Mahathir says Singapore knows what Malaysia wants to do with HSR project

"We have not given them full notice yet but they know what we want to do," said Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
"We have not given them full notice yet but they know what we want to do," said Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

PUTRAJAYA - Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Tuesday (July 10) said the government has not yet officially informed Singapore of its decision on the High-Speed Rail (HSR) project, but the city state knows what Malaysia wants to do with it.

Tun Dr Mahathir said the Malaysian government has to exercise caution when making a decision and announcing it.

“We have not given them (Singapore) full notice yet but they know what we want to do,” he told a news conference.

“Decisions are not so easily made. When we make a decision and announce it, the market reacts negatively. The market apparently likes to be told lies about how good everything is...  But if we tell them we have discovered a lot of wrongdoings, they react by running away with the money, they stop investing and all that,” he said.

“But in fact what we are doing now is to ensure that this country is financially run properly,” he said. “So that is why we have to be very careful about what we say.

He did not elaborate when asked about what the Malaysian government plans to do with the HSR project.

Dr Mahathir had said in May that Malaysia would scrap the project due to its high cost, but later backtracked and said he would  postpone the multi-billion dollar project.

Speaking in Parliament on Monday, Singapore Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said Singapore sent a diplomatic note to Malaysia on June 1 "to seek immediate clarification on Malaysia's position".  

"To date, Singapore has still not received a reply from the Malaysian government," he said.  Public statements on the termination of the project made by Dr Mahathir and his ministers - through various media interviews - “have not been followed through with any official communication to us”, he added.

Mr Khaw said: “At this point, therefore, we have been left with no choice but to continue performing in accordance with the bilateral agreement, and thus continue to incur more costs.”

He added that Singapore has already spent more than $250 million on the  project, and is likely to expend another $40 million or so by year end.

Dr Mahathir had said that Malaysia may have to pay as much as RM500 million (S$168 million) in compensation if it scraps the HSR deal, which was inked by the  government led by his predecessor Najib Razak and the Singapore government in December 2016.

The Mahathir administration has been cutting spending and mega-projects as part of efforts to slash costs amid a burgeoning fiscal debt of RM1 trillion.

The 350km-long HSR would slash the land travelling time between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to just 90 minutes – compared to four to five hours by car – when completed in 2026, as originally planned.