Malaysia’s Prime Minister on Tuesday defended a planned $1.6 billion, 100-storey commercial skyscraper in Kuala Lumpur, saying the much-criticised project will contribute to long-term development of the city.However, Premier Najib Razak cautioned that the project’s owners must first ensure the building is “financially viable,” can provide real economic benefits and help develop a new commercial center.“If conditions are met, it will go ahead,” he told reporters. “It is a long-term project for 10 years and beyond, not for one or two years. The skyline today cannot be the same as in 2020. Let’s look at the long-term perspective,” he said.Critics have slammed the project in the historic downtown Kuala Lumpur as an unnecessary extravagance at a time of belt-tightening and rising prices. The initiative is spearheaded by Permodalan Nasional Berhad, a government-backed fund management firm, but will be financed privately. Construction for the “Warisan Merdeka” tower is scheduled to start next year and be completed in 2015.
Still, it is widely perceived to be a government project using taxpayer contributions. Opponents say there is already a glut of office space and that it would aggravate traffic jams.Even former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who presided over several mega-infrastructure projects during his time in office, has been critical. Among the most prominent of his projects were the Petronas Twin Towers, at one time the world’s highest buildings, and the purpose-built Malaysian capital, Putrajaya, on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur.Mr. Mahathir also noted in a speech on Monday that there is a glut of office space in Kuala Lumpur.“I see signs everywhere ‘for rent’ in quite a number of places. That means we have a surplus of office space,” he said.Criticism has been particularly sharp amid other revelations about high government spending. Parliament was told last month that the cost of a new palace being constructed for Malaysia’s king was rising to nearly 800 million ringgit ($250 million), while the official travel expenses of Mr. Najib and his deputy surged about 60 percent in the past year.Opposition leaders say such expenditure is reckless when the government is cutting back on gasoline and sugar price subsidies for the public to rein in its budget deficit – Thehindu