An Open Letter to Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad & Lim Guan Eng
By Justin Chin Jing Ho
My name is Justin Chin Jing Ho and I am (or soon to be “was”) a Malaysian tunneller working on the KVMRT Line 2 underground project. I graduated 6 years ago with a 1st Class Master’s Degree in Civil Engineering from one of the best engineering universities in the world near the top of my class and despite receiving some lucrative job offers, I decided to drop all logic and follow my heart to come back to serve my beloved country Malaysia and participate in building this nation I call home. I chose not to be another number contributing to Malaysia’s brain drain statistic.
I will write this letter in a single pass without any editing or curation as I want the tone to be as raw as possible and to reflect my emotions and thoughts as I am lying in my bed at 4am wide awake trying to come to terms with the Government’s decision to terminate MMC Gamuda as the KVMRT Line 2 Underground Works contractor.
I cannot sleep not in fear of losing my job; but because I have witnessed and experienced too much pain since the big announcement and am having trouble processing it all. Alongside the thousands of Malaysians I have worked with building KL’s MRT lines for the past 6 years, many of us have worked in excess of 80 hours a week and over 300 days a year pouring out our hearts and souls in the name of making Malaysia better, and of course providing for our families.
On Sunday evening alone, after the news broke, I received over 30 calls and messages from my colleagues and comrades and over 30 more on Monday. All of the conversations differed from the others but the underlying messages were the same.
One of my foremen, big, strong and heavily tattooed, put on a brave face and asked: “Boss, what will happen to the boys? Will they be okay? What do I tell them?” I didn’t have a good answer. All I could do was to put on a brave front and tell him that everything will be okay (but will it really?).
A single mother of three, with two of her children in college, called up and asked: “What will happen to us now?” I didn’t know what to say to her.
One of my TBM operators, whom I have a very strong connection with after having carried him out of the dark depths of hell (also known as a TBM cutterhead) nearly 5 years ago when he got stuck and came close to drowning, put his daughter through medical school because of the opportunities presented by this project. Now he is wondering if he will have a job tomorrow and if he will have to leave his family to go overseas in search for work when he is now over 50 years old.
What do the three people above share in common? They all voted for you. They all voted for a new, better Malaysia; a Malaysia Baru. And today they went home, blaming themselves for voting for you because perhaps tomorrow, they will be out of work and will not be able to put food on the table for their families. This is most certainly not what they voted for.
We don’t need a third national car to build and grow world class engineers; I believe we have long missed the boat to be a world class car manufacturer. However, we have on hand another channel to do just that: the MRT lines in Kuala Lumpur. The Malaysian team working on KVMRT Line 1 and Line 2 have achieved groundbreaking stuff and received international recognition and accolades from the international tunnelling community for our good work here.
The Variable Density TBM that we pioneered and use to tunnel through Kuala Lumpur’s extremely challenging geology was accorded the Technical Innovation of the Year Award. One of my dearest friends, Derek Eng, recently won the coveted Young Tunneller of the Year Award from the International Tunnelling and Underground Space Association beating out competition from all over the world.
Just a month ago, we successfully trialled the world’s first self-driving TBM which tunnelled under the 14-lane Jalan Sungai Besi without any incidents. We hope that this too will win a number of awards in the near future. The engineers who worked on the AI algorithm for the self-driving TBM had an average age of 26 which was no mean feat!
All these engineering achievements and milestones were made possible because of the opportunities presented to the young and vibrant Malaysian team working on this highly complex and challenging project. It has given us room to grow, to build, to innovate, to dream. And soon, we will be robbed of all of this.
In my simple mind, I cannot comprehend the logic of how retendering of the remaining works and awarding them to a foreign contractor can bring greater value to the nation or for the taxpayers’ money once the abortive costs, idling costs, compensation, etc are taken into account and considering other factors like unemployment and capital outflow. I guess I’m not smart enough to run the country or to see the logic behind this decision; I can only contribute to building it.
So now I choose appeal not to your logic but to