Here’s my prediction: By 2012, three years after the launch of the Terengganu Investment Authority (TIA), the average Terengganu citizen will be pretty much unaffected by the billions of ringgit spent. Ultimately, when the projects are completed, when the land-flippers and contractors have collected their millions and hundreds of thousands or ringgit, the rakyat will be left with only poorly-constructed, under-utilised buildings which start falling apart very quickly.
TIA is perpetuating the myth that all it takes to develop a nation is infrastructure. Just build fancy new buildings and we’ll achieve developed status! It’s not that simple. It has already been proven in Malaysia – building first-world infrastructure WILL NOT take us to first-world status. Developed status is also about the soft issues – education, culture, civil society ….
Putrajaya, KLIA and the KLCC Twin Towers are the best case studies. These were supposed to be icons of a developed Malaysia. Now, after barely ten years, Putrajaya is already crumbling and KLIA is beset with the same taxi touts and illegal parking problems that plagued Subang. The KLCC Twin Towers area, in an ironic way, has turned out to symbolize Malaysia. Within KLCC itself, swanky stores cater to rich tourists and the professional Malaysians engendered by the NEP, but just 50 metres outside, rogue taxi drivers over-charge with impunity and across the road along Jalan Ampang, poor itinerant traders set up shop in the evenings, cooking on make-shift stoves.
But perhaps I am wrong, and TIA will not just be a mega-project play. Let’s say TIA does attract serious oil and gas specialists to set up shop in Terengganu, spending billions on capital investment. How many Terengganu folk are actually qualified to work in those specialized, highly-technical fields? Households in Terengganu are the second-poorest in Malaysia. It will look a lot like the British days, when foreigners held the senior positions and locals had to be content with the low-level jobs.
TIA would make a much more meaningful and lasting impact on Terengganu if it starts from the ground up. Let’s start with education. Use the money to fund the best teachers and offer good facilities. Build the proficiency of Terengganu children in English, Math and Science. Educate the next generation of Terengganu. Only then, seek the high-value, highly-specialised industries, when Terengganu people themselves can take full advantage of the employment opportunities
More to come. I’m off now to Port Klang to view the report on the Port Klang Free Zone (PKFZ) debacle with your hard-working DAP MPs. This time, I hope I’m not again forced to go back to pen-and-paper.