TUMPAT, Kelantan: The cancellation of the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) will not affect economic activity and job opportunities in the three east coast states involved in the project, said Malaysia's Rural Development Minister Rina Harun on Thursday (Aug 23).
The 688-km ECRL, Malaysia's biggest rail project, would have linked Selangor on the west coast to the east coast states of Pahang, Terengganu and Kelantan.
The minister said that even without the ECRL, many jobs can still be created.
“Of course the ECRL project would create so many job opportunities, but there are so many other ways to do so. We don’t need to depend solely on the project,” she told reporters on the sidelines of a community event in Tumpat, Kelantan.
READ: Chinese-backed East Coast Rail Link, pipeline projects cancelled for now, says Malaysia PM Mahathir
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said on Tuesday that the Chinese government-backed ECRL will be scrapped until such time as Malaysia can afford it. The government has pegged the project's costs at US$20 billion, nearly 50 per cent higher than estimated under the previous administration.
The ECRL project was the centrepiece of China's infrastructure push in Malaysia. Project contractor China Communications Construction told Reuters that more than 1,800 of the 2,250 people hired for the rail link had been laid off since the project was suspended.
Former prime minister Najib Razak has also called for the setting up of a Royal Commission of Inquiry to look into the cancellation of the ECRL and two Trans Sabah gas pipeline projects to determine if there was any wrongdoing involved.
He said Malaysians deserved to know if the decision was made based on reason, and not because of resentment towards the previous Barisan Nasional administration or the Chinese government.
“Until all those documents are disclosed, I am disappointed and sad for the people in the east coast states of the peninsula for losing the potential development in their states and a chance to raise their economic status to equal that of those in the west coast,” Najib said in a Facebook post.
The contracts concerned had exit clauses, he said.
“This is not like the IPP (independent power producer) concession agreements or the toll agreements signed during Mahathir’s era where, until now, the Pakatan Harapan government cannot fulfil its promise to abolish tolls,” he added.
Kuantan chief minister Wan Rosdy Wan Ismail called on the government to reconsider the cancellation of the project as it could cause many local workers to lose their jobs.
The three states would also suffer losses as the initial work on the project had already begun, he said in a statement.
“In Pahang alone, the initial work is 13 to 14 per cent ... In fact, in several sites, such as in Genting Highlands and Bentong, the digging of the ECRL tunnel has also begun.
“So, on behalf of the state government and those affected by the cancellation of the project, especially the workers who might lose their jobs, I call on the federal government to reconsider the decision,” he said.