CONNECTIVITY counts. And, it counts in a very big way. Economists tell us that when people and goods are able to move from one part of the country to another, its productivity, and the people’s wellbeing improve tremendously. Infrastructure is a great connector.
It is for this reason that the Federal Government, for instance, invested billions in the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) project as part of its Greater KL plan. The Sungai Buloh-Kajang (SBK) line (MRT 1) and Sungai Buloh–Serdang–Putrajaya line (MRT 2) cost RM21 billion and RM32 billion respectively. MRT 3 is estimated to cost between RM35 billion and RM40 billion.
Surprisingly, when the three-line project was announced in 2010 and when MRT 1 commenced full operation last year, the government was met with a barrage of criticisms from various parties.
“Is the SBK line a necessity today?” “Why did the government fork out billions on a project that has brought little solution to the public?” “There is no demand for the SBK line.” These were among the criticisms thrown against the government.
But the government persisted, and with good reason, too.
The 2018 Budget set aside billions of ringgit for infrastructure development, while the 11th Malaysia Plan (2016-2020), published in 2015, highlighted the role of infrastructure in transforming the nation from a middle income country to a developed nation in 2020.
Among the core projects the government is undertaking are the MRT, Pan-Borneo Highway, East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) and the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High-Speed Rail (HSR). These projects, scheduled to be completed from 2022 onwards, are expected to provide many benefits to the country and the people.
Infrastructure investment has always been the golden key to economic growth. It has been one of the cornerstones of economic development strategies in the United Kingdom (UK), United States (US) and in emerging and developing countries, too. These countries put their money in infrastructure development because it does wonders for their economy.
Consider the case of the US. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (nicknamed Recovery Act), saw the Obama administration investing US$105.3 billion (RM410.67 billion) in infrastructure (including US$48.1 billion in transportation) during the recent Great Recession to save existing jobs, create new ones and arrest further economic deterioration. By 2010, unemployment was lowered by 1.8 per cent and the GDP raised by up to four per cent.
Recently, on Feb 12, US President Donald Trump announced a US$1.5 trillion infrastructure plan over 10 years to stimulate economic growth. In May last year, Nigeria announced plans to invest billions of dollars in infrastructure to exit recession. Also last year, the UK launched a Transport Investment Strategy that sets out future projects, such as new major road networks, to help rebalance the economy.
The Global Supply Chain magazine (June 2016) reported that, with oil prices falling, the Saudi Arabia government is focusing on improving transport infrastructure by 2025, through investments amounting to about US$190 billion in rail, aviation and port facilities. This is expected to give its GDP a boost of 1.3 per cent per year.
Malaysia, too, is on the same track. The government’s infrastructure spending is opening the door to foreign investments. Last year, Malaysia recorded an annual GDP growth of 5.9 per cent, the highest in three years, while its foreign direct investment hit RM39.2 billion.
A well-connected country, of which Malaysia certainly is, ensures capital growth. The return on investment comes in various forms, benefiting both the country and its people.
The Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) stated that “efficient transport infrastructure provides economic and social benefits to both advanced and emerging economies by improving market accessibility and productivity, ensuring balanced regional economic development, creating employment, promoting labour mobility and connecting communities”.
The “cycle of investment” into infrastructure development will never end nor should it. There should be continued investments in holding awareness campaigns, promotions and maintenance and upgrading works since ageing infrastructure could cost the government additional money if they are not well-maintained. Upgrading works are also crucial to meet growing demand and to ensure efficient service to the public.
The media should also play a significant role in educating the people on the benefits of public transportation and encourage them to switch to public commute. Because public transport is a great connector.
Tharanya Arumugam is an award-winning NST journalist. While not working, she binge-watches her favourite series on Netflix and indulges in reading.