By John Geddie and Liz Lee
KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters)
As Malaysia seeks to move beyond the excesses associated with nearly a decade of rule under ex-prime minister Najib Razak, one of his pet projects continues to rise irreversibly skyward to become the tallest building in Southeast Asia
Just months from completion, Exchange 106 – or Najib’s tower as some locals call it – is one of only a few mega-projects cleared by a new government that has pledged to review deals struck by the previous administration, cut back debt, and root out high-level graft.
Yet the 492-metre skyscraper remains an irritant as they try to dismantle Najib’s legacy after the May 9 election upset that drove the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition out of power after it had run Malaysia for six decades since its independence from Britain.
They can order that his photos be removed from government offices and that posters carrying his ‘1Malaysia’ slogan be taken down. One staff member at the library of a government agency told Reuters they had even received a directive to “hide Najib’s books” by not having them displayed on front desks.
But it doesn’t make sense to dismantle a giant skyscraper that is almost finished
Symbolically, the building will rise above the famous Petronas Twin Towers built during the previous term of returning Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad – Najib’s mentor-turned-foe.
But financially it could still hurt Malaysia. The new government has said funds raised to finance the project by scandal-plagued state fund 1MDB were not used for that purpose, and that its Indonesian developer needed an “injection of funds” from the government to keep the project on track.
“The true picture was not told,” new Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng said in a video posted online.
“It is better to get the building completed and owned by us than to let it be abandoned,” he said.
Lim said he could not disclose how much money the government has put into the project.
Najib could not be immediately reached for comment.
In just his first few weeks back in office, Mahathir has cancelled a planned high speed rail project between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, and pledged to renegotiate a deal with Chinese partners to build a 688-kilometre East Coast Rail Link.
He has said both projects are too expensive and have limited economic benefit.
Another big property development Bandar Malaysia hangs in the balance after a $1.7 billion deal to sell a majority stake to a Malaysian-Chinese consortium fell through in May 2017. A year on, the project has failed to attract any buyers.
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