ECRL alignment reversal still at discussion stage

Discussions on the matter are being spearheaded by the MoT, but there is yet to be any decision, says Mustapa


THE government’s plan to reverse the multibillion-ringgit East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) to its original line is only at the discussion stage.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s (PM) Department (Economy) Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed confirmed a report by a daily last week on the matter, but stressed that no decision has been made.

He also dismissed analyst reports that the reversal could cost an additional RM20 billion to the project.

“Discussions on the matter are being spearheaded by the Transport Ministry (MoT), but there is yet to be any decision,” he told the press at the launch of Malaysian Population and Housing Census in Putrajaya yesterday.

Following the news report, CGS-CIMB Research said the potential realignment of ECRL back to its original west-east traverse proposed during the Barisan Nasional (BN) rule could add as much as RM20 billion to its original cost of RM44 billion.

Introduced by the BN government in 2017, the RM65.5 billion project was revised and scaled down by the Pakatan Harapan (PH) administration last year with a cost reduction accounting to RM21.5 billion in savings.

At the new cost of RM44 billion and spanning 640km, PH proposed for the project to start from Kota Baru via Mentakab, Jelebu, Kuala Kelawang, Bangi/Kajang, Putrajaya and ends at Port Klang, against 688km as originally planned.

Most of the savings were attributed to the tunnelling construction into the Titiwangsa Range in Bentong, Pahang, which is estimated to cost between RM8 billion and RM10 billion.

On Sunday, Transport Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong said the suggestion to revert the ECRL line back to the original alignment was first proposed by BN’s Pahang Mentri Besar (MB) Datuk Seri Wan Rosdy Wan Ismail.

At the same time, however, Negri Sembilan MB Datuk Seri Aminuddin Harun hopes that Putrajaya will stick to PH’s plan to allow ECRL to pass through his state for the benefit of its people.

Separately, Mustapa said the government is revising the national poverty line to a higher level through a new methodology to be used this year.

The current methodology which has been in use since 2005 sets the national poverty line at RM980 monthly per household, which is deemed outdated, he said.

Mustapa added that the discussion to revise the rate was initiated by the PH administration in the Mid-Term Review of the 11th Malaysia Plan in October 2018.

“Following this review, the Department of Statistics Malaysia (DoSM) conducted the Household Income and Expenditure survey from January to November 2019 to relook at these data.

“DoSM and other (government) committees have studied the findings and they have been tabled to the Cabinet twice. The new rate will be announced soon,” Mustapa said.

In a recent report, former United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Philip Alston accused Malaysia of having backtracked on its previous commitment to revise the national poverty line.

Based on a visit to Malaysia in August last year, Alston’s report released on Monday stated that the national poverty rate of just 0.4% — the lowest in the world — was “misleadingly low and unrealistic”.

He claimed that Perikatan Nasional was not interested in revising the national poverty line agenda as initiated by PH.

However, Mustapa denied this, stating that he has been actively engaging the relevant stakeholders, ministries and agencies to make this happen.

He also expected the new poverty line to be increased from RM980, which will subsequently push the poverty rate higher once the revised methodology is announced. “In 2005, our gross per capita income was RM20,000. Now it is already doubled to RM45,000, so definitely the poverty rate in the country will go up accordingly,” he added.

At the event, PM Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said the Population and Housing Census conducted every 10 years gives an accurate picture of the country’s current demographics, which will serve as a source of reference and important foundation for the country’s development planning.

Muhyiddin said through the census, the size, distribution, composition and socio-economic characteristics of the people and housing in Malaysia can be identified.

“Information about education, health and recreational facilities, as well as the road network gathered through the census will be used to formulate and implement government policies for development and people’s wellbeing,” he said in his opening speech.

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, DoSM will conduct the census online on top of its traditional way of meeting people face-to-face.

The first phase of data collection will start from July 7 to Sept 30 via an online-based mode or e-census, while the face-to-face census will be carried out from Oct 7 to Oct 24 this year.