Forest City developer seeks to build affordable homes

Ben Tan
Part of Forest City’s soon-to-be completed apartment and commercial high-rise buildings overlooking the first island. — Picture by Ben Tan

ISKANDAR PUTERI, Oct 7 — A local joint venture with China’s largest property developer is keen to move past the controversy-hit Forest City project in south Johor and build affordable homes in Malaysia.

Country Garden Pacificview Sdn Bhd (CGPV), the master developer of the ambitious US$100 billion (RM414 billion) Forest City near Gelang Patah, said it is recovering after being battered by allegations that it was building an enclave for China nationals to settle in Malaysia these past few years.

“It was not an easy month for us as we had to double our efforts to counter the many different allegations that were hurled at us,” GPV strategy director Ng Zhu Hann told Malay Mail during a recent interview here, referring to September.

But he said that in the current situation, the joint venture between China’s Country Garden and Malaysia’s Esplanade Danga 88 Sdn Bhd is now ready to embark on its industry integration blueprint 2020, which aims to draw high-tech manufacturing plants to the 417-acre Forest City Industrial Hub and adjacent to its own Industrialised Building System (IBS) facility.

Ng said for a start, CGPV is prepared to participate in both the federal and Johor governments’ agenda to build affordable houses for Malaysians.

“We will employ our own IBS facility to supply building materials and also use the company’s construction team to build affordable houses at cost price for the government,” he said, adding that both governments were receptive to the proposal.

Ng also said CGPV hopes to transfer knowledge of its development technology to the locals as part of its long-term investment strategy.

“Country Garden is looking at long-term investment in Malaysia, and will increase its investment over time.

“The company believes Malaysia will be the gateway of the South-east Asian region, just like what London is to Europe and Dubai to the Middle East,” he said.

Debunking misconceptions

Ng, a Malaysian, sought to clear the air over public perception that Forest City is a Chinese township that is owned and operated by mainland Chinese.

He related one of the most common misconceptions arose that it had offered a “buy-one-free-one” housing scheme, where mainland Chinese, who bought Country Garden homes in China, would automatically be entitled to a free unit in Malaysia’s Forest City.

Ng said that the scheme was not true as CGPV does not condone nor can it afford to promote such schemes.

“Pertaining to the ‘buy-one-free-one’ housing scheme, Country Garden is a public-listed company on the Hong Kong stock exchange, while CGPV is a joint venture company in Malaysia. Basically, it’s two separate entities,” he explained.

He believes the misconception over the scheme originated with another China-based developer in Johor.

Local investment

Ng said that over the past three years, CGPV has hired 1,200 locals for its 1,500-strong workforce, adding that 40 per cent of the jobs were at the senior and middle management level.

He also said CGPV employees have to date contributed more than RM80 million in personal income tax and RM308 million in other taxes to the federal government and RM630 million to the Johor government.

As of September 2018, Forest City has awarded contracts worth RM1.5 billion to 150 local companies, he added.

Ng said Forest City has RM2 billion deposited under the Housing Development Act with the Housing and Local Government Ministry.

“As a responsible entity, CGPV welcomes public feedback to clear misconceptions on Forest City to enable it to improve and grow hand-in-hand with Malaysia,” said Ng.

Johor welcomes investments

Johor International Investment and Utility Committee chairman Jimmy Puah Wee Tse said the state government is open to and welcomes CGPV’s participation.

“The Johor government’s stand is easy. We welcome any form of support from private companies whose goal is to assist us in developing affordable homes,” he told Malay Mail separately when contacted.

The state executive council member also explained that the state government found the Forest City development to have operated legally.

“To be fair, the project is a good example of international investment in Johor and we welcome other similar companies to participate in growing the state’s economy,” said Phua.

Editor’s note: An earlier version described Country Garden as China’s third-largest residential developer when Country Garden describes itself as China’s largest property developer. Malay Mail apologises for any inconvenience this may have caused.

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