Straits Times: Johor MB’s visit may derail Iskandar’s prospects

Last week, Osman visited Malaysian Marine Department vessel MV Pedoman which was anchored within Johor Baru’s new port limits. — Picture by Ben Tan
Last week, Osman visited Malaysian Marine Department vessel MV Pedoman which was anchored within Johor Baru’s new port limits. — Picture by Ben Tan

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 16 — The recent controversial visit by Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Osman Sapian to waters off his state may adversely affect the future of the Iskandar region, Singapore’s Straits Times (ST) reported today.

The paper pointed out that Singapore is the economic zone’s second biggest foreign investor after China, and this is exacerbated by the latter that is expected to taper off its investments in Malaysia amid tepid ties with the new Pakatan Harapan (PH) administration.

“It was a counterproductive stunt as foreign affairs come under federal jurisdiction,” Singapore Institute of International Affairs senior fellow Oh Ei Sun was quoted as telling ST.

“Singaporean interest in Johor, especially Iskandar, is going to be crucial in the near future as Chinese investments pull back.”

The paper said Singapore’s investment makes up nearly a quarter of the foreign investment in Iskandar as at November 2017, at RM22 billion.

Last week, Osman visited Malaysian Marine Department vessel MV Pedoman which was anchored within Johor Baru’s new port limits, but Singapore is disputing the limits claim and has since expanded its own port limits to overlap that of Johor Baru.

In response, Singapore then postponed the 14th Joint Ministerial Committee for Iskandar Malaysia originally scheduled on Monday, after accusing Osman of intruding into Singapore’s territorial waters.

Quoting anonymous official sources, ST said Osman had defied instructions by Putrajaya to not visit the vessel due to the sensitivity of the disputed waters.

Malay Mail has not been able to verify the claim at the time of writing.

The delay in the joint meeting came amid Johor’s economic downturn with the state now having the largest residential overhang in the country, ST said.

Unsold units in Johor, as at September last year, were reportedly worth over RM10.6 billion, which made up more than a third of the total overhang in the country worth RM27.4 billion.

“There is an oversupply of apartments and condominiums in Johor Baru because developers were ‘enthralled’ with Iskandar Malaysia when it was first announced, considering all the initiatives that they undertook like Educity and pushing the industrial sector in the region,” ST quoted Datuk Zamani Kasim, chief executive of property developer Astaka Holdings, as saying last month.

The newspaper said Johor is also suffering when it comes to gross domestic product per capita among the states — at RM34,362 compared to the national average of RM42,228 — and facing one of the highest inflation rates in the country.

Speaking in its Parliament earlier this week, Singaporean ministers Dr Vivian Balakrishnan and Ng Eng Hen both slammed Osman’s visit for the deteriorating situation of the disputes between the two neighbours.