An architectural marvel complete with majestic domes and futuristic bridges. It was named Putrajaya.
A model city was born, one that should set the tone for Malaysia’s progress as it aspires to become a developed nation by 2020.
In 1999, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, then the fourth Prime Minister, unveiled the city as the nation’s pride. The administrative capital was to be an efficient and intelligent city while maintaining its character and overall theme.
As Dr Mahathir once wrote: “I would like to think that a century from now people would know they are in Putrajaya because of the uniqueness of the city architecturally.”
It has been 19 years since Putrajaya was showcased to the world. It is far from what it was supposed to be.
In a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal, Dr Mahathir, while referring to a 564-foot tower which could be seen from his office window, was quoted as saying: “Why did they want to build this high-rise building? … It spoils everything.”
That isn’t the only thing that is ‘spoilt’.
Vehicles are parked haphazardly along the roads – some more apparent at certain ministries. Certain parking areas are muddy. Wait, it remains unclear if these spots have been designated as parking bays to begin with!
Certain drivers mistake the roads there to that of the nearby Sepang International Circuit – perhaps in a hurry to do a number two.
And some parts of Putrajaya could do with maintenance work. The harsh Malaysian weather will naturally take a toll on even the sturdiest of structures.
In a world where office space is being reinvented and cubicles torn down, ministers and ranking officers based in Putrajaya still sit in ridiculously large offices – some large enough to even have a kenduri. And they know it.
Thus Dr Mahathir, who returned as the seventh prime minister after the May 9 general election, isn’t too happy with what he sees.
It bothers him that the residents prefer to drive instead of stroll around Putrajaya’s broad main avenue in the evenings, as reported by WSJ.
He also supports plans to open a Hard Rock Café there “as long as it didn’t offer any “obscene” entertainment.
Dr Mahathir was quoted as saying:
“But civil servants, they want to be exclusive. They didn’t want anyone there. I told them if you do that then the whole town goes dead and it becomes dangerous.”
And he is right.
Putrajaya is dead – almost apocalyptic at night.
An acquaintance, who once had an office space near the Putrajaya International Convention Centre, said he was mostly in Kuala Lumpur or Subang to entertain foreign guests as there was nothing in Putrajaya after office hours.
“It’s sad. Sometimes business deals are not made between 9am and 5pm but over sushi. But there was nothing in Putrajaya. Nothing.
“The Europeans and Americans look for watering holes. And there isn’t any in Putrajaya. I don’t drink (alcohol) and I’m no one to judge but you have to cater for a wider spectrum.
“No one is asking for girlie or shady bars. Just proper, decent eateries, perfect for business and for families.”
It was reported in July 2006 that Putrajaya Holdings wanted to inject “more vibrancy and new lifestyle concepts” into the city.
Putrajaya Holdings chief executive officer (Datuk) Azlan Abdul Karim was then quoted as saying: “We will introduce the other vital components to bring out the best of Putrajaya as a model city – a nerve centre of the nation and an ideal place to live, work, conduct business and engage in sports and recreational activities.”
While the defenders will say a lot has been done to spur and market Putrajaya, just ask the person next to you if he or she would want to visit Putrajaya.
Chances are, they will say:
“What’s there to do?”
For business to strive, there must be a source of attraction. Here is where smart partnerships with private entities will help market Putrajaya to be a destination to cater for all Malaysians.
With the Maju Expressway (MEX) connecting the heart of Kuala Lumpur to Putrajaya in barely 30 minutes, Putrajaya should be an exciting must-visit destination for all. It should not strive to be like other administrative capitals – Washington DC or Canberra.
Putrajaya should instead remain true to its own identity – a hybrid of sorts, in simple terms a little bit of Washington and a little bit of New York, a fusion of Madrid and the chillax atmosphere of Barcelona.
The people make the city. Mostly resided by civil servants, Putrajaya needs to shed its boring and uptight image to make it into a city full of zest and character.
Today, it is all about being unique complete with style and substance.