UMNO vs Sultan – The Rush For Goldmine Johor Land
Beside being crowned as the world’s most expensive city, Singapore is also a top financial hub, trading port, tourism, tax haven, and has the world’s highest percentage of millionaires. The country which alreadyhas 21 billionaires is expected to have 4,878 people with US$30 million or more in assets by 2023, according to Knight Frank LLP.
In a nutshell, Singapore has everything you can dream of. But the country is a crowded place, so much so that it’s a common sight to see Singaporeans reserve their tables at food court with anything they could get hold of – newspaper, umbrellas or even packets of tissue. Yes, despite being the most expensive country on planet Earth to own a car, there’s one thing this country is lacking – land.
Singapore’s population density rose to 7,540 per square kilometer in 2013, closing in fast on New York’s 10,425. Shopping markets are slowly but surely expanding downwards – into the ground. The Ion Mall in the famous Orchard Road shopping district is already four stories underground.
The economy of globalization and urbanization enable Singaporeans move across borders, currencies and cultures. Hence the birth of “SIJORI” – an acronym refers to Singapore, Johor (Malaysia) and Riau (Indonesia).Thanks to this triangle economy, Singapore population ables to surge by almost a third in the past decade to 5.4 million. Add in Johor and Riau, and you’re looking at 10 million in 2010 alone.
So, is this the main reason for the current controversial Johor Housing and Real Property Board Bill, which supposedly would give Johor Sultan absolute powers to appoint the board members, decide on the members’ remuneration, oversee its accounts and dissolve the board? It seems the fight is over who controls precious vast amount of Johor land, at least on paper.
It is a known fact that foreigners particularly Singaporeans have been snapping properties in Johor like hot cakes. A RM3.5 million (S$1.36 million, US$1.1 million) for a five-bedroom, two-story home with private pool in Johor would cost about 15 times more in Singapore Sentosa district. Singapore has invested at least RM11 billion (S$4.3 billion, US$3.4 billion) in economic zone Iskandar.
Interestingly, China-based developers have also been buying land crazily in Johor. Guangzhou R&F Properties, Agile Property, Country Garden Holdings, Greenland Group have so far invested a staggering US$6 billion (S$7.5 billion, RM19.2 billion). Guangzhou R&F deal raised the most eyebrows when it acquired 116 acres in Johor Baru from the Sultan for a whopping RM4.5 billion.
Ten days later, Johor Sultan acquired 20% stake in Berjaya Times Square, a company controlled by tycoon Vincent Tan, at a mind-boggling 37% discount. The rumour mills were churning out speculations that Vincent Tan’s 18 acres of prime land on Johor Baru waterfront would be “approved” for entertainment center and even casino.
Beside Johor Sultan, UMNO via Khazanah Nasional Berhad owns one of the largest development land in Johor. And UMNO is selling land at equally crasy rate to foreigners, disguised under the name of “joint development”.Interestingly, after Selangor and Penang fell to the opposition, Johor is the only state where UMNO makes fortune by selling land and launching joint-development projects.
Surprisingly, the only person who has the balls to criticize Sultan Johor’s latest invasion into the state executive pillar was none other than former premier Mahathir Mohamad. Understandably, during a 1992 special Member of Parliament session, it was Mahathir administration that disclosed past criminal records of Sultan Iskandar (father of present Johor Sultan) and his two sons.
It was Mahathir’s ferocious administration that forced 6 out of 9 sultans to agree to the removal of legal immunity enjoyed by the members of the royal families. Although many believed this was the only good thing ever done by Mahathir, the fact is it was a hidden agenda to clip the power of sultan and magically “transfer” the power to the prime minister. Prime Minister is now the most powerful person.
While the current PM Najib doesn’t have the balls to raise a finger on the controversial Johor Housing and Real Property Board Bill, the same cannot be said about Mahathir. If Johor Sultan is allowed his hand into executive jurisdiction, there’s no telling what type of damage it would do, should the sultan does not do UMNO’s bidding. What if Johor Sultan “misbehaves”and supports the opposition?
Additionally, Johor has the second highest number of parliamentary seats of 26, after Sarawak’s 31 seats. Was it a brilliant political manoeuvre by Johor Sultan in having Khaled Nordin as Johor’s Menteri Besar, knowing the latter would “kowtow” to him? Besides, Johor Sultan is no ordinary sultan as he is the only sultan in Malaysia that has his own Johor Military Force.
As expected, due to pressures from his own UMNO party, Khaled Nordin says the controversial bill has been amended. Still, why amends something if it “really” doesn’t affect anything? Why not just throw the bill into the dustbin? Perhaps the answer can be found by Mahathir’s outburst on the fiasco. The former premier warned of foreigners having a hand in the controversial Johor bill.
Obviously Mahathir was targeting Singaporeans who are slowing chipping Johor land away. But most importantly, this business model of foreigners dealing directly with Johor Sultan will upset UMNO’s coffer in long term. Developers prefer dealing with Sultan Johor directly instead of going throughUMNO Multi-Level-Parasites who ask for never-ending “commissions”.
Only time will tell if Johor Sultan was doing this for the greater good of the people, controlling and balancing precious land for Johoreans and foreigners. Needless to say, equipping the sultan with executive power is a double-edged sword. It’s a scary matter when the bill grants the “Board” power to acquire land not owned by the state as well as power to search properties and to call owners to be questioned.
Nevertheless, the most troubling part is this – there is nobody who dare to criticize royal families, with the exception of Mahathir Mohamad. And knowing the past bad records of the royal family, who can blame Mahathir for voicing his displeasure? Without Mahathir’s ball of steel around, can you rely on ball-less Najib to protect the normal citizens should their land be snatched away?