Malaysia cancels deal with China company, seeks new contractor for East Coast Rail Link

A billboard advertising the Malaysia’s East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) in Kota Sultan Ahmad Shah, Kuantan.
A billboard advertising the Malaysia’s East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) in Kota Sultan Ahmad Shah, Kuantan. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia is seeking a new contractor to build the East Coast Railway Link (ECRL), after terminating the original contract awarded to China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) on Tuesday (Jan 22), a source told The Straits Times.

It is understood that the government is seeking to halve the estimated project cost of RM81 billion (S$27 billion) to RM40 billion.

Work on the 688km railway line linking the east and west coasts of Peninsular Malaysia has been suspended since last July, as part of the new Pakatan Harapan administration's review of large-scale infrastructure projects after the coalition won the elections in May.

Negotiations to reduce the project cost - initially pegged at RM55 billion when the plans were launched in November 2016 - have continued with CCCC since then, with government adviser Daim Zainuddin leading the talks.

The Straits Times understands that the government laid down a maximum cost of RM40 billion and asked for more local products and services be included in the works. However, CCCC could not meet these requirements, resulting in negotiations coming to an end.

CCCC did not respond to a request for comment.

Tun Daim told reporters on Tuesday that the railway project is still on, with negotiations still ongoing. He did not elaborate who the ongoing negotiations were with.

 
 

CCCC was originally awarded the engineering, procurement, construction and commissioning contract for the ECRL, which was to be funded by Malaysia taking a soft loan from Export and Import Bank of China (Exim) to cover 85 per cent of the cost. The remaining sum was to be raised from local bond issues.

The ECRL was among a handful of China-funded mega infrastructure projects entered into by the previous Barisan Nasional government that was scrutinised by the new administration in a bid to tackle state debts totalling over RM1 trillion.

Two pipeline projects with China costing RM9.4 billion were cancelled after the government found that only 13 per cent of the works had been completed despite nearly 90 per cent of the project sum being paid out.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad had described the ECRL contract as "strange" in an interview last July.

"That contract is strange," Tun Dr Mahathir told business paper The Edge. "The contractor must be from China and the lending is from China. And the money is not supposed to come here but (kept abroad) to pay the contractor in China," the paper quoted him as saying.

Touted as a game-changer when it was first launched, the ECRL was meant to be a land bridge linking Kuantan Port with Port Klang that would allow shipped cargo to bypass Singapore.

Construction sites along the 12-passenger station route have been left abandoned since the stop-work order was issued in July.