By Zurairi AR
PUTRAJAYA, Jan 8 — A solitary two-lane road sitting near the Park and Ride facility in Precinct 1, Putrajaya leads to the National Defence Education Centre (Puspahanas) construction site, but goes unnoticed to the public eye.
Unlike the boarding school Sekolah Sultan Alam Shah on the opposite side that has operated since 2003, the Ministry of Defence project remains uncompleted beyond some skeletal buildings out of the original 12 planned, hidden by a bank of white zinc wall panels.
When The Malaysian Insider visited the site yesterday, fewer than 10 construction workers clad in yellow hard hats could be seen working on various areas of the project.
Awan Megah Sdn Bhd, owned by Selangor Wanita Umno leader Senator Raja Datuk Ropiaah Abdullah, was awarded the contract for the project in 2005 in exchange for some 80 hectares of land in Bukit Raja, Selangor and RM27 million.
Seven years later, the only thing marking the site of the future army academy is a project signboard which has been covered with foliage — marked with the name of Awan Megah as the developer, Garis Architect Sdn Bhd as the designer, and eminently the Ministry of Defence as the owner and project manager.
Also named are KTA Tenaga Sdn Bhd as the engineer, KPK Sdn Bhd as the quantity surveyor, Malik Lip Associates as the landscape architect and Sri Binaraya Sdn Bhd as the contractor.
Located on lot PT111 in Precinct 1, the project was scheduled to be completed in 2011 and was to house the National Defence College (MPN) and the Malaysian Army’s Command and Staff Training College (MPTAT).
The signboard also lists a three-floor auditorium, three-floor library, multi-purpose hall, armoury and a couple of two-floor officers’ clubhouse as part of the project.
We were approached by a male worker in his late twenties, who only identified himself as part of a firm subcontracted to take care of the site’s security and occupational safety.
He said that his firm only started getting involved in the project around the middle of last year, and several companies are subcontracted by Sri Binaraya to handle different parts of the project.
The worker compared the sudden attention received by Puspahanas to the controversial RM800 million Istana Negara in Jalan Duta, Kuala Lumpur in which he was previously involved.
He also expressed his disappointment over the alleged unpleasant treatment he and his superior received from a group of three reporters and PKR’s Rafizi Ramli who visited the site yesterday afternoon.
“If people treat us badly, we tend to treat them badly in return ... With this kind of project, it’s usually the lower-ranked workers who get the stick,” he said, referring to the public backlash that the project has received since the revelation of the scandal that has plagued Awan Megah.
He has no idea when the project will be completed, but conceded that it is going on, albeit slowly.
The two-lane road leads to a nursery owned by Perbadanan Putrajaya, the local council for the federal territory, and two other trails can be seen leading off the road to unmarked construction sites.
Another major construction near the area is a project to build roads and infrastructure leading to Putrajaya’s Botanical Gardens and Precinct 12.
Nestled between the Puspahanas site and Sekolah Sultan Alam Shah is a still pristine wetland area, gazetted as part of the Botanical Gardens.
Deputy Defence Minister Datuk Dr Abdul Latif Ahmad declined to comment on the project last week, saying he did not have any information about the project that was first mooted in 1971.
The project was initially planned for Templer Park, Rawang, and from 1972 to 1985 the government had proceeded with the land acquisition for the original site. In 1980, the Armed Forces Conference approved the project. In 1993, the Armed Forces Defence College Board decided to privatise it. In 1996, the Defence Ministry applied to the Economic Planning Unit in the Prime Minister’s Department for the privatisation.
In 1997, the Cabinet approved on principle the privatisation of the Puspahanas project to Awan Megah in return for 223 acres of government land in Bukit Raja to be transferred to the company for commercial development.
In August 1997, then Armed Forces Chief General Tan Sri Ismail Omar said the Puspahanas construction work would begin at the end of 1997 and was expected to be completed in 2002. Awan Megah was finally awarded the deal in 2005, and the project was relocated to Precinct 1 in Putrajaya.
At the groundbreaking ceremony on November 21, 2008, then Prime Minister and Defence Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said it would also serve as catalyst for defence relations and co-operation among countries in the region and internationally in line with the government’s commitment to preserve regional and international peace.
“Realising this need, Puspahanas was conceived with the aim of providing ultra-modern and quality training facilities for ATM (Armed Forces) officers in military matters and national defence,” he said at the groundbreaking ceremony of the project as reported by state news agency Bernama.
Most recently, Boustead Holdings Bhd, which is majority owned by the army pension fund Lembaga Tabung Angkatan Tentera (LTAT), proposed to buy the Bukit Raja land from Awan Megah for RM130 million, and also an 80 per cent stake in Astacanggih Sdn Bhd, the property development company owned by controversial businessman Deepak Jaikishan.
Both Boustead and Awan Megah have come out to defend the deal, claiming that it is a corporate exercise based on commercial considerations.
In unravelling the deal, PKR’s Rafizi has claimed that the deal makes no commercial sense since Awan Megah has no track record in construction and possesses a terrible financial record, with only RM6,180 in assets.
He pointed out that the latest financial statement filed by Awan Megah to the Companies Commission of Malaysia showed that its last activity was on December 31, 1993, 12 years before the Puspahanas deal award.