The Melaka Gateway Project is cancelled again! According to the Edge Markets, the Melaka state government terminated their RM43 billion contract with KAJ Development Sdn Bhd. The Edge notes that this mega project had been cancelled before. In 2018, KAJ Development’ had their licence to operate the port and terminal revoked by the Federal Ministry of Transport, to be reinstated in 2019, following court proceedings. Curiouser than Alice’s Wonderland, FMT reports that Melaka Chief Minister Sulaiman Md Ali has, even after this second cancellation, pledged to continue the project, thereby providing the circumstances under which the project might be canceled yet again!
The Melaka Chief Minister is reported to have indicated that the project now falls under the state’s new economic corridor called the Melaka Waterfront Economic Zone. Sulaiman is supposed to have said, “The development will continue, but we have some technical issues that we need to fix,” which might be read as a criticism of KAJ Development. The Melaka Waterfront Economic Zone or M-WEZ which was announced on the 10th of October 2020 refers to a 15,000-acre sea reclamation area running from Umbai to Tanjung Bruas. This 22km stretch includes the area covered by the Melaka Gateway land reclamation.
The above image from the Kaza Nunteng Porta series was shot in the Portuguese Settlement, Melaka. I made my way out onto a rickety fishing jetty to raise my Rajinikanth flag with the Melaka Gateway development behind me, obscuring the horizon as well as the fishermen’s access to the sea. The rest of the series was shot in Belem, Lisbon at the sites of two monuments, one of which includes the depiction of the fall of Melaka to Alfonso de Albuquerque.
According to the entry in Cruise Tracker, the offshore islands Besar, Undan and Upeh are part of Malacca state and accessible by jetty from mainland Malaysia. These ‘islands’ are in fact reclaimed or man-made and are part of the massive Melaka Gateway development which is part of the the port cities push to become ‘more important’ with its location on China’s ‘Maritime Silk Road’. This development has caused great disruption and upset to the fishermen of the Portuguese settlement whose access to the sea has been severely affected. The New Pakatan Harapan Government had campaigned on the basis that this Melaka Gateway development was contrary to Malaysia’s interests but it seems clear, given the continuance of the project under its auspices, that this was merely election rhetoric. Indeed, according to The Star Newspaper, piling has begun for “the RM682mil Melaka International Cruise Terminal, which is part of the Melaka Gateway project, [and] is expected to be completed by September next year.” The Eleven Media Group reports that this will be “the largest cruise jetty in Southeast Asia … occupying 8.3 acres (3.36 ha) … big enough to accommodate four cruise ships … and … 20,000 passengers.” This report specifies that the Melaka Gateway development plan as it stands today still, involves the cruise ship jetty, a yacht terminal, a ferry terminal, a cargo jetty, a deep sea jetty and a business / financial hub.
According to FMT Dr Mahathir Mohamad has in the past described the Melaka Gateway port project as a sign that Najib’s former government was ceding sovereignty to China for short-term political gains. In an interview with South China Morning Post (SCMP) in March 2017, Mahathir is reported to have said, “We already have enough ports and the necessary infrastructure to attract tourists. This [Melaka Gateway] is unnecessary.” Indeed, while the economics of the port is questionable, there is no doubt of the strategic importance of the Malacca Straits to China.
As he questions Beijing’s true motive for this 10 Billion Dollar investment, which includes a deep-sea port, Thomas Maresca writes in USA Today, “Neighboring Singapore has long had a close defense relationship with the United States, which has deployed naval combat ships there since 2013. Analysts see China’s closer economic ties with Malaysia as an opportunity to strengthen its own maritime footprint in a crucial region”. Maresca cites Johan Saravanamuthu of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University, “There’s the argument that China is not getting favorable treatment from Singapore, so why not try Malaysia? …. With the Malacca Strait on one side and the South China Sea on the other, Malaysia is quite crucial.”
Given that the work on the Gateway Project had already caused severe silting in the Melaka Portuguese Settlement and that the demise of this community goes against all logic in the context of heritage and tourism, I hope the new State and Federal governments hear the people’s protestations. Now that Mahathir has successfully displaced Najib, and is seated as Malaysia’s Prime Minister once again, will he follow through with actions that show us that he was not speaking simply to undermine Najib?
The Melaka Portuguese community staged a coffin protest at the Melaka Gateway site office on the 17th May 2018. Melaka Gateway is a gargantuan land reclamation and development project that is a part of China’s One Belt One Road initiative. It will include a deep-sea port that is being built by Chinese companies in a joint venture with Malaysia’s own KAJ Development Sdn Bhd’s (KAJD). According to a report in the STAR newspaper, the Chairperson of the Portuguese Village Community Management Council, Jacinta Lazaroo, alleged that the developer failed to comply with the macro EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) report of 1998. This non-compliance seems to have resulted in severe silting which has affected the livelihoods of the members of this largely fishing community. The STAR also reported that according to Melaka Gateway’s developer, Hasbullah Zakaria, KAJD Maning Director, the company had not received any memorandum of protest nor any demand for compensation from the community.