Cenbet says there is an 'unsettling pattern' in the way major government decisions are announced

NST Online

KUALA LUMPUR: A local think tank said there was an ‘unsettling pattern’ in the way government decisions are announced. The Centre for a Better Tomorrow (Cenbet) Vice-President Datuk Simon Lim Seng Chai said the government needed to be cautious when issuing policy statements, especially involving massive projects to ensure continued investors' confidence in the country. Citing the latest Putrajaya policy on foreign ownership in the Forest City project in Johor as example, he said Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad's announcement to ban foreigners from owning property there had even caught the Johor government by surprise. However, he said barely a day later, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) clarified that foreigners are allowed to own property, subject to conditions. “Such communication gaps can cause jitters among investors. It also raises questions about the federal government's perceived encroachment into land matters, which rightfully should come under the state's jurisdiction. “Prior to this, the federal government was seen to be flip-flopping on the High Speed Rail (HSR) and the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) projects. “Initially, the government had announced that they would be shelved, only to clarify later that they were delayed or being reviewed. These do not augur well for investors' confidence,” he said in a statement posted on the think tank’s website. Lim said as the multi-billion ringgit projects involved foreign governments and investors, they had attracted international media scrutiny. He added that with a new government in Putrajaya, the country needs to allay investors' concerns, not add on to the uncertainty. “This is especially when we need more FDIs in an increasingly competitive economic landscape,” he said. Lim said while Cenbet supported the government in reviewing or cancelling any lopsided deals that were detrimental to the country, it also needed to be mindful of international investors' sentiments and the long-term economic well-being of the country. “Any announcements on major policy decisions ought to have gone through due processes, including seeking views from various stakeholders. “This is part of good governance which we advocate. This will also go a long way in enhancing investors' confidence and make Malaysia a magnet for foreign capital,” he said. On Monday, Dr Mahathir was reported as saying that foreigners would not be allowed to buy residential units in the US$100 billion (RM410 billion) Forest City project. He said the project was built for foreigners. Most Malaysians, Dr Mahathir added, could not afford to buy the apartments. The developer, Country Garden Pacificview Sdn Bhd (CGPV), was reported as saying that it had complied with all laws and regulations pertaining to approvals needed to sell units to foreign buyers. CGPV said the prime minister’s statement did not gel with the outcome of a meeting between Dr Mahathir and Country Garden Holdings founder and chairman Yeung Kwok Keung. The two had a 40-minute closed-door meeting on Aug 16, prior to the prime minister’s visit to China. However, the PMO yesterday issued a statement stating that the country welcomed tourists, including those from China, and imposed no restrictions on foreign tourists as long as they met the necessary immigration requirements imposed by the authorities. It said Malaysia imposes certain “conditions and information” for foreigners purchasing properties, irrespective of their nationality. The conditions and information, said the PMO, are publicly available. Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Zuraidah Kamaruddin yesterday also said the ministry will form a committee to review all the terms of the Forest City project. She said the committee would comprise representatives from the ministry, Finance Ministry and state government, as well as others should the need arise. “The committee is tasked to go through the terms in the agreement and project approval,” she said. The Forest City project is situated near the Port of Tanjung Pelepas, spanning 1,386-hectares across four man-made islands. It was marketed as a mixed-use development project and initially aimed towards buyers from China. It was projected to sustain a 700,000 population by 2035. © New Straits Times Press (M) Bhd