I have friends always asking about investing in Iskandar Malaysia and these are my thoughts. If I am heading an SME (small and medium enterprise) in Singapore, it would make good business sense for me to expand into Iskandar, especially if I am looking for cheaper labour and space to grow my factory, for instance. On paper, Iskandar seems to have all the infrastructure in place to support SMEs.
But I am not sure if I would want to relocate my family there. During my younger days, I spent nine years living and studying in Johor Bahru. In those days, most of us locals knew the unwritten rules for survival like avoiding encounters with members of the royal family. For example, if we were to see a car bearing special number plates on the road, we would not think of overtaking it, no matter how slow it was going. I don’t know if the situation is better now as I have not been living in the state for many years.
Some Singaporeans might think this is a joke. Others have found out, the hard way, how important it is to adapt to a new culture and mindset when crossing the border.
A lot has been said about crime in the city. Let me just say that it will be at least a few decades from now before a single young lady can safely walk the streets of Johor like they can along Orchard Road.
Some issues are beginning to surface as highlighted in a recent Business Times article which said that investors are not getting assurances in black and white on issues like land zoning, mortgage loan quantums and Bumiputra employment quotas, among others.
Foreigners investing in Iskandar might do better if they can understand that most policies in Malaysia are instituted by politicians of the day. When the politician leaves, a new policy replacing the old one is to be expected. When doing business in Johor, one has to factor in such risks.
Remember that Putrajaya, the state administrative capital of Malaysia, is still struggling after more than 20 years in the making. When Iskandar was mooted in 2006, authorities were confident about getting funds from Middle Eastern investors. Obviously, that plan didn’t work out and the focus is now back to Singaporean investors.
Some folks like to draw the analogy of Singapore and Iskandar as being similar to Hong Kong and Shenzhen. Formerly a fishing village, Shenzhen transformed to become a vibrant manufacturing hub driven by Hong Kong investments. However, there is one big difference. Both Hong Kong and Shenzhen are part of China and the central government sees to it that rules are fair and both sides prosper. I am not too sure if it’s the Johor government’s priority to see that Singapore prospers.
Five years from now, perhaps there might be an MRT service linking Singapore with Johor. Then again, there might also be a high-speed train connecting Singapore with KL. Inadvertently, KL is a competitor for Iskandar. If my business is regional, I would choose KL over Iskandar because of better connectivity – within a four-hour flight radius, I can be in Beijing, Hanoi, Jakarta and many other cities around the region.
* Pete Wong is the founder of Awarna Media with offices in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and around the region. He made his foray into property on both sides of the Causeway since the early days – when Orchard Road was still known as District 9 and Mont’ Kiara was mostly inhabited by monkeys. Besides travelling around Asia on business, he finds time to write about the property scene, often advising investors with local insights. Pete is also the editorial consultant for Building & Investment magazine and one of the judges for the SEA Property Awards.
I am not against protecting the rights and benefits of malays by the government, but if the malay population gets too comfortable, will they not strive for excellence to compete in the global arena? They get complacent and that is the real reason why they get left behind. There needs to be a balance undertaken by the governments, to push all the brightest malays to excel, and at the same time create a safety net for others who cannot keep up, yes benefits can also be tweaked to achieve this aim, but not enough done by the governments. One country that has done well is Brunei, and Malaysia and Indonesia has a lot catching up to do.
– Contributed by Oogle.