Decision on big projects like HSR very soon, says Mahathir

An artist's impression of Bandar Malaysia, one of the stations in the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore high-speed rail project. Other mega projects being reviewed include the East Coast Rail Link.
An artist's impression of Bandar Malaysia, one of the stations in the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore high-speed rail project. Other mega projects being reviewed include the East Coast Rail Link.PHOTO: EDELMAN

A decision on mega projects like the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore high-speed rail (HSR) will be made very soon, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said yesterday.

He was speaking at a press conference, held after he chaired the first Cabinet meeting of Malaysia's new government elected on May 9. He last chaired a Cabinet meeting 15 years ago before he stepped down on October 2003.

The 350km rail deal between Singapore and Malaysia had been inked in 2016 under previous prime minister Najib Razak, but Tun Dr Mahathir had said after his coalition was swept into power that it would be reviewed, alongside a number of other mega projects.

The new Malaysian government is looking at ways to cut costs drastically to pare its debt of RM1 trillion (S$338 billion).

Dr Mahathir also announced that the Land Public Transport Commission, which led negotiations for the HSR under the previous government, among other functions, would be abolished. Its tasks would be carried out by the Transport Ministry instead.

Other mega projects being reviewed include the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) connecting the country's east and west coasts to ensure that the deal was reached in a transparent way.

The HSR is estimated to cost up to RM50 billion, and will cut the travelling time between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to 90 minutes. The ECRL is expected to cost another RM66 billion.

However, MyHSR Corp chief executive Mohd Nur Ismal Mohamed Kamal estimated in early May that Malaysia could lose RM209 billion in gross national income if the HSR was scrapped.

The HSR agreement signed between the governments of Malaysia and Singapore is also binding, and Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in January that "if the subsequent governments have other ideas, that will have to be dealt with and the agreement will deal with these contingencies".

At a separate press conference yesterday afternoon, new Transport Minister Anthony Loke declined to give an indication of just how soon a decision on the HSR would be made.

"We will announce it when we have a decision... There is no decision as of now on the HSR," he told reporters.

He said: "We will work very fast. A decision will be made soon, but how soon, we cannot answer because it takes time to review."

Meanwhile, Dr Mahathir also said the government will review the search contract for the missing Malaysia Airlines MH370 plane that disappeared in March 2014.

The previous administration had struck a deal to pay United States-based seabed exploration firm Ocean Infinity up to US$70 million (S$94 million) if it finds the aircraft.

That deal will end next Tuesday, said Mr Loke. Flight MH370, carrying 239 people, disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, 2014.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 24, 2018, with the headline 'Decision on big projects like HSR very soon, says Mahathir'. Print Edition | Subscribe