By RAHIMI YUNUS / Pic By ISMAIL CHE RUS
Malaysia and Singapore have agreed to postpone indefinitely the over RM100 billion high-speed rail (HSR) without paying any compensation, resolving one of the issues harbouring between the two neighbours.
The new Pakatan Harapan government had deemed the project initiated by the previous administration as a wastage of money with a total project cost of RM110 billion, including financing charges.
The country, which is already saddled with massive debts, had already postponed the East Coast Rail Link and two pipeline projects worth over RM80 billion.
The resolution of the HSR issue is a welcome change between the two neighbours which, at times, had been at loggerheads — especially during Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s first term as the prime minister (PM).
Economic Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali (picture) said the decision was made in view of Malaysia’s current financial situation and both parties aspired to move forward and reach a win-win deal.
“Singapore has agreed with the Malaysian government’s view to delay the implementation of this project until a period when the economy has recovered,” Azmin said in Shah Alam yesterday, according to Bernama.
Azmin said the amicable decision was reached after various talks with officials from the republic in the last couple of months.
He said Malaysia does not need to pay any compensation following the indefinite postponement except if the country decides to cancel the project.
It is reported that Malaysia may need to pay as much as RM500 million in compensation if Putrajaya decides to cancel the project.
“No compensation will be paid within the deferment period. At the end of the deferment period, if it is cancelled, only then we will need to pay,” he said.
He did not say when the project would be put on the backburner.
Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng had revealed that the actual cost of the HSR project was RM110 billion and not RM70 billion as estimated by the previous Barisan Nasional government.
The bullet rail line, which was slated for operation in 2026, will cut the journey time between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur (KL) to just 90 minutes.
Detractors have questioned the need for the project and its feasibility when the one-hour KL-Singapore flight has been named the world’s busiest international air route.
Defenders of the project had claimed the spillover effect would have sound financial benefits for the country. High- speed train manufacturers from China, Japan and Europe were also eyeing the multibillion project.
Azmin said discussions will be ongoing to look for ways in reducing the cost of the project.
Azmin was reported to have visited the republic and met with Singapore PM Lee Hsien Loong and its Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan.
Azmin and Khaw also brainstormed ideas to strengthen the relationship between the two countries, including the Johor Baru-Singapore rapid transit system link, with a decision expected soon.
The agreement to postpone the HSR project without compensation would be seen as the start of a new relationship for the two countries, which had in the past squabbled over a proposed crooked bridge and cheap raw water prices.