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Monday, December 14, 2009

Challenging times ahead for Iskandar

JOHOR BARU: Iskandar Malaysia authorities are optimistic that the special economic corridor will continue to attract both local and foreign investors and remain an attractive investment destination despite negative media reports.

An aerial view of the ongoing coastal highway linking Johor Baru City Centre in Nusajaya.Inset:Harun Johari.

Nevertheless, outgoing Iskandar Regional Development Authority (Irda) chief executive officer Harun Johari ackowledged that the journey ahead for Iskandar would be long and challenging.

Irda is the regulatory authority in Iskandar.

“Frankly, it is not a smooth journey but we have to move on as the success of Iskandar is for all Malaysians and not only Johoreans,” he told StarBiz in an interview.

It was normal for a major development like Iskandar to attract critics, negative reports or “coffee shop talk,” he said, adding that Irda would be “positive and constructive” about the flak it had received from the media, bloggers and politicians.

“People have been watching us (the stakeholders) since day one of Iskandar’s inception and we at Irda have the duty to deliver and prove the critics wrong,” he said.

Harun reckoned that perhaps Johoreans were impatient to physically see the projects in Iskandar, adding that 2012 would be the “tipping point” when most of the ongoing projects would be completed.

The first phase – comprising the Johor state new administrative centre, Kota Iskandar, as well as Puteri Harbour Waterfront Development in Nusajaya – is already completed and developers will embark on other phases.

Among ongoing and soon-to-be-launched projects are the coastal highway linking Johor Baru City Centre to Nusajaya, the Danga Bay Waterfront development, Legoland Theme Park, EduCity, Senai Hi-Tech Park and Malaysian Premium Outlet.

Iskandar, which was launched on Nov 4, 2006, was the first in a series of economic corridors in Malaysia.

Spanning over 2,217 sq km, Iskandar has five flagship development zones – JB City Centre, Nusajaya, Western Gate Development, Eastern Gate Development and Senai-Skudai.

Iskandar aims to become a strong and sustainable metropolis of international standing under its Comprehensive Development Plan (CDP), which runs through 2006 to 2025,

Other stakeholders in Iskandar include the Johor government, Iskandar Investment Bhd, UEM Land Holdings Bhd and Iskandar Waterfront Development Sdn Bhd.

The Khazanah Nasional Bhd-appointed Harun joined Irda last October and became the second CEO in February, taking over from Datuk Ikmal Hijaz who left after an equally short stint.

Incoming CEO Ismail Ibrahim, currently the director of the National Physical Planning Division, will take over from Harun next month. Ismail was involved in the formulation of Iskandar’s CDP.

Iskandar has to date attracted a total RM51bil in investments, with works on projects worth RM17bil, or 35%, already started, creating some 44,000 jobs.

“In fact, for this year, we have managed to attract RM9bil new investments exceeding the RM3bil target despite the current economic downturn,” Harun said.

He added that investments came from “all over the place” and not only the Middle East as many would associate Iskandar with, noting that Middle Eastern investors were mainly centred on Nusajaya’s Medini area, which is dedicated to lifestyle and leisure activities and high-end residential living.

For 2010, Iskandar stakeholders would be targeting investors from China and India as well as Singapore and Indonesia, according to Harun.

He said Iskandar, which is three times the size of Singapore, offered both greenfield and brownfield opportunities for investors and plenty of other choices in between, such as in areas like electronics, petrochemical, health and education.

Harun also noted that the Iskandar Malaysia Human Capital Development Blueprint had outlined 65 initiatives to produce a capable and competent workforce over the next 15 years.

“Human capital development is one of the key strategies for Iskandar’s success and also to attract the best talents from all over the world without sidelining Malaysians,” he said.

By The Star (by Zazali Musa)

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