Good sense appeared to prevail when the PM decided to dump the half/crooked/scenic bridge project. But why the decision? The PM said it was mainly out of consideration for the rakyat’s views. Specifically, the negative Malaysian sentiments toward Singapore’s conditions for the new bridge: the supply of sand to Singapore and Singapore’s use of the Malaysian air space.
The mainstream media, as usual, were quick to pick up the PM’s tune without missing a beat. For example, the NST on 13 April quoted him as saying:
"The people’s sentiments were also considered. Many of them have expressed unhappiness over the conditions imposed (by Singapore)…I have decided to listen to the people. I know for a fact that the majority of the people are very happy (with the decision).
This is a very serious matter and we must know the feeling of the people, whether it is not good, not right.
It is the Government of the people, for the people, by the people.”
How nice. Finally, a truly democratic government responsive to the rakyat.
But, wait a minute, when was there a study or survey done to find out what Malaysians thought about the project, including the “conditions imposed” by Singapore?
When did the government, media or anyone for that matter do such a survey?
And when did the mainstream media ever carry news reports showing the rakyat unhappy with the project and telling the government—dating back to former PM Mahathir who came up with the idea—that the whole thing stank? This is not to say no Malaysians had spoken out against the idea. But they could only be found online, for example, those who wrote in to Malaysiakini.
Sudden concern for rakyat’s views
Even after the announcement a couple of months ago that the government would go ahead with building our side of the bridge (now dubbed the ‘scenic bridge’), the mainstream media, especially the NST and The Star, were still presenting news about how good an idea the bridge was and why it should be built now. Typical news coverage showed cabinet ministers like Samy Vellu with models of the bridge talking tough about moving ahead and having no more patience for foot-dragging Singapore to make up its mind.
Now, had the government been truly interested in being responsive to the rakyat, should they not have solicited public views first before making the recent announcement and telling Gerbang Perdana to go ahead with the construction right away. Why only now after the contractor had already begun work on it? The government reportedly has to compensate the contractor to the tune of RM100 million now.
The sad part of it all is this: how is the government going to come up with the money. Another round of tax hikes? Perhaps not on petrol given that the government failed to sell the need for it to many Malaysians, but in some other areas?
The reason mentioned by the PM simply does not hold up as the real reason for dumping the bridge project. It might have been a political move to contain or defang any anticipated attacks from Mahathir. And the latter certainly did not waste time in whipping up his pugilistic tirades reminiscent of his iron-fisted, rakyat-be-damned authoritarianism.
The real reason
The question remains: What exactly is the reason for scrapping the bridge project? The most likely reason appears to be the “legal implications” that the PM touched on in passing and was largely buried by the mainstream press in their reports. For example, NST’s coverage on 13 April had the official reason (taking into consideration the rakyat’s views) taking up the first few paragraphs before mentioning the “legal implications” involved.
The law does not appear to be on Malaysian side if the issue of a new bridge to replace the causeway were to be referred to an international court for arbitration. Apparently, any changes made to the causeway require the consent of both governments.
A day after the decision to scrap the bridge, Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said the law was on our side if the issue were to be brought up for international arbitration. But, if so, why did we need to negotiate with Singapore to the point of having them impose conditions on us?
The long and short of this latest chapter of the bridge saga is the tiresome same old refrain: the mainstream media are mainly interested in giving the BN government’s spin; the facts be damned.