Iskandar Malaysia shows new signs of economic revival post pandemic

Malay Mail
Malay Mail

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 18 — Malaysia is starting to see some signs of economic recovery in Johor, the southernmost peninsula gateway bordering Singapore.

Shops have reopened and crowds are streaming into Iskandar Malaysia, since the year started, giving business in the economic region a much needed shot in the arm after the Covid-19 pandemic turned the area into a ghost town since 2020, Channel News Asia reported today.

“The difference is apparent,” a cafe owner in Country Garden Danga Bay, an enclave within Johor Baru, was quoted as saying.

He told the Singapore news outlet that the area has become livelier with the return of visitors from Singapore and even China.

The news agency described the stark difference in four main areas in south Johor – Johor Baru, Iskandar Puteri, Pasir Gudang and Kulai – this year compared to a year ago, pointing out that people were flocking to use the swimming pools and to shop at the retail stores.

A Singaporean apartment owner Isabel Tan told the news portal that most of these people were Malaysians who worked at the nearby Port of Tanjung Pelepas and migrant workers.

She added that the property price in Forest City had dropped by 30 to 50 per cent since the project was launched, making it more affordable to a larger demographic group.

“I think that this project was [initially] targeted at foreign buyers, mainly from Singapore and China,” Tan was quoted as saying.

Sulaiman Saheh, director of research at property consultancy firm Rahim & Co, told Channel News Asia that has been a “recent positive trend” in Johor’s property market.

“Comparing the first nine months of 2021 and the first nine months of 2022, the number of all sector property transactions grew by 39.8 per cent,” he was quoted as saying.

He attributed this to the pent-up demand and increased confidence from buyers after the borders reopened.

But he also said the market is likely to move cautiously, especially with regard to developments by Chinese companies like Country Garden.

He explained that foreign developers tended to launch their news projects by putting up a large number of units, about 10,000 units a year, for sale, which created a bigger supply than there was demand.

While Putrajaya has sent out encouraging signals about Iskandar Malaysia’s progress, Channel News Asia reported a National University of Singapore’s Department of South-east Asian Studies lecturer Serina Rahman suggesting that Iskandar Malaysia’s revival may not be meteoric.

She said the current government under Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is focused on reducing sovereign debt and ensuring political stability.

“I think with Anwar in charge, Johor won’t be totally neglected. But whether the current focus now is for the federal government to attract investments – this seems unlikely,” she was quoted as saying.

The Iskandar Malaysia project started in 2006 under the then federal government led by former prime minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

The mega project was supposed to grow by tapping on synergies with neighbouring Singapore.

Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund Khazanah Nasional was tasked to spearhead the project, with an aim to transform the region into a special economic zone on par with an international metropolis.