Jakarta MPs all for bridge to Malaysia if it does not hamper shipping

INDONESIAN legislators have welcomed the proposed bridge linking Indonesia with Malaysia but called on the government to conduct further studies to ensure that the 25-km link across the Malacca Straits would not hamper shipping.

Mr Alimarwan Hanan, deputy head of the parliamentary commission in charge of public works and transport, told The Straits Times on Thursday that the bridge, estimated to cost S$3.42 billion to build, would bring “significant benefits” to both countries.

“We support the idea in principle because it will be beneficial economically for both countries,” he said, adding that the commission met Public Works Minister Radinal Moochtiar on Thursday to discuss the matter.

He said that while legislators backed the idea, they felt that both countries had to ensure that the bridge would not obstruct the passage of ships.

He said: “That is also the sentiment of the Indonesian government. It would be counterproductive for us to build a bridge that could hinder international shipping.

“That is why we asked for feasibility studies on the project.”

He said that Mr Radinal informed the commission that various government agencies, including the Research and Technology Department, were already carrying out preliminary studies on the project.

“There is a possibility that a special task force would be formed to look into this matter. That is the President’s prerogative,” he said.

He added that the team would also look into the various bridge designs available.

Reports had said that the link, which would be built at the shallowest point of the straits, would include a series of suspension bridges to allow ships to pass through.

He said that the proposed bridge, which could take five years to complete, would link Bengkalis in north Sumatra to peninsular Malaysia.

The Malaysian government has indicated that the bridge could start from Johor or Malacca.

The idea of building the bridge was mooted by Malaysian Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad, when he met President Suharto in Instanbul earlier this month.

Mr Suharto is said to have expressed Jakarta’s willingness to co-operate on the project.

Dr Mahathir had said that the bridge would be designed for use not only by vehicles but also trains. It would also provide a channel for power and gas supply.

Mr Alimarwan said that the bridge would increase economic relations between Indonesia and Malaysia. He noted that currently many Malaysian companies were moving their labour-intensive industries to Sumatra.

“From a practical viewpoint, it could increase the flow of goods between the two sides,” he said, adding that it took almost two hours to reach Dumai in Sumatra by ferry from Malacca.

“It will take only 25 minutes to get across by bridge,” he said.

He added that Indonesia’s tourist industry, in particular, would receive a big boost if the bridge was built. The country aims to turn tourism into the biggest foreign exchange earner by 2005, earning a targeted US$15 billion (S$21 billion) and bringing in 11 million tourists.

Mr Alimarwan, like two other legislators interviewed by The Straits Times, said that the bridge would also be of “symbolic value” to both countries.

“For the first time, we will have a bridge linking the Malay race across two countries,” he said.

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