KUALA LUMPUR • The Malaysian government has stepped back from a controversial decision to re-tender a portion of an ongoing MRT contract, after its main contractors claimed 20,000 would lose their jobs, and some of these workers complained on social media about their impending retrenchment.
Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng on Sunday said underground works for Line 2 of the Klang Valley Mass Rapid Transit (KVMRT) project would be re-tendered, after the contract with a Malaysian joint-venture (JV) company was terminated.
This came about after the government's failure to secure lower costs in negotiations with the JV firm formed by giant local contractors MMC Corp and Gamuda.
The move to lower costs was part of efforts by the five-month-old Pakatan Harapan (PH) administration to reduce government debt. But some have questioned whether any contract could now be chucked aside in the name of austerity.
The MRT tunnelling and related works were awarded to MMC-Gamuda KVMRT by the previous Barisan Nasional government.
The JV firm said on Monday that the works were awarded for RM15.47 billion (S$5.1 billion), with 40 per cent of the job completed.
MMC-Gamuda said it offered a reduction of RM2.3 billion in costs by trimming parts of the job and reducing the number of MRT stations to six from 10.
The company added: "The termination ... will result in immediate job losses to a workforce of over 20,000 personnel involved in the underground works from a supply chain of over 600 Malaysian companies. Of the 20,000, over 3,000 are made up of MMC-Gamuda joint-venture staff, and of these, more than 60 per cent are bumiputera."
Some of the workers went on social media using the #PrayforMRT2 hashtag, with several saying they voted for PH for a better Malaysia and felt short-changed.
"Don't crush the hopes, dreams, futures, and livelihood of 20,000 working-class Malaysian employees who have toiled to build this nation," wrote one Justin Chin, in a Facebook posting.
A video addressed to Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad showed 17 young men and a woman - some with hard hats and most wearing orange worker vests - who said they are tunnelling workers who will lose their jobs. "It is very sad that the project that fed our families has been stopped though the project is 40 per cent completed," said Mr Derek Eng, who spoke in the video.
Political secretary to Mr Lim, Mr Tony Pua, said MMC-Gamuda had made "a good show" of the issue, and that those who lost their jobs could work again once the project restarted. He did not say how these workers could all get the same jobs, and when the project would restart.
Tun Dr Mahathir, when asked on Wednesday by reporters about the issue, said: "We're looking back at it. We'll make another assessment. I think we'll have to discuss this."
The Straits Times understands that a committee - comprising four ministries, including the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Economic Affairs - has been set up to revisit the contract, and MMC-Gamuda pledged its commitment "in reaching an agreeable reduction of costs".
Gamuda co-founder Koon Yew Yin wrote a public letter, saying: "The PH government must bear in mind that if you can simply terminate the contracts signed by the Barisan Nasional government, no respectable contractors would dare sign contracts with the PH government for fear that the next government can also terminate the duly signed contracts."