By ALIFAH ZAINUDDIN & DASHVEENJIT KAUR / Pic By MUHD AMIN NAHARUL
The federal government is mulling options to postpone certain construction phases of the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL), as Malaysia will have to bear up to RM130 billion in overall cost if the rail project continues as planned.
Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad informed the Dewan Rakyat yesterday that besides cost reduction, the 688km rail project might proceed if all parties agree to build a single-track rail line, instead of double track as planned.
Negotiations to slash the project cost from US$20 billion (RM81 billion) is still ongoing and the mega-project can only proceed if Malaysia can arrive at an “appropriate scale” which will benefit the country.
“If the negotiations are fruitful, the government is confident the project can continue at a suitable scale with the benefits generated to be for the wellbeing of the people and saving the country from a high-debt burden,” he said, in response to MP Datuk Seri Ismail Mohamed Said (Barisan Nasional-Kuala Krau).
When asked why former Council of Eminent Persons chair Tun Daim Zainuddin was entrusted to renegotiate the ECRL contract, Dr Mahathir said the former finance minister is accepted well by the Chinese parties.
Daim also has the ability to negotiate matters pertaining to multilateral agreements and mega projects, he added.
Speaking to reporters outside the august house, the prime minister said the government is aware of some parts in ECRL which ballooned the overall cost, such as the double-track feature. In July last year, Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng said the decision to upgrade the ECRL to a double-track project had increased costs by an additional RM10.5 billion.
“When we look again at the project, we find that some parts are not really necessary. We may not have to do double-tracking, for example, because initially the projection for carriage of cargoes and passengers was rather small.
“We can postpone parts of the construction or plan until later when it is required,” Dr Mahathir said, adding that Malaysia would be paying as much as RM130 billion if the project continues under existing terms.
“If we continue, we will be borrowing as much as RM60 billion to pay back and with interest, that will take us about 30 years.
“In 30 years, the amount added to the interest will reach over RM100 billion. Some estimated it to be about RM130 billion. That is why we cannot afford this project,” said Dr Mahathir.