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Johor Plays The Economic Development Card‬
Malaysia Perspective | 09 June 2011


The recent Singapore general election was hailed as one that was the most gripping. Not only were Singaporean voters all hyped up, the Malaysian public across the narrow strip of water was similarly excited, following the developments closely as they unfurled. From past experience, the results of elections on the island state would send a strong cue to Malaysian voters, and state elections results would usually reflect the performance of both the ruling and opposition parties, especially in Johor. This is because there are, after all, 500,000 Malaysians living or working in the Lion City, and their emotions will inevitably be affected by the election activities there, not to mention the wind of change currently blowing through Malaysia. One only needs to train his eyes on the recent Sarawak election in East Malaysia for evidence.‬

Johor has always been a BN stronghold. The Menteri Besar commented on May 14 that he was confident that the state election will not be swayed by the election results in Singapore. His confidence can be attributed mainly to the rich plant resources in Johor, where the people are benefitting from the rising oil palm and rubber prices. The Government is also actively developing the industries in Johor, especially with regard to attracting large-scale foreign investments into the Iskandar Development Region in South Johor, which boasts an accumulated investment of RM 73.24 billion as of the first quarter of this year, of which 41% is foreign-sourced.‬

Some of these investments have been realised, while some are still pending. Projects that are due for completion either by the end of this year or early next year include the Chelsea Premium Retail Outlet, Newcastle University Medicine Malaysia, Marco Polo Institute, and the Legoland theme park.The latest investment project includes the 500-acres Wellness Township that will be the brainchild of a partnership between Singapore’s Temasek Holding Ltd. and Khazanah Nasional Berhad.‬

Malaysia is generally expected to hold its general election around the end of this year. For this reason, the Iskandar Regional Development Authority is ramping up its marketing efforts in Singapore even during its election period. In addition, Prime Minister Najib Razak recently announced a piece of good news: Petronas is building a petrochemical plant in Southern Johor to the tune of US$ 20 billion, and is expected to position Johor as a regional energy trading centre when the plant comes on line in 2016. At the same time, Dialog Group Berhad has also signed a development and joint venture agreement with the state government of Johor to build a deepwater petroleum terminal that promises a total investment of up to RM 5 billion over the next seven years.‬

In terms of the transport infrastructure, the Government will build an intra-city electric train system within the Iskandar Development Region at a cost of RM 1.2 billion and slated for completion by 2013. Following the completion of the Coastal HIghway, the JB Eastern Dispersal Link that connects Iskandar Malaysia to the new Sultan Iskandar CIQ Complex and the North-South Expressway will be opened to traffic next year. The authorities are pining their hope on such an elaborate transportation network to bring business opportunities into the region and to add-value to the properties along the new rapid transit lines.

Apart from creating tens of thousands of jobs, the ambitious investment projects in Johor have also created many business opportunities for the SMEs, thanks to the huge need for resources following the influx of the large amount of foreign investments. When the mega projects of large organisations such as Petronas go into production, they will not only bolster domestic economic growth and demands, but also broaden export opportunities.‬

At first glance, the huge economic pie that Johor serves up is jammed-pack with goodness. However, when one digs deeper, one will find that the people will have to wait patiently before they get to have a share in it. Take the new highways; the people will immediately feel their burdens become heavier once they are commissioned, for they will definitely be collecting tolls. As for the large-scale service sector investments, their success depends on a sizeable demand which may not be adequately met by the people of Johor and domestic as well as foreign tourists. On the other hand, Petronas’ project will have Singapore as its stiff competitor, which is incidentally Asia’s largest oil trading and storage centre!‬

The fact is, the Johor Economic Development Plan is casting its eyes into the future, which puts the state government’s commitment to a test of endurance. Its contribution will play a debatable role in the election that may happen at the end of the year. The immediate consideration of voters is how happy they are with their livelihood and welfare, including law and order, crime, flood rehabilitation, and education issues.‬

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