Thu, Oct 21, 2010 - Page 5 News List

Plan for 100-story tower in Malaysia under siege

CRONYISM?Critics of the plan to build the building say the prime minister is using it to help his friends get rich in a time when government budgets are being tightened

AP, KUALA LUMPUR

The Malaysian government faced mounting opposition yesterday to a US$1.6 billion, 100-story skyscraper plan, with critics slamming the government-backed project as an unnecessary extravagance at a time of belt-tightening and rising prices.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak says the project will boost business in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s largest city, but it could hamper his ruling coalition’s efforts to regain support from many who believe that public funds are regularly abused to help the government’s allies grow wealthy.

More than 30,000 people had joined a Facebook group -opposing the initiative by mid-afternoon yesterday, with the number growing by the hundreds every hour — only five days after Najib first mentioned it while announcing the government’s latest budget.

“This new tower is nothing more than hubris,” Sophia Chiu, a Kuala Lumpur resident, wrote on the Facebook page. Government leaders “should think things through and consider [the public] first, not their own egos.”

It is widely perceived to be a government project using taxpayers’ contributions, but Najib has said the tower will be part of a 5 billion ringgit (US$1.6 billion) urban development initiative -spearheaded by Permodalan Nasional Berhad, a government-backed fund management firm that handles private depositors’ money.

“This project is not a waste” of funds, Najib told a news conference late on Tuesday. “We want a [new] building that will become a symbol of a modern, developed country.”

Najib said that former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad also faced resistance in the 1990s when he pushed for the 88-story Petronas Twin Towers, which were the world’s tallest buildings for several years and are now an iconic source of pride for many Malaysians.

Opponents of the planned tower’s construction — which is scheduled to start next year and be completed in 2015 — say there is already a glut of office space and that it would aggravate traffic jams.

Criticism has been particularly sharp amid other revelations about high government spending. Parliament was told this week that the cost for a new palace being constructed for Malaysia’s king was escalating to nearly 800 million ringgit, while the official travel expenses of Najib and his deputy had surged about 60 percent in the past year.

Opposition leaders say such expenditure is reckless when the government is cutting back on gasoline and sugar price subsidies for the public to rein in its budget deficit.

Mahathir’s obsession with large infrastructure projects is “back with a vengeance,” said Lim Kit Siang, a senior opposition leader.

“Wouldn’t it be more appropriate for Malaysia to achieve targets as being ranked among the [world’s] first 20 if not first 10 of the least corrupt nations?” Lim asked in a statement.

Complaints about alleged government corruption and financial mismanagement caused many voters to turn against the National Front ruling coalition in 2008 elections.

Najib took office last year and pledged wide-ranging reforms to help the Front regain a two-thirds parliamentary majority, which it enjoyed for most of its 53 years of uninterrupted rule, in the next elections in 2013.

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