Abdullah resolved his first test as Prime Minister with the “indefinite postponement” of RM14.5 billion double tracking rail project – DAP calls for review and cancellation of RM1.1 billion “crooked half-bridge” to replace Malaysia’s half of Johore-Singapore causeway
by Lim Kit Siang
(Petaling Jaya, Thursday): Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi resolved his first test as the new Prime Minister in his 40th day in office when the Cabinet yesterday decided to “postpone indefinitely” the controversial RM14.5 billion double tracking rail project to uphold fair, transparent and competitive public procurement and to avert a trade war with China and India.
DAP had proposed that Cabinet should cancel the last-minute award to Malaysia Mining Corporation Bhd (MMC)-Gamuda JV and re-open bidding in the interests of fair play, competitive pricing, transparency and integrity; promote the best diplomatic, trade and economic relations with China and India and protect Malaysia’s international reputation as a good, fair and reliable investment centre.
However, Abdullah probably felt that an indefinite postponement of the project on the ground of “priority of needs” and affordability is a more politically-wiser step, leaving open a new controversy as to the very economic rationale and justification of such a project.
The 30th anniversary celebrations to commemorate the 1974 establishment of Malaysia-China diplomatic relations (with month-long national celebrations with some states like Malacca staging year-long celebrations as a powerful China card for the Barisan Nasional in the next general election) would have been completely marred by a full-blown trade war between the two countries if there had not been a solution to the gross impropriety in the handling of the multi-billion ringgit double tracking rail project, with three years of government-to-government negotiations with China and India down the drain and the issue of Letters of Intent to Chinese and Indian companies completely sidelined following the last-minute award to MMC-Gamuda – as evident from the recent problems faced by Malaysian exports of crude palm oil to Chinese ports.
The option that was earlier canvassed to resolve the impasse headed by the Works Minister Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu, in continuing the government-to-government transaction and using a “nominated contract” basis to allow the Indian railway company Ircon International Ltd. to undertake the northern half of the project, which will be paid directly by the government instead of through MMC-Gamuda JV as the main contractor, cannot be a satisfactory solution.
Abdullah should next review and cancel the RM1.1 billion “crooked half bridge” project to replace Malaysia’s half of the Johore Causeway, which will be a permanent memorial to symbolize the failure of Malaysia-Singapore relations and ASEAN.
Both Malaysia and Singapore should mend fences in the ASEAN spirit of good neighbourliness, unity and solidarity, and negotiate a joint instead of an unilateral approach to the replacement of the 80-year-old causeway linking the two countries.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman