Sunday, December 13, 2009

Putrajaya: Good move or a waste of money?

Dec 12, 2009

By Hazlin Hassan, Malaysia Correspondent

KUALA LUMPUR: By day, the administrative capital of Putrajaya is a place of majestic buildings bustling with thousands of civil servants and visitors.

But by night, the area is virtually a ghost town as nearly everything grinds to a halt.

'Putrajaya is often perceived as a boring spot - too far away and just an administrative city,' said marketing executive Puteri Yasrina Yusoff, who works for the city's only shopping mall, the Alamanda.

With that, she summed up one major problem faced by a city that critics condemn as a waste of money.

Putrajaya is the brainchild of former premier Mahathir Mohamad. In 1995, he decided to move the government ministries to what was then a palm oil plantation, so as to ease congestion in Kuala Lumpur.

Housing all the ministries in one area was also intended to improve communications. At the time, some were spread across different buildings in KL because of the rapid expansion of the civil service, which now employs around a million workers.

Located 25km south of KL, Putrajaya takes its name from Malaysia's first prime minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra, and the word 'jaya', which means success in Malay.

The 5ha city boasts scenic lakes, ornate landscaping, pristine parks, well-planned office buildings and housing, its own hospital, a train station and plenty of space. There are no traffic jams, and civil servants living there can travel between their offices and homes within minutes.

Indeed, while critics say there is not much to do in Putrajaya and that it is too far from KL, many of its 60,000 residents love living in the self-contained city.

Ms Puteri Yasrina said the mall - which has two supermarkets, retail outlets, a cinema, a bowling alley and a karaoke centre - sees about 40,000 visitors a day.

Of course, residents have few other choices since Putrajaya has only a handful of small grocers and eateries. Ms Puteri Yasrina, however, noted that the city offers a water sports complex and a rock climbing facility as well.

Former resident Wan Esuriyanti Wan Ahmad, 37, who lived in government housing there for four years while working for former premier Abdullah Badawi, said she enjoyed the convenience.

'It took me less than five minutes to get to work. I could go home any time in case of emergencies,' she said. 'And I've never stayed in a city so clean.'

The recreational facilities are top-notch, she added. Her family regularly used the cycling and jogging tracks, as well as the public swimming pools.

However, detractors say building Putrajaya has cost too much. According to Tun Abdullah, as of last year, the price tag had swelled to about RM12 billion (S$4.9 billion).

The city's grandiose buildings are also expensive to keep picture perfect. Just maintaining the Prime Minister's official residence there cost RM158,051 a month, Mr Abdullah told Parliament last year, while his deputy's house required another RM94,166.

Meanwhile, the diplomatic community has resisted moving to the designated diplomatic enclave in Putrajaya.

'Most of our work is in KL,' said a diplomat who declined to be named. 'KL is also much more liveable in terms of amenities and entertainment.'

Ms Wan Esuriyanti pointed out another problem. She decided to move out of Putrajaya and buy a property in a nearby suburb because she wanted her children to grow up in a racially balanced neighbourhood.

'Putrajaya is almost 100 per cent Malay,' she said. 'I don't want my children to grow up not knowing about other races and cultures.'

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