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Singapore exile Tan Wah Piow (on the left) and Malaysian activist Hishammuddin Rais pose for a picture with Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohammad

Meeting was not about undermining Singapore, rather partly about solving congestion problems at Causeway immigration checkpoints: Tan Wah Piow

In light of the controversy that arose as a result of his meeting with Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Singapore-born lawyer in exile, Mr Tan Wah Piow has clarified that there was more than one purpose to meeting the Prime Minister. While the primary aim was to extend an invitation to him to deliver a keynote address at a conference on democracy next year, which the Prime Minister had accepted "in principle", Mr Tan said that the issue regarding the current immigration checkpoint system at the Causeway was also part of the agenda.

He said: "Our secondary mission [for the meeting] was about improving the the CIQ checkpoints on the Johor side, so that foot and bus passengers need not endure hours of queueing."

Mr Tan added that the proposal is "backed by a written schematic advice prepared by one of the top traffic planners from Malaysia, and was given to Dr Mahathir. The technical detail is speed of clearance, with everything being equal. How many points of clearance, how much time to clear one pax, et cetera ... Hence, we sought expert advice, and try to encourage political determination to solve the jam."

TOC understands that YB Hassan Karim, Member of Parliament of Pasir Gudang, is also an interested party.

Transportation planning and traffic management expert Dr Tai Tuck Leong's letter to Mr Tan and Mr Hishammuddin Rais regarding proposed solutions to the congestion at immigration checkpoints at the Johor Bahru-Woodlands Causeway, dated 23rd Aug 2018.

Over 300,000 Malaysians travel across the Johor Bahru-Woodlands Causeway daily, making it "one of the busiest overland border crossings in the region", according to a Channel NewsAsia interactive report. Most of the commuters are Malaysians who are employed in Singapore, who brave the daily congestion due to the favourable currency exchange rate from Singapore Dollars to the Malaysian Ringgit. It is estimated by the authorities that approximately 145,000 vehicles pass through Johor Bahru’s Customs, Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ) complex daily, according to the Channel NewsAsia infographic.

Photo of the queue CIQ on the day of the forum, "Can Singapore do a Malaysia?" on Saturday, 18 Aug 2018.

The commute from Johor Bahru across the 1 km-long Causeway bridge takes around one to two hours on weekdays, with travellers observing longer waiting and travelling times on weekends and public holidays. Currently, the authorities of both Singapore and Malaysia have put into place various solutions to reduce congestion at the Johor Bahru-Woodlands Causeway.

This includes reducing tolls at Tuas Second Link, and increasing the frequency of the Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad’s (KTMB) Tebrau Shuttle between JB Sentral and Woodlands. The state government of Johor, under the new Pakatan Harapan administration, is also seeking to introduce interim solutions such as travellators, and permanent ones such as the Rapid Transit System (RTS) rail link, which will connect Johor Bahru’s Bukit Chagar station to the upcoming Woodlands North MRT station.

Mr Tan elaborated that the proposed solutions "will soon be pursued by our collaborators in Johor, and when implemented, will benefit several hundred thousand Malaysians working in Singapore, as well as Singaporeans travelling to Malaysia for work or pleasure".

"This is a tangible People to People Initiative which we hope could come to fruition."

Mr Tan Wah Piow and Mr Hishamuddin Rais having a chat while waiting to meet Dr Mahathir Mohamad on 30 Aug. Photo courtesy of Mr Tan Wah Piow

Drawing from an anecdote from their meeting, Mr Tan recalled: "We [he and Mr Hishammuddin] joked about our common fate: I could not cross the border to go home, he could not enter Singapore to perform his stand-up comedy."

"Since both our friends in Singapore had to endure hours of queueing at JB CIQ before meeting us, we might as well ask Dr M to consider Dr Tai’s proposition," adding that at the meeting, "Hisham reminded him [Dr Mahathir] of the thousands of Malaysians in Singapore".

"The fact that we approached Dr Mahathir to solve a specific issue is a rebuttal against the allegation that the political objective was to undermine Singapore," said Mr Tan. Mr Tan fled to London in 1976 after being arrested, and sentenced to imprisonment after being found guilty of allegedly inciting a riot with workers, which he strongly denies as he says he had been framed.

The Singapore government subsequently pinpointed him as the mastermind behind the 1987 Marxist Conspiracy, which led to the launch of Operation Spectrum. 22 persons were detained without trial in this security sweep for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government. Shortly after, Mr Tan's citizenship was revoked under section 135(1) of the Singapore constitution for being a resident outside Singapore for a continuous period of 10 years. Mr Tan currently resides in the United Kingdom.

Other individuals present at the 30 Aug meeting were Singaporean historian Dr Thum Ping Tjin, freelance journalist Kirsten Han, social worker Jolovan Wham and award-winning graphic novelist Sonny Liew, and veteran Malaysian political activist Hishamuddin Rais, who is also a member of Mr Tan's organisation, Forces for the Renewal of Southeast Asia. Mr Hishamuddin Rais was involved in organising the meeting.

On 1 Sept, MP Seah Kian Peng published a Facebook post, alleging historian Dr Thum had “invited Dr Mahathir to 'bring democracy to Singapore' and suggested that Singapore is part of Malaya. The ensuing controversy resulted in claims that Dr Thum and others present were traitors. Minister of Home Affairs and Law, Mr K Shanmugam also added to the controversy by suggesting that Thum and the rest had invited foreign powers to intervene in Singapore politics.