KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Malaysia's Economic Affairs Minister Azmin Ali said on Wednesday (Oct 17) that he will look into a proposal to build a "crooked bridge" that was raised by the Johor government, but that the government prioritises projects that benefit the people.
Responding to the idea to build a bridge to replace the Malaysian side of the Causeway, Datuk Seri Azmin said he would look into the matter once the Johor state government has raised it at the federal level.
He said projects such as roads and hospitals have priority over those like the "crooked bridge" that would have to depend on Malaysia's fiscal situation, which he described as "not good at present".
"Once we see the proposal, the ministry will look into the matter and see whether we will have the capacity at this point of time to continue with the project," he told reporters at Parliament's lobby.
The idea to revive the "crooked bridge" was raised on Tuesday by Johor Menteri Besar Osman Sapian, who said the Johor state government will hold a meeting with Singapore officials at the end of this month, during which the possibility of reviving the controversial project will be raised.
"We will discuss issues including water price, bilateral development and investments. We will try to attract investors from Singapore to Malaysia," Datuk Osman told reporters on Tuesday. "We might also discuss the crooked bridge project with them to see if they want to join us or otherwise, and also the third bridge project. We will get feedback from them."
The so-called "crooked bridge" was floated in 2003 by then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, to replace the Malaysian side of the Causeway. It was dubbed "crooked" as the infrastructure would involve an S-shaped, six-lane road that would allow vessels to pass underneath.
The plan was dropped when Tun Abdullah Badawi took over as prime minister in late 2003.
There are currently two land links into Johor - the Causeway in Woodlands and the Second Link bridge in Tuas.
Earlier on Wednesday, the Johor chief of the Democratic Action Party (DAP) said the "crooked bridge" proposal is a good idea but not an immediate priority.
Mr Liew Chin Tong said the DAP, one of the parties in Malaysia's ruling coalition Pakatan Harapan (PH), would instead support a proposal for a third land link project linking Johor to Singapore. The PH parties govern Johor state.
"We think that the crooked bridge is not an immediate priority," Mr Liew, who is also Malaysia's Deputy Defence Minister, told reporters on Wednesday.
"For the third bridge project, we will be happy to support and maybe we can seriously consider it. The main focus should be to ensure speedy traffic flow of people and goods on both sides, which is why DAP is prepared to support the idea of a third bridge," he said.
Previous Malaysian media reports have said the Johor government was researching the possibility of a bridge from southern Johor's Pengerang district to Singapore's Pulau Ubin on the north-east coast of the Republic.
Meanwhile, adding to the debate over the crooked bridge proposal, Johor's Crown Prince said that instead of replacing the Malaysian side of the Causeway, the government might want to revive the plan for a big hospital in Pasir Gudang in south-east Johor and raise the healthcare budget for Johor.
Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim said in a tweet on Tuesday evening: "In my opinion, it's better to go ahead with the hospital in Pasir Gudang that government tunda (postponed) and increase healthcare budget for the state. All hospitals in JB including districts need more beds and medical equipment. Just my humble opinion."
A proposed 300-bed hospital, which was expected to cost RM500 million (S$165 million), was postponed by the PH state government after it took over in May, in an attempt by the federal government to reduce total government debts and liabilities of RM1 trillion.