The Edge, one of the two major Malaysian business papers, published an article last week about Iskandar Malaysia entitled ‘Iskandar - don’t kill the golden goose' (see http://www.theedgemalaysia.com/highlights/267447-the-edge-says-iskandar-dont-kill-the-golden-goose.html).
The authors of the article argued that the Iskandar project is in danger because of certain measures by the government and major land owners (more about those later).
What caught this writer’s interest was the use of the fairy tale of the golden goose. The Edge commentators compared Iskandar with the golden goose which lays golden eggs, i.e. economic redevelopment, employment and foreign investment for Johor. This does not quite correspond with the Brothers Grimm’s fairy tale of the golden goose, but a similar tale can be told using the original fairy tale and drawing comparisons to the situation in Iskandar.
The Brothers Grimm’s fairy tale of the Golden Goose was about a family with three sons. The oldest son went into the woods to fell a tree and bring back the wood. His mother gave him some good wine and a delicious cake so he won’t be hungry on his journey. In the woods he meets a small old man who askes him for some food and drink. The son declines this request saying that whatever he gave of his food and drink to the man would mean less for himself. Later he meets bad luck when trying to chop a tree and hits his own arm with the axe. He has to return home without fulfilling his mission. The family then sends the second son, who also gets asked by the old man, declines his request for the same reason as his older brother (‘what I give you, I will have less’). As expected he meets the same fate as his older brother, and hits by accident his leg. He returns home with no wood. The youngest brother, who gets bullied by the whole family for being a simpleton, volunteers to go and do what his brothers failed to do - chop some wood and bring it home. His father states to let him learn by adversity and let him go, his mother packs him a lunch of some dry biscuit and soured beer (his brothers both got fine wine and cake). On his way the youngest son encounters like his brothers the old man. Unlike his brothers he is happy to share his biscuit and beer (which miraculously turn into fine wine and cake when he takes them out of the bag). The old man is grateful and shows him a tree to fell. The younger son follows his advice and discovers a golden goose at its roots. He takes the golden goose and stops by an Inn to stay the night. The innkeeper’s three daughters secretly try to plug and steal a feather of the golden goose, but as a result get stuck to the goose, unable to free themselves and have to follow the younger brother on his journey. On the way they encounter a priest who, not knowing that they are stuck, is shocked by the ‘immoral’ three girls ‘chasing’ the boy in the fields, he grabs the last girl’s hands to pull her away and gets stuck to the chain himself. The same happens to a church warden who wants to pull back the priest and two famers who were also asked for help by the priest. The chain of the young ‘simpleton’, his golden goose and the 7 people stuck to it reaches a town where a princess lives who never laughs. Looking at the boy, the golden goose and the chain of 7 people, she starts laughing uncontrollably. The king had promised to give his daughter’s hand to whomever can make her laugh. Looking at the ‘simpleton’ boy he asks for three further trials, which the boy all successfully completes (again with the help of the man in the woods) and in the end the boy gets to marry the princess and they live happily ever after.
A lovely story. And the moral of it? In this writer’s opinion the tale is about opportunity, good conduct, greed - and ultimately, reward for persistence. The golden goose is indeed like The Edge journalists’ comparison indicates, the development region of Iskandar Malaysia. The bullied younger son may symbolise the state of Johor, which one could describe as the long neglected son of Malaysia. The older brothers signify people who spend their lives in egocentric pursuit of their own benefit, not prepared to share even with a hungry old man. The old man is Malaysia’s federal government hungry for foreign investment and eager to show the young brother, who has earned his trust, the golden goose. The three inkeeper’s daughters show the greed which awakes in people as soon as gold comes in front of their eyes (greedy investors!). The priest is the moral authority who misunderstands the situation (modernisation!) completely, interferes in other people’s business and gets stuck. The church warden and the farmers are common people, who don’t question and blindly follow what the priest requests.
The Edge emphasises two problems which Iskandar currently faces: the federal government has increased the real capital gains tax (especially for foreigners and effective 1 Jan 2014), the Johor government is increasing the foreign purchase approval fee and the minimum purchase price for foreigners (both effective 1 May 2014). In addition major landowners (UEM, the Sultan and others) keep flooding the market with land sales, potentially resulting in an oversupply of mainly condominiums. All three (federal and local government, landowners) want their share of the golden goose, understandably since nobody will know where prices are heading.
The sentiment of investors in Iskandar was further dampened by a questionable information policy in Johor which lead to the Land Registry temporarily suspending foreign purchase approvals (they are now processing them again). The background were rumours about a new rule similar to the one announced by the Penang government (see this article from the Property Report for the new rules in Penang). We will hopefully know more about what the Johor government intends to do in January 2014.
So what will happen to the golden goose? The fairy tale actually does not mention the goose anymore once the boy arrives in the palace of the princess. This shows that the story is not at all about the golden goose, it is about the boy. The golden goose is only a medium for the boy to leave the past behind, step up in life and live happily ever after with his princess. And for the participants in the story the golden goose is distraction and at the same time mirror of their own character. The boy keeps walking on his path, despite the people stuck to his goose.
Will the same happen to Johor? Will it continue its path, despite distraction, interference and greed? And will it live happily ever after? Is there going to be a happy end?