Malaysia’s Pakatan Harapan-led federal government plans to officially talk with its neighbour over the postponement of the Singapore-Kuala Lumpur High Speed Rail (HSR), reported Channel NewsAsia.
In May, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said they intended to scrap the HSR due to the country’s high debt of more than RM1 trillion that has been worsened by the 1MDB corruption scandal.
Then in June, he softened his stance, announcing that the mega project was only deferred. On Thursday (19 July), Dr Mahathir reiterated that it has only been held back.
“When we looked at the financial situation of the country, we thought that we couldn’t go ahead [with the HSR],” he told the media in parliament.
“But having studied it and the implication of unilaterally discarding the contract, we decided we may have to do it at a later date. We may have to reduce the price, but reduction of the price is very difficult as far as we can make out, so it has to be deferred.”
Last month, Singapore sent Malaysia a diplomatic note to clear the air regarding the status of the HSR project. While there is no official reply yet, earlier this week, Malaysia’s Economic Affairs Minister Mohamed Azmin Ali announced that he will meet with Singapore’s Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan to find the best solution regarding the HSR that will be in the best interest of both nations.
“Singapore wants to know what’s our stand, but officially now we are sending the minister,” said Dr Mahathir.
“The problem is if we unilaterally discarded the agreement, we have to pay a very high compensation. Of course, we can’t say that we will never build this High-Speed Rail. But at the moment we don’t have the funds. So we have to delay [it].”
Meanwhile, Johor crown prince Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim is urging the federal government to proceed with the HSR due to its benefits.
“I think it’s a very, very positive project that we should continue because it will not only help Johor but also Singapore. It will boost the economy in Johor; maybe have more foreign investment coming in. That’s my personal opinion,” he told Channel NewsAsia.
Queried on the HSR’s impact on the federal government’s debt, Tunku Ismail said: “At the end of the day, they are the government. They should judge what is necessary and what’s not necessary. It’s not my place and not my position to know what’s the financial status of the country.”
Senior Content Producer, Christopher Chitty, edited this story.