From The Straits Times Archives: Malayan Railway land in Singapore

An international Arbitral Tribunal has decided that the Malaysia-Singapore joint venture company, M+S, need not pay a development charge on three parcels of former railway land, bringing to a close a dispute between the two countries over the tax. Here are some articles from The Straits Times archives on this issue.

1. POA deal a win-win – eventually

This article was first published on July 2, 2011

Former Senior Minister S. Jayakumar details the background and the twists and turns in Singapore’s dealings with Malaysia over the Points of Agreement on Malayan Railway land:

I will deal only with a set of interrelated issues that troubled our relations for many years – the implementation of the Points of Agreement (POA), relocation of the Customs, Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ) for railway facilities, revisions to the Water Agreements, and the “crooked bridge”.

The on-again, off-again bilateral negotiations and acrimonious exchanges over these issues illustrate the volatility of political and diplomatic relations then, despite our efforts to cooperate on an equal footing and work towards a win-win outcome.

These episodes also illustrate how personal relationships between the leaders and ministers are important factors in international diplomacy, and more so in dealing with close neighbours. Read more

2. Witnessing history depart

This article was first published on July 11, 2011

On July 1, Singaporeans bade a fond farewell to the end of an era as the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station closed its doors and welcomed the historic return of railway land previously held by Malayan Railway (KTM).

Under agreements inked during British colonial rule, Malaysia had partial sovereignty over the land on both sides of the railway tracks that cut through the heart of Singapore and over the site of the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, which was built in 1932. The railway line played a key role in moving people and goods to and from Malaysia. When Singapore left the Malaysian Federation in 1965, the land remained tied to Malaysia.

In 1990, then-Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and then-Malaysian Finance Minister Daim Zainuddin signed a government-to-government agreement to return the railway land to Singapore called the Points of Agreement (POA). However, the implementation of the POA stalled because both sides had different interpretations of the terms of agreement. Read more

3. Editorial: A deal worth more than billions

This article was first published on June 30, 2011

In a single day this week, a 20-year-old wrangle between Singapore and Malaysia finally came to an end. On Monday, the two countries agreed on the details of the implementation of the Points of Agreement (POA) on Malayan Railway land in Singapore. The POA on a land swop had been signed in 1990 but its implementation had been stymied by varying interpretations of some clauses.

In a fortunate moment for both countries, that impasse was broken last year by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak, who displayed a strong desire to settle the issue and demonstrated firm leadership in his determination to genuinely move relations forward. The two leaders’ resolve made the difference that came to fruit this week. Although there remains a point of contention that has been referred for arbitration, it will not hold back the agreement. Read more

4. Editorial: POA: win-win plus

This article was first published on Sept 22, 2010

Singaporeans and Malaysians have reason to share the satisfaction their prime ministers expressed in finally settling the issue of Malayan Railway land in Singapore. The real estate swop, involving parcels of land worth billions of dollars, is a substantial as well as symbolic break from 20 years of stalemate over the Points of Agreement (POA). The emotional combination of history and land ownership could have continued to make a rational resolution of the issue difficult. But Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Malaysian Premier Najib Razak saw the necessity of moving beyond a fractured past to secure a better future for both their countries, economically as well as politically. And thankfully, both commanded the political standing among their respective constituents to cut through any misgiving and clinch a win-win deal. Read more

5. A significant and creditable achievement

This article was first published on Sept 22, 2010

The resolution, finally, of one of the issues that has plagued relations between Singapore and Malaysia for the better part of two decades says a lot about what can be achieved when politicians put their minds towards securing a breakthrough.

To all intents and purposes, the Malaysian Railway land agreement sealed at the Istana on Monday was one between governments of two independent countries.

But as everyone who has followed this issue’s frequent twists and turns will tell you, it has been politics and politicians that have most stood in the way of a mutually acceptable outcome. Read more

6. Landmark land deal sealed

This article was first published on Sept 21, 2010

Singapore and Malaysia yesterday sealed a landmark land swop deal to settle the issue of Malayan railway land in Singapore, which has long dogged bilateral ties.

The swop involves three plots of railway land in Tanjong Pagar, Kranji and Woodlands, and another three in Bukit Timah.

In lieu of those six plots, the Singapore Government will offer in exchange four parcels of land in Marina South and two parcels in Ophir-Rochor. Read more

7. Charge to enhance value of railway land a sticking point

This article was first published on Sept 21, 2010

Singapore and Malaysia disagree on whether a tax, payable to the Singapore Government to change the use of a land parcel, applies to three plots of Malayan Railway land in Tanjong Pagar, Kranji and Woodlands.

The tax in question is known as a development charge. Singapore believes it should be paid, while Malaysia does not.

The three plots of land are specifically mentioned in the Points of Agreement (POA), a landmark deal signed in 1990 between Singapore’s then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and Malaysia’s then Finance Minister Tun Daim Zainuddin. Read more