ECRL to resume unless renegotiated

Jomo calls for Putrajaya to re-examine the project after a witness in the 1MDB trial testified in court that the ECRL was a possible bailout

by AFIQ AZIZ/ pic by RAZAK GHAZALI

PUTRAJAYA has no intention to scrap or put on hold the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) project, unless the company involved in the development can negotiate with China for a suspension.

Prime Minister (PM) Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad  (picture) said the ECRL, which originally cost the government RM65.5 billion and inherited from the Barisan Nasional (BN) administration, will be continued as the government has managed to cut the cost to RM44 billion.

In April, the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government had taken immediate measures to renegotiate the project direction with China and China Communications Construction Co Ltd as the main contractor of the project.

Last week, former Council of Eminent Persons member and economist Professor Jomo Kwame Sundram called for Putrajaya to re-examine the project after a witness in the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) trial testified in court that the project was a possible bailout.

The witness, Datuk Amhari Efendi Nazaruddin, who was also a former special officer to Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak, told the Kuala Lumpur High Court earlier this month that the ECRL was among several mega projects that were meant to bailout the sovereign wealth fund.

Dr Mahathir said he is only willing to follow Jomo’s suggestion if the company involved with the construction can renegotiate the deal and suspend the project.

“The company has to conduct negotiations. If they are willing to renegotiate with the Chinese and tell me that they can suspend the project, I will follow them,” he told reporters after launching the National Heritage and Culture Charter in Kuala Lumpur last week.

Jomo said the federal government must not be complicit in continuing to cover up what the previous government was trying to do with public funds.

“I am sure China’s President Xi Jinping will not want to be associated with any type of corruption, which indirectly will tarnish the reputation of Belt Road Initiatives,” the economist was quoted as saying, adding that all of his position against ECRL in the past was based on public information.

However, Dr Mahathir said Jomo is entitled to his opinion but the government stands by what the Chinese government had stated.

“That is his thoughts, but the Chinese government has not told us anything. It may have a contract to construct it and as you know, we have reduced the scope and the cost,” he said.

The 93-year-old PM also said it is up to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) to investigate the ECRL project.

“That’s for them to investigate, we don’t ask them (the MACC) to do anything,” he said.

Meanwhile, Dr Mahathir, who is also Khazanah Nasional Bhd chairman, said the plan to dispose of the sovereign wealth fund’s stake in Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd (MAHB) to London-based airport management company Vinci

SA and Gatwick Airports has not been finalised. “No decision has been made yet. We have to study first the reason why (we need to sell the stake),” he added.

Quoting sources familiar with the matter, The Malaysian Reserve reported last Wednesday that the allegations to dispose of the country-largest airport operator’s asset was entirely “baseless”.

Currently, Khazanah is the single largest shareholder with a 33.21% stake in the airport operator. Other shareholders in MAHB are the Employees Provident Fund with 12.21%, BlackRock Inc (3.56%) and Vanguard Group Inc (2.02%), according to Bloomberg data.

Dr Mahathir also said Khazanah would sell of its assets which are not useful to pay towering debt worth more than RM1 trillion that was left by the BN government.

He said the fund will conduct a thorough study before making any decision in selling its assets.

“Those that are not useful to us, we will sell to raise funds to overcome our debts. We must remember that the previous government borrowed more than RM1 trillion. That is a burden for us because they borrowed and the money isn’t invested, but it is hidden.

“If the money is invested, we can go to the company and get back the money or whatever, but we don’t know where the money is. So, at the moment we have to pay from our taxes or sell assets to pay our debts,” Dr Mahathir said.