Mahathir asked PM Najib to build 'crooked bridge'

WHEN Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak met Tun Mahathir Mohamad recently, the latter expressed his concerns over two specific issues.

"He did not approve of the 1Malaysia People's Aid (BR1M) scheme and he asked me to build the crooked bridge to replace the current Johor Causeway," Datuk Seri Najib said in a televised interview yesterday night.

It was the first time that he has revealed what happened at the meeting. He did not say when or where the meeting took place.

The "crooked bridge" that was supposed to replace the Causeway to Singapore was one of Dr Mahathir's pet projects. When he resigned as prime minister in 2003, after 22 years in power, his successor, Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi, stopped several projects, including the crooked bridge. He was later harangued by Dr Mahathir, who accused him of being an ineffectual prime minister. Mr Abdullah resigned after one term and one year in office.

Mr Najib also denied BR1M was a mere handout, calling it a "social safety net" that channelled to poor Malaysians the savings earned from cutting back on government subsidies. Some critics have dismissed the direct cash handout as a vote-buying bid.

In his hour-long interview, he also defended moves to introduce a goods and services tax (GST) on April 1. The introduction of GST - at a rate of 6 per cent - will boost Malaysia's economy in the long term, he said, as it was "important that we broaden our tax base". But the new tax caused confusion last week as consumers and businesses alike were unclear as to how the tax should be applied due to thousands of items being exempted or zero-rated.

Mr Najib also talked about his economic vision for Malaysia, saying he would work to ensure that the poorer citizens became part of an advanced and developed economy. "If our economic growth can be maintained at about 5 per cent per annum, our per capita income can be certified as that of a developed economy, but we must focus on the bottom 40 per cent."

He said that in the 11th Malaysia Plan to be unveiled in June, the government would add technical and entrepreneurial training to help those earning below the national average, aside from the BR1M cash stimulus.

shannont@sph.com.sg