IN recent days, three significant events signalled the ever-expanding connectivity vastly improving the transport infrastructure in the country. In Sarawak, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak launched the Batang Sadong bridge in Asajaya, replacing the ferry crossing. As the prime minister noted on its opening, the bridge was set to change things as travel was no longer hampered by ferry schedules. Prior to that, in the Klang Valley, Najib had launched the first phase of the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) Sungai Buloh-Kajang Line, slated to be completed in July next year. For the time being, it takes the passenger from Sungai Buloh to Semantan in Damansara. When in Sarawak, Najib will be checking on the progress of the Pan-Borneo Highway project, after which he leaves for Sabah to launch the Pan-Borneo Highway’s Sabah-Lahad Datu stretch.
Transport infrastructures are by definition the backbone of any economy. When inadequate economic growth is retarded, not least by the time-consuming nature of getting from point to point, to exploit the resources of the country’s highways are especially important. The Pan-Borneo Highway, for instance, which connects the length and breadth of both Sabah and Sarawak, will make the now remote areas accessible. Not only will the average road user be able to get to their destinations much faster when the highway is completed, it will also facilitate haulage. Road transportation will, too, bring development to remote Malaysia with its rich resources, which in turn means in-situ employment for locals. Not surprising then that the prime minister, when officially opening the Batang Sadong bridge, promised the people of Sarawak greater prosperity.
For its part the integrated transport system of the Klang Valley — rail, bus and taxi — eases the traffic congestion. As the country’s economic entry point, with Kuala Lumpur being the business capital, efficiency is paramount, and time wasted on the road is not the businessman’s idea of convenience. That Malaysia is considered as one of the world’s easiest to do business in makes it an attractive foreign direct investment (FDI) destination. While capital accumulation gathers pace, FDIs are instrumental towards helping the process to occur faster. And, that employees can get to work on time is part of the efficiency configuration considered by multinationals when they decide to invest in the country. Cheap labour, even when English speaking, is useless when transport is an obstacle.
As an economic powerhouse, Malaysia is only second to Singapore in the Asean region. While the Asean Economic Community (AEC) will take into account comparative advantage, competition remains a reality. Building the country’s infrastructure to First World standards then stays the imperative, as demonstrated by Jakarta’s and Manila’s rush to improve their infrastructure with FDI from China. Furthermore, Malaysia’s high-speed rail (HSR) connection with Singapore will link with that of the rest of the peninsula and continue to, ultimately, access Beijing’s One Belt One Road vision. The race is on to shift the global economic epicentre from the troubled West to the burgeoning East where the second and third largest world economies are.