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Saturday, October 23, 2010

Towering message to deliver

While it's obvious some people got ahead of themselves in shooting down the plan, it is also fair to say that not all questions raised about the 100-storey project were adequately addressed.

The apparently growing opposition to plans by Permodalan Nasional Bhd (PNB) to build a 100-storey skyscraper as part of the Warisan Merdeka integrated project is a classic example of what can go wrong when information is either badly presented or poorly received.

Prime Minister and Finance Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, when announcing the project in his 2011 Budget speech on October 15, said the landmark, which will be developed by PNB, is to be completed by 2020.

The project would comprise a 100-storey tower, the tallest in Malaysia, and would retain Stadium Merdeka and Stadium Negara as national heritage. The total project cost is RM5 billion, with the tower to be completed by 2015.

Within minutes after the speech, the Opposition picked on the mega project, calling it a waste of funds. Put the money to better use by building more schools, improving rural infrastructure, and helping the needy, they said. It would affect returns from PNB unit trusts, others echoed.

Suddenly, in their eyes, Warisan Merdeka became a government-funded project. It wasn't. It was PNB's, and PNB is not in the business of building schools or upgrading roads and electricity supply.

Similarly, a facebook group - 1M Malaysians Reject 100-storey Mega Tower - was set up (it is not immediately clear by whom) and has more than 92,000 fans as at 5pm yesterday. The project is also a hot topic on blogs and Internet forums.

PNB had a press conference on October 20, five days after the budget, where we came to know that the project would also have a shopping complex and condominiums, and that the tower itself would cost RM2.5 billion to RM3 billion. The RM5 billion figure included other components of the development, and also factored in improving infrastructure in the area.

Its president and group chief executive Tan Sri Hamad Kama Piah Che Othman is confident that Warisan Merdeka will create spillover benefits. For starters, it will generate about 5,000 jobs in the development stage, and boost property prices in the area.

He said PNB has the capability to finance the project through internally-generated funds, and as an investment house, would seek to optimise returns from the development. It expected to yield returns of 8-10 per cent.

This has been PNB's policy with all its investments over the years, and its track record speaks for itself.

We also learnt that PNB had been planning to develop the land since 2004, conducted annual reviews, and decided that now was the right time to do it. Clearly, this wasn't a flight of fancy hatched up one night just to boast as some people perceive it to be.

While it's obvious some people got ahead of themselves in shooting down the plan, it is also fair to say that not all questions raised about the project were immediately and adequately addressed.

In the days to come, there could well be legitimate concerns about Warisan Merdeka and PNB's role in it, particularly on the part of its more than nine million unitholders, and Malaysians in general. The government, too, needs to clear up remaining confusion and scepticism about the project's benefits.

Let's hope the message gets across better next time.

By Business Times

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