The ruling government of Malaysia wanted the ability to unilaterally choose vendors for the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail (HSR) project without Singapore's involvement, former Malaysia prime minister Najib Razak alleged in a Facebook post on Jan. 4, 2021.
He was giving his take on what he thinks are the motivations of the current Malaysian administration in power, referencing the age-old tried and tested process of awarding contracts to vendors the government wanted and was comfortable working with.
This was a departure from the initial plan, which was for the two countries to be responsible for the railway's construction to prevent possible abuse or irregularity, and which were formulated during Najib's administration.The entity that was to have overseen the proper running of the line was known as an "Assets Company".
HSR part of Najib's legacy
The former top man of Malaysia called out the current Perikatan Nasional (PN) government for allowing the deadline for the two-country project negotiations to lapse on Dec. 31, 2020, and effectively pulling the plug on a grandiose project that would have added to Najib's checkered legacy.
Malaysia wants to choose its own contractors
In a post that cited Singapore transport minister Ong Ye Kung’s remarks, Najib wrote that Singaporeans were not happy with the proposal by Malaysia to remove the assets company that the two countries previously agreed on to oversee the maintenance and operations of the line, as both sides do not possess the know-how and experience.
Najib wrote, calling out the current Malaysia government: “They (PN) want to choose the contractor and vendors for the HSR train through direct negotiation without Singapore interfering with it."
Another change of plan that shut down talks
The other proposal by Malaysia that shut down talks was due to the change of plan for the HSR to end at Kuala Lumpur International Airport instead of the city.
This would have added more travelling time, which would have made the line less attractive.
Najib added: “The Singapore government was not happy with the request to have the HSR train end at KLIA (Kuala Lumpur International Airport). Once they alight there, they will have to switch to the ERL (Express Rail Link) train owned by YTL (Corporation) which is half the speed of the HSR to get to the city."
“I find this decision odd. Visitors from Singapore would want to get to the city as fast as possible and not go to KLIA and then have the change into a slower train to get to Kuala Lumpur. If they wanted to go to the airport to board a plane they would do so at their own airport,” Najib elaborated.
He asked: “Why would they want to ride an HSR train to KLIA?”
New proposal would cost more in the long run
Najib also pointed out that such a dubious proposal by adding an additional step of having to change trains did not cut costs, and would even likely incur high costs in the future because it will end up not being profitable.
Najib further wrote: “Following that, the PN government has now extended the ERL train to Johor Baru calling it the HSR KL-Johor Baru at medium speed at the same cost as the cancelled HSR KL-Singapore project."
“The company operating this train line, ERL, is set to lose a lot of money due to the loss of revenue from Singapore but the PN government has also agreed to pay them compensation every year."
Malaysia is already looking at a compensation fee of some S$300 million payable to Singapore for the termination of the project.
Transport minister Ong said Malaysia has agreed to compensate Singapore for costs already incurred in fulfilling its obligations under the agreement.
HSR cancellation not due to Covid-19
In his post, Najib also hit out at the explanation that the project got terminated because of Covid-19, saying that it was instead because of the PN government's two requests.
This was after Mustapa Mohamed, the Malaysian Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, said the HSR project was cancelled due to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the Malaysia's economy.
Mustapa said the situation has forced the government to re-evaluate the HSR project.
This line has not been easily bought by other observers.
Bilahari Kausikan, a retired Singapore diplomat, who was previously Ambassador-at-Large and former permanent secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), wrote as much on his own Facebook page on Jan. 4.
He wrote: "To put the core of the matter bluntly: Malaysia did not want any check on its ability to cream off money."
Malaysians slam their own government:
Top photo via Najib Razak