FOR about a year, Malaysians and Singaporeans have been bracing themselves for what could be one of the world's oddest-looking bridges, intended to span the Straits of Johor.
But fresh doubts have emerged over the construction of the "crooked" half-bridge.
Minister for Foreign Affairs S Jayakumar yesterday revealed that Singapore had informed Malaysia that international facilities like the Causeway could not be lawfully demolished without the approval, agreement and involvement of both states.
Singapore submitted the third-party note to Malaysia on Oct 25 last year.
Responding to a question by Member of Parliament (Marine Parade GRC) R Ravindran, the Minister confirmed that the Malaysian government had neither consulted Singapore, nor sought the Republic's concurrence on its proposal to demolish its side of the Causeway and replace it with a bridge.
The news comes less than a month after some quarters in Malaysia's ruling alliance called for a rethink of the RM1.2 billion ($537.7 million) project.
Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad first announced plans for the half-bridge after talks over the bilateral package of issues between the two countries failed to make headway in late 2002.
Singapore had initially agreed to jointly build a full bridge to replace the Causeway, only if it was negotiated as part of the bilateral package.
But Dr Mahathir cited environmental concerns — pollution arising from the lack of a free flow of seawater in the Johor Straits — as the reason for his decision to proceed unilaterally with the project.
Ironically, environmental concerns about opening the Causeway was one of the issues raised by Singapore in its note to Malaysia in October.
The Republic has asked its neighbour to provide it with copies of relevant studies and reports relating to "potential marine and other impacts", just as Malaysia did when it protested about reclamation works in Singapore waters.
To support the request, Prof Jayakumar cited several points enunciated by the International Tribunal of the Law on the Sea when it ruled on the reclamation issue.
Malaysia has not responded to the note so far.
Next up on the bilateral calendar is the first visit of Mr Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to Singapore as Malaysia's Prime Minister. He will meet Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong on Monday, but Prof Jayakumar would not say if the bridge issue would be discussed.
"The broader point is that Singapore wants good relations with Malaysia," he said. "The challenge for both sides in the new era is to look for ways of starting a new chapter in bilateral relations ... without being saddled by the deadlocked issues of the old era."
Parent site: "Focus on Malaysia"