KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia is going to look into how it can reduce the cost of any potential exit from a deal with Singapore for a high-speed rail (HSR) to link its capital Kuala Lumpur with the city-state, said Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in an interview published on Saturday (May 26).
Addressing the need to reduce the national debt and liabilities - which the government puts at around RM1trillion or 80 per cent of its GDP - Mahathir said "at one go we can reduce it by RM200 billion by doing away with all these huge projects".
The HSR project, valued by analysts at about US$17 billion, is currently out for tender and is scheduled to be completed by 2026.
"The terms of the agreement (for the HSR) are such that if we decide to drop the project, it will cost us a lot of money," Mahathir told the financial newspaper The Edge.
"So we are going to find out how we can reduce the amount of money we have to pay for breaking the agreement."
Mahathir, the 92-year-old who triumphed over scandal-plagued Najib Razak in elections earlier this month, has made it a priority to cut the national debt and pledged to review major projects agreed by the previous government.
Work on the RM55 billion East Coast Rail Link - the largest such project in the country and a major part of Beijing's Belt and Road infrastructure push - started last year.
The project was planned to stretch 688km connecting the South China Sea at the Thai border in the east with the strategic shipping routes of the Straits of Malacca in the west.
"We are renegotiating the terms," Mahathir said. "The terms are very damaging to our economy."
The project is being built by China Communications Construction Co Ltd, and is being mainly financed by a loan from China Exim Bank.
Mahathir also questioned the need for the project in the first place.
"He (Najib) knew very well that the ECRL, for example, is not something we could afford. It is not going to serve any purpose, it is not going to give us any returns," said Mahathir.