LCD Virgo explores the pros and cons of the recently proposed 100-storey mega building that will cost 5 billion ringgit.
Ever wonder how much RM5 billion is?
Here comes the figure: RM 5,000,000,000. (9 zeros behind the figure five)
Too hard to imagine? Let me put it this way.
Even if you earn a high monthly salary of RM 8000, you would still have to work for 53,000 years to get RM5 billion, provided that you don’t spend any of your salary.
As of 2009, the Malaysian population has reached 28 million. Thus, if we distribute that RM5 billion to all Malaysians, each and every individual will get approximately RM180.
RM5 billion’s worth of money will benefit the nation if it is put into better use. For example, this money can be used in the field of education. Quoting from the Malay Mail, Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin said that the National Higher Education Fund Corporation (PTPTN) requires RM5 billion a year to ensure those qualified to pursue higher education are not deprived of their opportunities. Meanwhile, The Star reports that the 1,500 scholarships offered by the Public Service Department (PSD) for undergraduate studies overseas will be phased out next year.
I do not deny the positive impact of Warisan Tower might bring to the community. Let us dig in deeper. Quoting from the Sun Daily, Tan Sri Hamad Kama Piah Che Othman, president and group chief executive of Permodalan Nasional Bhd (PNB) said that the PNB Corporation would consider any investment it undertakes to be good if it could get 8% to 10% returns. This project is expected to generate jobs for an estimated 5,000 people during the development stage, and it is expected to boost the property price in the surrounding areas. Second Finance Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Husni Hanadzlah said that the mega tower project will benefit more than 140 sectors indirectly, create both private investment and private consumption, and eventually boost the GDP of the country.
Now, I am not discrediting PNB. PNB has been involved in business for 32 years after all. PNB has done their research, at least to a certain degree, before they decided to invest in business. In my view, however, there are certain things that must be justified.
First of all, the objective of building this skyscraper should be questioned. According to The Sun Daily, the mixed development project which includes condominiums, a hotel, retail outlets and offices, will be developed over 10 years until 2020. It irked me when I read the line “The RM5 billion mega project with the stadiums will be retained as heritage institutions.” It is definitely ridiculous to preserve a modern building as a heritage institution. Does this mean that we have to view the 100-storey tower as a museum, which artifacts like the bones of Perakman and cooking utensils during the Neolithic period have to be kept inside the tower? This crossover between modernity and history are much more than just being dizzying. During my last visit in Malacca, our beloved historical town, I explored the Heeren Street, Jonker Street, and Fort A Famosa. Many of the buildings were built with cement and plastic arches, fake buildings, and fake walls. I worry that the mega tower will be a white elephant project, in which the tragic mismatch of history and modern elements will result in an impression to both Malaysians and foreigners as neither fish nor fowl.
It is undeniable that this project will generate job opportunities. But who does it benefit: the foreign workers or the locals? Regarding the estimated 5,000 workers needed for the project, will the authorities make sure that they will give priorities to the locals or they will just import workers from Indonesia or the Philippines in order to satisfy their needs? Yes, there will be a property boom due to the construction of the tower. However, this will only widen the gap between the rich and the poor. Do common citizens have the ability to buy expensive private properties? Not many, in fact. The rich will get richer, and the poor will languish below the poverty line. The elite will benefit, but the public will not. That is the cruel reality.
Wikipedia defines the gross domestic product (GDP) as a measure of a country’s overall economic output. Often positively correlated with the standard of living, it is the market value of all final goods and services made within the borders of a country in a year. From a more pragmatic perspective, GDP does stimulate the local markets and instill confidence among the foreign investors, yet more importantly we have to consider how leaps and bounds of GDP can improve living standards. It would be short-sightedness to ignore the true meaning of GDP, as Wikipedia defines GDP “relates with the peoples’ standard of living heavily “.
On 16th August 2010, China was announced as the world’s second largest economy, right after the United States. Prior to that, Japan was the world’s second largest economy for a period of 40 years. Rapid development – construction of railroads, highways, and skyscrapers – has contributed most to the growth of GDP in China. Following China’s footstep, Malaysia has been launching big projects to improve its GDP. Theoretically speaking, Malaysia needs more than 8 % growth in GDP for the next 10 years in order to achieve Vision 2020. Launching big projects might be one way to improve our country’s growth of GDP rapidly, but it serves no purpose if the overall quality of life of Malaysians does not improve. Despite China’s rise as a rich country, a substantial percentage of the China’s people remain poor. With its 1.3 billion people providing cheap labor, China is very much geared towards low cost factory production. I can foresee that Malaysia is heading this way too, in which we import and employ immigrant labor from Indonesia, Philippines and Myanmar. Nevertheless, instead of over-depending on low cost production, professional knowledge, ideas, technology and innovation should be an integral part of factory manufacturing in our country. This would help Malaysia achieve the status of a developed country.
PNB’s chief executive Tan Sri Hamad Kama Piah stressed, “We are not taking the government’s money for the project”, dismissing the public outcry that government will use Rakyat’s money to build the Warisan Tower. However, since the government is the biggest share holder of PNB, how are they not related? If the government would not fork out money for the funding of this project, why would our Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak announce the news during the Budget Malaysia 2011 then? How contradictory.
LCD Virgo is a guest writer for this edition.