Putrajaya – Mahathir’s Fatehpur Sikri

by Z Ibrahim

I refer to the news regarding the various construction defects of buildings in Malaysia’s new administrative capital at Putrajaya. Putrajaya remains an architectural wonder in the forest with its gleaming, sometimes partially completed buildings and bridges. A megaproject during Malaysia’s days of excesses it is reminiscent of Akbar’s deserted capital of Fatehpur Sikri.

Fatehpur Sikri, located 40km west of Agra, was the political capital of India’s Mughal Empire under Akbar’s reign from 1571 until 1585. It shared its imperial duties as a capital city with Agra and is regarded as Emperor Akbar’s crowning architectural legacy. Construction of the new ceremonial capital, with its elaborate palaces, formal courtyards, reflecting pools, harems, tombs and a great mosque commenced in 1571. A large number of masons and stone carvers worked hard for 15 years on the construction of the city the size of which was larger than contemporary London. It served as the capital of his mighty empire for twelve years (1571-1585) and was abruptly abandoned thereafter shortly after the work was completed ostensibly because of the lack of adequate water supply.

Akbar did not stay in this magnificent city for long and reasons for deserting Fatehpur Sikri are as much mysterious as was its construction. There is much speculation as to the reason Akbar built the city at the chosen site by the Sikri Ridge. Some historians cite he built it to honor the Sufi saint Sheikh Salim Chishti who used to dwell there and blessed the childless Akbar with three children including his heir Jahangir. But its site could have been chosen more for its strategic location which lies on the highway between North and South India, and was of tactical value to control the huge Mughal Empire. The opulence of the city is greatly enhanced by the mosque which was the first structure to be built in the whole complex. The spacious courtyard added charm and can accommodate ten-thousand men at prayer. Akbar is reputed to have been so inspired by the atmosphere that he wept and gave a call for prayer or azan himself.

Putrajaya, first envisioned in the 1980’s and founded officially on October 19, 1995 was built to accommodate and centralize all of the Malaysian government’s administrative duties and is located 30km south of Kuala Lumpur. The Federal government paid a substantial amount of money to Selangor for more than 11 000 acres of land to build this planned city possibly financed by Malaysia’s oil revenue which in retrospect could have been better utilized for education and health. However after the 1997 economic crisis and following Mahathir’s resignation as Prime Minister of Malaysia, it appears to many visitors as a forlornly desolate city. One of the key reasons for its apparent barrenness is the absence of public transport from Kuala Lumpur’s cosmopolitan population of over 3 million.

The city’s planners built highways but possibly due to economic reasons failed to put in place an efficient LRT connecting it to the masses in KL before or while the city was being built. Unlike Singapore which plans and builds MRT lines and stations decades ahead of actual development, Putrajaya’s planners blundered by building the city first and worrying about public transport later. This error could prove fatal as Putrajaya stands eerily silent as the world passes by. Planners didn’t envision the fact that the usage of cars, the prices of which were already beyond the per capita income of the average Malaysian, were further handicapped by rising costs of petrol, maintenance and tolls ensuring the reduction of private transport utilization.

Putrajaya, as in Fatehpur Sikri, lies in danger of being entrapped in the words of Lane Poole, a historian, “Nothing sadder or more beautiful exists in India than this deserted city, the silent witness of a vanished dream.”

  1. #1 by ENDANGERED HORNBILL on Tuesday, 8 May 2007 - 9:07 am

    I may have a 1,001 grouses with TDM but Putrajaya doesn’t seem to be one of them…at least, it isn’t that much of an eyesore nor does it pique me as a bad investment.

    It’s a magnificent and well-planned administrative centre. In Ringgit terms, it would have been grossly excessive in the 1990’s but in today’s monetary terms, it’s worth it’s weight in gold. So what was perhaps meant to ‘enrich’ some cronies and abuse of state wealth has turned out well eventually for the nation, I think. Besides, some weaknesses here and there does not mean they cannot be redressed efficaciously. This is where AAB may want to run down Putrajaya to make Tun look bad. That’s not fair.

    Thanks to Tun’s foresight, we have an outstanding KLIA, Twin Towers etc.

    But I think Tun is living to regret many of his past excesses and grave mistakes in national planning, racial integration, education policies, economic developments etc. A man as brilliant as him could not possibly have made half as many of those mistakes. Which leads me to the theory of the evil genius and the MAchiavelli that he seems to be. I hope before he dies he may at least try to right some of his wrongs and assuage his own conscience before he greets his Maker…even if it means pulling UMNO down a peg or two and running down some of the UMNO dogs into the ground and making DAim pay for what he has obviously taken from the country for his own benefit on the pretext of serving UMNO’s interests…things well known and bandied about but not documented!

  2. #2 by Taikotai on Tuesday, 8 May 2007 - 10:02 am

    This is sad, when Putrajaya was firstly opened to the public, I went there and admired the lush and beautiful scenery.

    Too bad, that was the only time I went there. It really is too far away and besides enjoying the scenery, there is nothing much to do there for the general public.

  3. #3 by greenacre on Tuesday, 8 May 2007 - 10:35 am

    I have a conspiracy theory that keeps revolving in my head for a long time and that is ‘ the federal capital of malaysia kuala lumpur never had, probably never will vote fully for a barisan government. Building putrajaya may have solved that at least (99.9% may be malays) one of this day when they announce henceforth putrajaya is the capital of malaysia it will be true home coming for ‘barisan national’ as they will feel at home and cosy, hail ‘mahathir!

  4. #4 by HJ Angus on Tuesday, 8 May 2007 - 10:46 am

    I visited Putrajaya about 2 years ago and even from the outside with just a quick lookover, the once beautiful buildings are looking quite shabby close-up.

    For example, the steps leading to the Palace of Justice are looking like crap and no wonder many have tripped on the path to justice.

    The water feature near the Mosque in front of the PM’s office has some concrete stones missing from the pond.

    At that time a extra bridge was being contructed barely 500m from an existing one. Maybe they were trying out new designs to propose for JB’s crooked bridge project.

    Now we hear of burst pipes, collapsing ceilings and faulty air-conds in just completed government projects.

    It is time to call in some international experts before Putrajaya is declared an unsafe zone.


  5. #5 by pwcheng on Tuesday, 8 May 2007 - 11:01 am

    To me it is a grandeur design of filling somebody pockets with billion of ringgits. Every cronies will have a share because the cake is a big cake and even the crumbs will be in terms of millions.

  6. #6 by japankiller on Tuesday, 8 May 2007 - 11:31 am

    Just have look at the Canberra of Australia, may be the same situation as Putrajaya, so Putrajaya is not that worse though.

  7. #7 by Bigjoe on Tuesday, 8 May 2007 - 11:38 am

    PutraJaya is a reflection of Malaysia – not great but not bad. Sure its a waste of a lot of money, sure its bad work is coming out, but its still nice and its not useless.

    That is the problem, the bad side is not dramatic enough to force change while the good side is not worth much to many people.

    Its all about mediocrity and how we wallow in it as always..

  8. #8 by bbtan on Tuesday, 8 May 2007 - 11:53 am

    It is ironic, UMNO always talk about the various ethnic groups living harmoniously together. Here, apartheid Putera Jaya, has been made into a Malay city.

  9. #9 by OnTheFence on Tuesday, 8 May 2007 - 11:54 am

    Tun has a wonderful vision but sadly AAB and gang is concern about building own dynasty i.e. new mega project than caring or looking after on what we already have….

    btw i am still upset about the fuel & toll hike…..

  10. #10 by Jimm on Tuesday, 8 May 2007 - 12:12 pm

    PutraJaya was meant to be the perfect financial background to many of the BN fund raising and ‘cash’ reward to all stake holders in their group. How can they get away from being ‘caught’ ? Well, even they one that supposed to catch them also being ‘rewarded’. Our rulers and their own ‘businesses’ partners and relatives could be part of the chain group.
    Most of us happens to see what can be ‘exposed’ only. There are more to it, that’s why we have too many VVIPs from the government sector. Why ? They have been a good ‘follower’ and very good ‘favor’ to those ‘VVIPs – VVIPs’ . They learn to close one eyes and do what the ‘boss’ want first.
    I still recalled (if I am right), our current IGP is one of those ASPs involved in AI’s sodomy case. He is one of the officer that raided Trovoli Villas and took the mattress as evident.
    He was the one that testify to the judge ( Paul – now Datuk Seri or Tan Sri ) back then. Now, AI’s case on this have been ruled out by recent appeal. So ??? Think about all these. He got his reward for being ‘part of the daring team’ to ‘take out’ AI back then , now.
    All of us are living in Malaysia as ‘tenant’ only. The ‘owners’ have the right to do anything to us as long as they felt ‘unsafe’ about our presence. Who knows, one day, I might be ‘erased’ too …

  11. #11 by Tai Lo Chin on Tuesday, 8 May 2007 - 12:52 pm

    In respect to Putrajaya, Endangered Hornbill said, “It’s a magnificent and well-planned administrative centre. In Ringgit terms, it would have been grossly excessive in the 1990’s but in today’s monetary terms, it’s worth it’s weight in gold. So what was perhaps meant to ‘enrich’ some cronies and abuse of state wealth has turned out well eventually for the nation, I think”.

    Putrajaya does not belong to the Government. The Government using tax payers monies pay lease/rental payments long term for all adminsitrative buildings, governments staff quarters. The sale proceeds of commercial premises and private residential houses go to Putrajaya Holdings Sdn. Bhd.

    Putrajaya Holdings Sdn Bhd was incorporated on 19 October 1995. The Government of Malaysia appointed Putrajaya Holdings as the concession holder, landowner and master developer of the Federal Government Administrative Capital of Putrajaya. Its mandate was to raise funds and construct the buildings.

    Now who are the shareholders of Putrajaya Holdings Sdn Bhd? More specifically who are the people behind these shareholders?

  12. #12 by bbtan on Tuesday, 8 May 2007 - 1:05 pm

    “…apartheid Putra Jaya…”, bbtan @ 11.53 am
    Sorry, the word “apartheid” is a bad choice of word.

  13. #13 by sheriff singh on Tuesday, 8 May 2007 - 1:07 pm

    Bottom line – How much spent till now and how much when it is finally finished?

    Can we have Petronas’ accounts, movement of funds etc? Also from Putrajaya Development Bhd?

    When there is no accounting, funds are easily siphoned out through all the “works” and no one is ever caught or held accountable. In Putrajaya, everything has to be “big” as per that “Maha” fellow. Otherwise its no go. Money no object.

    There are many secret billionaires out there.

  14. #14 by Tai Lo Chin on Tuesday, 8 May 2007 - 1:55 pm

    The legacy of a leader is defined not by words but by actions – how much the leader did for his country and people. People must remember the leader in a positive way for the authentic actions from the heart and mind.

    Had Mahathir made the people of Malaysia less racialist, more open-minded and competitive, not against one another but together in cooperation against the rest of the world, with a system of government more democratic and less corrupt, then it would have been a worthwhile legacy.

    He had not improved the intangibles. He had instead gone for glamour – Putrajaya, KLIA, Penang and crooked bridges, Multi Media Super Corridor, Petronas Twin Towers, Sepang Formula 1 Grand Prix race track/circuit etc with some degree of success and some degree of shortcomings.

    The common people can only look. Are they supposed to feel proud and says that’s a great leader? Do they benefit in tangible way apart from some spin-offs? The principal beneficiaries are those who procured the contracts. The irony is having these stupendous structures amid Kuala Lumpur’s poorer residents having to live in hidden slum and squatter settlements for the want of affordable housing.

    The focus is wrong. As the nation progresses, one should be focusing on freedom of the soul of the people. If he rids that soul of the scourge of racial divisions and corrupt propensity, I would kow tow to him.

    But no, he behaved like the pharaohs, who erected huge monuments for people to pay homage to. But are physical monuments the measurement of success of a leader?

    Hitler too was obsessed with physical structures and monuments which he assigned the task to Albert Speers his architect. So was Napoleon. So was Akbar the Mughul emperor.

    If it was a good legacy why are we still bickering amongst ourselves over islamisation, 121(1A), OSA for highway concession agreements, 30% Bumi equity, more corruption, ISA, Printing Press Publication Act etc?

    What has he done to improve civil rights and social justice by way of legacy?

    For succession he didn’t even identify the best to carry on his work. He appointed who he perceived the most subservient to his rule, and after retirement complained about his anointed successor lacking leadership.

    Yes long after he is gone, the mega-projects will still be around as visible reminders of his rule.

    The question is whether is going to be a reminder of a wise rule or a misrule.

  15. #15 by sotong on Tuesday, 8 May 2007 - 4:36 pm

    Billions could be better spent on the welfare of the ordinary people.

  16. #16 by k1980 on Tuesday, 8 May 2007 - 4:55 pm

    We should a pyramid in Putrajaya bigger than the one at Cheops for that great mamak’s final resting place. Longer than the Chinese Great Wall, made of marble the type of Taj Mahal, one that can be seen with the naked eye from outer space…

  17. #17 by ihavesomethingtosay on Tuesday, 8 May 2007 - 5:00 pm

    looking at past GREAT civilizations, such as Egyptians, the Chinese, the Indians, dying kings & emperors builts huge maosoleum to ensure that their worldly possessions are with them when they die.

    We are also told that mamaks are historically Indians that practice the muslim faith, perharps he is remembering his ancestrial calls to built huge “TAJ MAHAL” for himself?

  18. #18 by ENDANGERED HORNBILL on Tuesday, 8 May 2007 - 5:01 pm

    Tai Lo Chin Says:

    May 8th, 2007 at 12:52 pm

    “Now who are the shareholders of Putrajaya Holdings Sdn Bhd? More specifically who are the people behind these shareholders?”

    I thought PJH is a GLC. If not, then it’s Robin Hood – robbing the people to pay PJH! The people have a right to know.

    Yes, I agree Tun M’s overall record is dismal and absolutely depressing. That’s why I always think of his genius as evil…the kind that dresses up wolves in sheep’s clothing which makes him very, very dangerous indeed.

    Now, we don’t know what his next card is. It’d be wonderful if he goes down together with AAB, Najib and the UMNO mob.

  19. #19 by trashed on Tuesday, 8 May 2007 - 11:59 pm

    The lack of a efficient public transport system to link the populace of the KL/PJ/Klang Valley is probably a key factor for Putrajaya Holdings to sell houses in the various precincts. Otherwise, the public servants would probably choose to commute daily to and from Putrajaya. In that scenario, Putrajaya would become more of a ghost town than it already is at night.

    They also needed to build lots of roads around Putrajaya to ensure those expensive light poles have somewhere to be erected. I am not sure how much one of those elaborate light poles cost – RM 10,000 each ? I am sure that there are at least a couple of thousand of these in Putrajaya.

  20. #20 by kurakura on Wednesday, 9 May 2007 - 2:59 am

    I have never been to Putrajaya. That explains something…

  21. #21 by ihavesomethingtosay on Wednesday, 9 May 2007 - 3:29 am

    Puterajaya sucks, Ijok rules!

  22. #22 by accountability on Wednesday, 9 May 2007 - 5:57 am

    apart from some govt buildings, putrajaya has nothing but many empty buildings (currently actively collapsing)

    it’s just a malaysia-bodoh project of wanting the biggest, longest, and most wasteful construction, so that BN cronies can enrich themselves at the expense of the rakyat

  23. #23 by Bobster on Wednesday, 9 May 2007 - 11:54 am

    Have been reading so many complaints about the Immigration Department in Putrajaya. Rude officers, nobody answer a simple telephone call after you-know-how-many-calls end up have to drive all the way from PJ to Putrajaya since the phone not functioning or the receptionist went on MC! Well, well, spending billions on these white elephants and cant even answer a silly phone call in a so call administrative capital of the country, thats what we called Malaysia Boleh! Truly Boleh!

    By the way, Putrajaya Holding (easily more than 97% of the staffs bumi unfortunately) is under the umbrella of Petronas. Many of the engineers involved in twin towers are currently taking shelter there. Well, these guys are well training, well traveled but unfortunately prefer to stay in their comfort zone rather than joining the private sector to bid for international projects. What to do, spoon feeding mentality initiated by the gomen and reinforced by NEP.

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