KUALA LUMPUR - Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad has defended the move to scrap the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail (HSR) project, insisting that the line was too short and did not save much time compared to other modes of transport.
He was speaking on Tuesday (Dec 7) just over a week after Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob proposed reviving the project which was scrapped by his predecessor, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.
When asked if the proposal meant a revival of corruption politics, Dr Mahathir responded: "It is."
He also claimed that Singapore had "demanded" to be compensated for work already completed in connection with the HSR.
"The high speed train is going to travel between Singapore and KL, it's a very short distance, not much time saved by high speed. You can also fly, you can drive," Dr Mahathir said during a virtual roundtable promoting his upcoming book, Capturing Hope: The Struggle Continues For A New Malaysia, to be launched on Dec 12.
"When you want a high speed train, it should go a long distance, say from Singapore to Penang, or to Alor Setar, or to the Thai border, but we could not afford that. And we don't need it at the moment.
"And when we wanted to terminate it, Singapore demanded to be compensated for the work they have done in Singapore."
Compensation, in the event the project was aborted, was stipulated in the legally binding agreement that both countries had signed.
Dr Mahathir, who was prime minister of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government which came to power in 2018, was also in favour of ditching the project but eventually agreed to a two-year delay to allow for it to be reviewed. Dr Mahathir's PH government was subsequently ousted, replaced by one led by Mr Muhyiddin in early 2020.
Both Singapore and Malaysia eventually could not agree on the changes proposed by Kuala Lumpur and the HSR agreement was allowed to lapse on Dec 31 last year.
In January this year, Singapore's then Transport Minister Mr Ong Ye Kung told Parliament that Malaysia had to compensate Singapore in accordance with the HSR agreements, noting that the Republic had spent about $270 million on the project thus far. Mr Ong said that the compensation included various abortive costs such as for consultancy services, design of infrastructure and manpower to deliver the project. It would not cover land acquisition costs as the value of the land could be recovered.
In the end, Malaysia paid about $102 million as compensation to Singapore with a joint statement in March pointing out that both countries had reached an "amicable agreement" on the amount following a verification process by the Malaysian government.
Last week, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong disclosed that his Malaysian counterpart, Datuk Seri Ismail, had suggested reviving the HSR during a bilateral meeting in the city-state.
PM Lee said that Singapore was open to fresh proposals from Malaysia on the project and that the transport ministries of both countries would discuss the matter.
The planned 350km HSR rail line, which both sides had agreed to build in 2013, was to have run from downtown Kuala Lumpur to a terminal in Jurong East. It would have cut travel time between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore to 90 minutes, compared with over four hours by car.