SINGAPORE: The Johor Bahru-Singapore Rapid Transit System (RTS) link project is behind schedule and "not progressing well", said Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan on Monday (Jan 14) in a written parliamentary reply.
He was responding to questions from MP Ang Wei Neng on the progress of the project and its estimated timeline. The RTS project, which links Bukit Chagar station in Johor Baru and Woodlands North station in Singapore, was meant to be completed by 2024.
Milestones in the project have been missed, said Mr Khaw, adding that Malaysia has repeatedly delayed confirmation of its joint venture partner.
According to the bilateral agreement signed in January 2018, a joint venture company comprising Singapore’s SMRT and Malaysia’s Prasarana Malaysia should have been constituted by Jun 30 last year.
READ: Singapore-JB Rapid Transit System to begin passenger service by 2024
The joint venture company should also have been appointed as the RTS Link operator (OpCo) through a Concession Agreement (CA) with Singapore's Land Transport Authority (LTA) and the government of Malaysia by Sep 30, 2018.
Both milestones were missed.
"Over the past few months, Malaysia has indicated that they are considering replacing their JV (joint venture) partner, but has delayed confirming their JV partner – first until September 2018, then until December 2018 and most recently on Dec 28, 2018, Malaysia requested to be given until Feb 28, 2019 to confirm their JV partner," said Mr Khaw.
"As a result of these delays, the joint venture company has not even been incorporated to-date, let alone signed the CA. Meanwhile, Malaysia has also unilaterally suspended bilateral discussions to appoint the OpCo since August 2018, pending its confirmation of the Malaysian JV partner."
MALAYSIA HAS NOT RESPONDED TO DRAFT TENDER DOCUMENTS: KHAW
Mr Khaw explained that under the bilateral agreement, if the joint venture company has not been incorporated or appointed as the RTS link operator, then both countries are obliged to jointly call a fair, international and transparent open tender to appoint an operator - unless both governments mutually agree to postpone these deadlines.
"In line with the intent of the bilateral agreement, Singapore prepared and sent draft tender documents to Malaysia in November 2018 for their comments," said Mr Khaw.
"There is urgency to this as, based on Singapore’s calculations, the open tender needs to be called by Mar 31, 2019 so that, as agreed under the bilateral agreement, the appointed OpCo can procure the Thomson-East Coast Line (TEL) core systems for the RTS Link before these procurement options expire."
Malaysia has not responded to the draft tender documents, Mr Khaw said.
He added that Singapore remains fully committed to implementing the RTS link, noting that LTA has assembled close to 70 employees and engineers for the project, as well as called civil tenders to construct related infrastructure.
READ: Commitment to new Singapore-Malaysia rail links regardless of any political changes: PM Lee, Najib
SINGAPORE HAS BEEN "REASONABLE AND FLEXIBLE"
There had been uncertainty over the RTS link project in the wake of the Malaysian general election last May, as the new government reviewed agreements signed by the previous administration.
Mr Khaw said on Monday that Singapore has been "reasonable and flexible" towards Malaysia because it understood its circumstances after the May general elections.
"However, missing the agreed deadlines in the bilateral agreement to appoint the OpCo and thereafter failing to engage with Singapore to take steps to jointly call an open tender to appoint the OpCo has serious implications.
"The bilateral agreement is an international treaty that is binding on the countries that signed it, regardless of any changes in the government," said Mr Khaw.
He added that as a result of these delays, the start of RTS link services will likely be delayed beyond the original target of Dec 31, 2024.
"We will continue to take a constructive approach to move the project forward," said Mr Khaw.