KUALA LUMPUR: To suspend or to terminate?
That is the question faced by Malaysia’s economic affairs minister Mohamed Azmin Ali, who is leading a task force that will decide the fate of the High-Speed Rail (HSR) project, which the new government has claimed will cost RM110 billion (US$27 billion).
Signed between Malaysia and Singapore government in December 2016, the 350km HSR project - linking Kuala Lumpur and Singapore - was slated to be operational by the end of 2026.
But Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad announced he would scrap the project after the new Pakatan Harapan government was elected into power in May.
Two months on, the Singapore Government has yet to be officially notified by their Malaysia counterparts. To date, about S$250 million have been spent by Singapore on the project.
Speaking to Channel NewsAsia on Thursday, Azmin acknowledged that the time has come to decide once and for all the status of the HSR project.
This comes after Mahathir hinted on Thursday that a deferment may be the only option, as unilateral cancellation was just going to be too costly.
“We need to make a clear decision now. In the event we want to defer, the entire process needs to be reviewed; we can’t just slow it down, we have to either suspend it now or terminate it,” said Azmin.
Azmin on Thursday said he plans to meet Singapore’s Minister for Transport Khaw Boon Wan before the end of the month to discuss the way forward.
A JUST AND EQUITABLE SOLUTION
Whatever the outcome, he assured, it will be just and equitable to both sides.
While he is still trying to unbundle the whole process, Azmin said he understands that many parties were involved, from government bodies to multinational companies who took part in the international bidding.
“There are so many packages. I need to know how many packages have been awarded and how many are still open to bidders, because the stakeholders are not government entities, they are also other international multinational companies," he said.
“We do appreciate they have incurred operating expenses in the last few months."
But he declined to comment on the status of the tender process, especially for the train carriages and tracks that is scheduled to close on Dec 28.
Azmin added that under the agreement, it is lawful for either party to want to terminate the agreement.
Singapore, he said, is entitled to claim for compensation and there is a formula provided in the contract to work out the amount.
“They have every right to put up their claims, we need to sit down and verify those claims,” he said.
Azmin said apart from meeting Khaw, he is also planning to meet Singapore’s Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing in a bid to find an amicable solution to the HSR project.