Not the right time for HSR project revival

Lacking in transparency and with a porous system in the absence of an AssetsCo, it would be no surprise that eventual costs would at least double

by NUR HANANI AZMAN / pic by TMR FILE

IT IS not the right time to restart the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail (HSR) project as the country is still falling short in the face of continuing economic pressure.

Economist Dr Nungsari Ahmad Radhi said it is unnecessary to do so, especially after Malaysia had paid RM320 million to cancel it and does not have the fiscal means to revive it now.

“I disagree with the decision to restart the project. Not now. Not when there are much more economically beneficial projects. Our priority should be to spend whatever fiscal resources we have to ensure people and businesses affected by the pandemic get back on their feet.

“We are still not sure how long Covid-19 will restrain the economic recovery of the country or the world,” he told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR).

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Monday said the republic is open to fresh proposals from Malaysia on the HSR project although both countries previously agreed on the termination.

Lee said the transport ministries of both countries will discuss the matter and Singapore looks forward to receiving more details from Malaysia.

On Jan 1, Malaysia and Singapore jointly announced the termination of the HSR project as both countries failed to reach an agreement on changes proposed by Malaysia before the project agreement lapsed on Dec 31, 2020.

In March this year, Malaysia announced that it had paid S$102.8 million (RM318.45 million) to Singapore for costs incurred for the development of the HSR project and in relation to the extension of its suspension.

Former Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng said Malaysia is becoming an international laughing stock for proposing to revive the HSR after paying RM320 million in compensation to Singapore for terminating the project earlier this year.

He said this flip-flop is symbolic of both the Perikatan Nasional and Barisan Nasional government’s incompetence and indecisiveness that has cost taxpayers unnecessarily RM320 million for a start-stop-start project.

“There must be full accountability and transparency by demanding the resignation of ministers responsible for making the recommendation to terminate the HSR that cost the country RM320 million.

“Will Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob now conform to open tenders and transparency under the revived HSR as well as ensure that the cost structure is not excessive and disadvantageous to Malaysia?,” he said in a statement.

Meanwhile, transportation consultant YS Chan said it seems like the initial HSR project was aborted to dismantle the jointly appointed privately financed asset company (AssetsCo), which would own, operate and maintain HSR assets such as rolling stock, signalling systems, coaches and tracks.

He said the AssetsCo was to ensure transparency, particularly at the construction stage where huge sums of monies are involved, and the train service professionally running when completed.

“Although HSR would be loss-making, the spinoffs would result in a net gain and the project should have proceeded instead of compensating Singapore RM320 million for terminating it.

“Any viable proposal for HSR from Kuala Lumpur will have to connect to Singapore and the new estimated cost is likely to be slightly higher than the initial project just to gain public buy-in. But lacking in transparency and with a porous system in the absence of an AssetsCo to benefit a few, it would be no surprise that eventual costs would be doubled or more,” he told TMR.

Chan said it is better to prioritise on projects that will help the people out of poverty, improving road safety and income-generated aid.

“Sadly, it seems that massive projects that require huge funding were always in favour.”