SINGAPORE: The bilateral agreement on the Johor Baru-Singapore Rapid Transit System Link (RTS Link) is something Singapore and Malaysia’s future administrations will inherit, “whoever is the government on either side”, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
Mr Lee was speaking after the signing ceremony on Tuesday (Jan 16) of the RTS Link between Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan and Malaysia’s Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Abdul Rahman Dahlan.
During a joint press conference as part of the 8th Singapore-Malaysia Leaders’ Retreat, both Mr Lee and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak were asked to comment on how both countries will ensure the RTS and the high-speed rail project linking the two countries will be unaffected by political changes, considering they are long term projects that will span several terms of government.
Elections for Malaysia are due by August 2018.
Mr Lee said Singapore has every intention of implementing what it signed and committed to on Tuesday.
“The commitment is formalised in the agreement which we signed between the two governments today,” Mr Lee said.
“It’s a binding agreement and whoever is the government on either side, this is an agreement they inherit and are party to. If the subsequent governments have other ideas, well that will have to be dealt with and the agreement will deal with these contingencies.”
On Malaysia’s part, Mr Najib said he does not expect the upcoming elections in Malaysia to change the nature of relations between the two countries.
“We cannot determine what the electorate will decide, but we can offer our agenda for the people to decide and we live in a democracy and the people will decide, but we believe that they will decide on an agenda that is very meaningful and productive,” Mr Najib said.
He said his government believes in having good relations with its neighbour, and there are tangible benefits “if we work closely together”.
“We certainly do not want to return to the era of confrontational diplomacy and barbed rhetoric between our two countries,” Mr Najib said.
“It was an era that we want to forget. We certainly do not want to come back to that era. And that is why we believe that the position of the current government is the position that will bring mutual benefit to both Singapore and Malaysia and we stand by our policy, by our agenda and by our ability to deliver real and tangible benefit to both the peoples of Malaysia and Singapore.”
RTS LINK WILL CHANGE NATURE OF CONNECTIVITY BETWEEN TWO COUNTRIES: NAJIB
Both leaders spoke at length about the newly inked agreement on the RTS Link. Providing more details on what he called an ambitious and complicated project, Mr Lee shared that the train service will start above ground, cross the Straits of Johor before going underground again where it will link to Singapore’s MRT system at the Woodlands North Station on the Thomson-East Coast Line.
There will also be a Customs, Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ) facility underground, he said.
“The capacity will relieve the congestion on the Causeway and on the CIQ at the Causeway and provide convenient means for Johorians to come to Singapore to work and play and for Singaporeans to go to Johor to study, to work and to shop,” Mr Lee said.
Mr Najib added the RTS Link will “change the nature of connectivity” between the two countries.
Both Mr Lee and Mr Najib focused on the “excellent” state of relations, saying it has allowed both countries to work on many projects. Among the areas of cooperation, Mr Lee highlighted water security, saying both countries will conduct a joint study of the Johor River to examine ways of conserving the water stock in the Linggiu Reservoir.
Mr Najib also addressed the need to ease congestion on the Causeway, saying it was looking at a request by Mr Lee on making the Second Link more attractive to commuters.
In turn, Mr Najib said he raised with Mr Lee the issue of some challenges relating to the management of the ports at Pasir Gudang and Tanjong Langsat.
“We’re grateful that the PM will look into some of the challenges relating to the flow of ships into the both ports,” he said.
Mr Najib said he also told Mr Lee that Malaysia would fully support Singapore as ASEAN chair, saying the Republic had chosen appropriate themes of resilience and innovation, as well as its emphasis on digital economies.
He said this is something both countries can work closely on to promote regulations as well as e-commerce and e-payment initiatives linking Singapore and Kuala Lumpur as smart cities.
HIGH SPEED RAIL BID WILL BE HONEST AND TRANSPARENT JUDGMENT: PM LEE
On the criteria both governments have for the high-speed rail link between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, Mr Lee said this will be a systematic process looking at “many dimensions”.
For one, a list of items will look at what will be evaluated, what will be considered a “veto item” as well as a “desirable item”.
“It’s not just the price but the reliability, the conditions, the financing, the assurance you have, the track record, your confidence in the company, what they have done elsewhere,” Mr Lee said.
“In the end, there is a judgement involved which we will do collectively, but if the process is transparent and open, I think people can have confidence that this is a judgment that has been made honestly and in good faith and without prejudice to any party and without intending to favour or to hurt any side.
"When you have a competition, you must have a winner and a non-winner. It’s like when you have an election, you must have a winner and a non-winner and it must be settled in such a way that the winner wins fairly and the person that didn’t win must be able to accept even if he is not happy that it was done properly.”
Agreeing, Mr Najib said the assessment will be comprehensive and multidimensional, and one that takes into account the costs associated with the life cycle (of the system), its maintenance as well as the ability to maximise “local content” so that people see that the HSR will bring real and tangible benefits to people even during its construction period.