind, whether he has changed or not, whether he is good or not to Singapore, we will treat him as the PM of Malaysia. Work with him if we can. Or not. We separated from Malaysia over 50 years ago because we could not. We do not need to replay separation. We are 50+ years ahead of that.
Same for all other joint projects we might have with Malaysia. Life goes on. Dr M is inconsequential.

[May 22 Addendum. A response to news that Malaysia will be reviewing the terms of the HSR.
Sure. Do review. And do renegotiate. But also remember that one should negotiate from a position of strength.
As for Singapore, we know that we are negotiating and making a deal with a country that has a history of reversing and flip-flopping on policies. That what Malaysia says on Monday with be EXACTLY the same on Friday... After flip-flopping on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Maybe.

And so the deal was for a HSR to be operational by 2026. And signed with Najib. Who was already in his second term, and facing an election, and there was political questions about his longevity and future. But even if he had survived the election this year, what about 5 years from now? Just because we have a good relations with the PM (then), doesn't mean it will hold in the future.

So this contigency - a MY govt that may be hostile to SG - has already been factored into a multi-year project that will extend over 3 or more elections. We are prepared for someone like Mahathir coming to power and replacing the Najib Administration. That it is Dr M himself coming back was probably an interesting development, but not a substantial surprise.

And Singapore is ruled by law, and we take our agreements very seriously, and we would have signed an agreement that is airtight. Malaysia can of course break the agreement. But we also would have planned for that.
And here's a video that is somewhat related on China's investment in Malaysia... Or Najib's selling of MY to China.

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