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New Johor executive council expected to prioritise river pollution, Causeway congestion: Analyst

All eyes will be on how the new line-up manages expectations from the Johor royal family and Putrajaya.

New Johor executive council expected to prioritise river pollution, Causeway congestion: Analyst

Members of the Johor state excecutive council with the Sultan of Johor after their swearing-in ceremony on Apr 22, 2019. (Photo: Johor Royal Press Office)

SINGAPORE: Johor’s new state executive council line-up will have its hands full dealing with two urgent issues – river pollution and the congestion at the Causeway linking the southern state to Singapore, a political analyst said.

The state’s newly appointed chief minister Sahruddin Jamal unveiled his new line-up on Monday, bringing in fresh faces to fill key positions such as transport and environment.

Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia’s (PPBM) Tenang assemblyman Mohd Solihan Badri took over the Public Works, Infrastructure and Transportation Committee from Puteri Wangsa assemblyman Mazlan Bujang while Democratic Action Party’s Jementah assemblyman Tan Chen Choon will helm the Local Government, Urban Wellbeing and Environment Committee, which was held by Skudai assemblyman Tan Hong Pin.

Associate Professor Ahmad Marthada Mohamed told CNA that the new appointments for these specific portfolios are a clear indication that the team is looking to give “immediate attention” to the environmental problem plaguing rivers in Johor and the congestion at the Causeway.

“The Johor sultan has already expressed his views on both these areas, because he is very serious about the environment in Johor and the state’s relationship with Singapore. So I’m sure he has strongly advised that the new chief minister tackle these issues immediately,” the academic from Universiti Utara Malaysia said. 

Last month, Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar cancelled two of his birthday events in light of the Pasir Gudang waste pollution incident at Sungai Kim Kim, which saw hundreds fall ill and prompted the Education Ministry to shut more than 100 schools in the area.

The sultan also called for the authorities to investigate pollution in Sungai Benut and Sungai Machap in Simpang Renggam which he said has killed many fish.

READ: Pasir Gudang chemical poisoning: What we know so far

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had also raised concerns about pollution in the Johor River as well as its long-term yield during the Leaders’ Retreat between the politicians of both countries earlier this month.

The river had become polluted after a reservoir at a bio-composite centre next to an oil palm refinery in Sedenak burst, causing the contaminated water to flow into the water body. 

According to Malaysia media reports, about 17,000 homes in the Malaysian town of Kulai had their water supply disrupted because of the incident. 

Assoc Prof Ahmad Marthada emphasised that Dr Sahruddin, the new chief minister, is well-placed to understand the gravity of the river pollution because he was in-charge of the state's Health, Environment and Agriculture Committee.

“I'm sure being a former health exco member, he will appreciate that these issues need to be addressed immediately and he will take into consideration the needs of all parties – Malaysia and Singapore,” he said.

READ: Johor to install CCTVs, conduct spot checks to deter Causeway officers from ill discipline

However, Assoc Prof Ahmad Marthada noted that Dr Sahruddin and Mr Mohd Solihan are both young and inexperienced. Mr Mohd Solihan might find it an uphill task to resolve the traffic congestion at the Causeway, he said. 

"Both of them are likely to defer key decisions to (Minister of Home Affairs) Muhyiddin Yassin, who has developed a good relationship with the sultan of Johor,” he said.

Mr Muhyiddin, who holds the Pagoh federal seat, was Johor's chief minister between 1986 and 1995 when he was a politician with the United Malays National Organisation.

The Johor sultan visited him at a hospital in Singapore last year when he was recovering from a surgery to remove a pancreatic tumour. 

EXCO HAS TO MEDIATE BETWEEN PM MAHATHIR, JOHOR SULTAN 

Malaysian politics expert Saleena Saleem from the University of Liverpool told CNA that the new Johor state exco line-up will be assessed in how well it manages issues that the previous team helmed by Mr Osman Sapian was perceived as struggling with. 

“The new chief minister will have to manage the expectations from both the Johor palace and the federal government. This means he will have to mediate between two strong-headed figures - the Johor sultan and Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad - on a host of issues, from local development projects to bilateral relations with Singapore,” said the PhD candidate.

Mr Osman was the shortest-serving chief minister of Johor, being in office for just 11 months. Pakatan Harapan gave him the coveted post after the coalition ousted Barisan Nasional in the state in the general election last May.

Assoc Prof Ahmad Marthada said Mr Osman was removed because he grappled to normalise the relationship between Dr Mahathir and the sultan.

Ties between Dr Mahathir and the Johor royals are known to be chilly during the former's first premiership. Since returning to lead the country last May, Dr Mahathir has been trading barbs with the Johor royal family on issues such as the appointment of a new chief minister in Johor and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

There was even initial confusion over whether Mr Osman's replacement should be decided by the federal government or the Johor ruler.

Dr Mahathir, who is also PPBM chairman, maintained that the right to choose a chief minister lies with the government, which is formed by winners of a democratic election.

READ: ‘Don’t meddle in Johor affairs’: Sultan after PM Mahathir says he will pick new chief minister

In response, the sultan issued a statement ordering “certain parties” to stop meddling in Johor’s affairs because the “sovereign state still has a sultan”.

Assoc Prof Ahmad Marthada said that it was likely that Dr Sahruddin was picked by Putrajaya to be the new chief minister - with the blessings of the sultan. 

LOOKING FORWARD TO WORKING WITH NEW CHIEF MINISTER: EXCO MEMBERS

Two new members who were reappointed to the Johor exco told CNA that they were looking forward to working with Dr Sahruddin.

Ms Liow Cai Tung, who is still holding the tourism, women development, family and community portfolio, emphasised that the interest of the Johor people is the team’s “top priority”.

“Moving forward, I have confidence in the new chief minister. With the new line-up, we will carry on our work and make sure we deliver on our promises,” said the state assemblywoman for Johor Jaya.

Although the new team has not commenced its weekly meetings, she said Dr Sahruddin has already shared some of his ideas with the exco members.

“We haven’t had a chance to have a sit-down and talk extensively about my portfolio. However, I will continue to pursue current programmes, such as Visit Johor 2020 and Mama Friendly,” she said, referring to the campaign to provide nursing friendly facilities at government buildings.

Mr Jimmy Phua, who retained his portfolio as state exco chairman for international trade, investment and utility, told CNA that he will continue working closely with neighbouring countries, including Singapore, in trade and investment matters.

"I am happy to retain this portfolio as I can continue my work. I deem this a sign of approval from the new chief minister that I should continue with what I have been assigned to do,” said the state assemblyman for Bukit Batu.

Assoc Prof Ahmad Marthada said people must give the new Johor exco line-up time to adjust to the new leadership.

“People cannot have unrealistically high expectation towards them. It will be a couple of months before we see any policy changes in Johor.

“The role of the sultan in Johor is very powerful, and the new line-up must be very careful with their actions and words. They have to normalise the relationship between Putrajaya and the palace, so as to make sure that whatever policies that have been introduced can be implemented efficiently,” he added.

Source: CNA/am(tx)

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