PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The Malaysian government has not make any decision regarding the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) project, said Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Tuesday night (Jan 29), in an apparent flip-flop days after other senior officials indicated that the project had been scrapped.
"At this moment, no final decision has been made. Some decisions were made but we have to find a better solution. We are still negotiating," said Tun Dr Mahathir.
He added: "We feel that we should give time to both sides (Malaysia and China) to come up with a solution to this. There may be other options - we are open."
Dr Mahathir also said his administration is still studying the costs involved in the multi-billion dollar project.
"Apparently, there are offers by others which will cost less. The previous government gave a very high estimate on ECRL," he told reporters.
The RM81 billion (S$27 billion) ECRL project was approved by Dr Mahathir's predecesssor Najib Razak in October 2016.
However, work on the 688km railway line - which is expected to link the east and west coasts of Peninsular Malaysia - has been suspended since last July after the Pakatan Harapan government took office following its electoral victory last May, promising to review the country's large-scale infrastructure projects.
The Straits Times reported last week that the government had cancelled the original contract with the state-owned China Communications Construction Company (CCCC). The government is said to be seeking to halve the estimated project cost to RM40 billion.
Earlier yesterday, Dr Mahathir said Malaysia would be "impoverished" if the government proceeds with the project.
"We are burdened with heavy debts. We seek understanding from all parties. We will be impoverished by the project if we go on," he told reporters after launching the country's first National Anti-Corruption Plan.
"The huge compensation for cancelling it is not as huge as the amount we have to carry for the next 30 years," he said.
"It is not because we want to frustrate or throw out the contract, it is because we are really tight in terms of finance," said Dr Mahathir.
Dr Mahathir said the official status of the project will be announced by the Ministry of Finance soon.
There had been confusion surrounding the project's status after Economic Affairs Minister Azmin Ali on Saturday announced that the government had decided to cancel the project.
Hours later, Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng issued a denial, claiming that Datuk Seri Azmin was not privy to the decision made by Dr Mahathir.
He said the government would make an official announcement on the project this week.
When asked about the project on Tuesday, Mr Lim said he had been advised by Dr Mahathir not to make any announcement yet.
"I have met with the Prime Minister, and he has suggested that I do not make any statement for the time being. So, wait for the statement," he said.