RM14.5 billion electrified double tracking rail contract – Abdullah must get the government’s act together, end Cabinet disarray, stop the public contradictions and allay national and international concerns with a show of decisiveness, fair play and transparency by calling for new public tenders
by Lim Kit Siang
(Petaling Jaya, Friday): The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi must get the government’s act together, end Cabinet disarray, stop the public contradictions among Ministers and allay national and international concerns about the award of the country’s biggest privatization project, the RM14.5 billion electrified double tracking rail contract, with a show of decisiveness, fair play and transparency by calling for new public tenders.
The Cabinet disarray and government contradictions on the controversy over the award of the multi-billion ringgit double tracking rail project has come thick and fast in the past few days. Last Thursday (6.11.03), the New Straits Times carried the headline “Ramli: Rail project won’t affect India, China ties” in its report on the reply of the Deputy Transport Minister, Tan Sri Ramli Ngah in the the Dewan Rakyat on the issue.
On Wednesday (12.11.03). New Straits Times reported the fear of the Primary Industries Minister, Datuk Dr. Lim Keng Yaik of retaliation from the two countries over the government’s decision on the “sudden” award of the contract to Malaysia Mining Corp. Bhd. (MMC) and Gamuda after three years of “intense government-to-government negotiations”, under the headline “Rail deal raises concerns over palm oil exports”.
This earned Keng Yaik a rebuke by his Cabinet colleague, the Minister of International Trade and Industry, Datuk Paduka Rafidah Aziz for “pre-empting whatever it is as retaliation” and made the very naďve statement that “countries should not base their bilateral relationships on contracts given to their companies”, as reported by The Star yesterday under the headline: “Rafidah allays palm oil fears”.
This is not the only example of Cabinet Ministers at sixes and sevens over the controversial double-tracking rail award, which had immediately placed the new administration of the fifth Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi under a national and international cloud as to its commitment to fair play, justice and transparency and its ability to act decisively to resolve these doubts.
Just to give another example.
Following protests at the “sudden” award of the contract to MMC-Gamuda in disregard of the unrevoked letters of intent issued to the Indian Railway Construction Co. (Ircon) and the China Railway Engineering Corp (CREC) in the middle of 2002 in a government-to-government transaction, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad said on his second last day as Prime Minister (30th October 2003) that the rejected bidders may still be in the running “provided the price that they ask for is the same as people here who are willing to do it.”
This was twice contradicted by Abdullah, the new Prime Minister, who said only on Monday that there was no proposal to “relook” into the award.
During Abdullah’s five-day visit to China in September, CREC submitted four new proposals for the double-tracking project for the southern package between Seremban and Johore Baru.
New Straits Times (20.9.03) quoted China Railway senior manager Shi Jie as saying that each proposal contains different technical and engineering specifications, leading to four separate pricing for the 297 km project.
Shi said: “Once selected, only then can we determine the final costing of the project.”
Shi said Abdullah had a lengthy discussion with China’s leaders on the project along with other bilateral issues, adding: “It’s very much a government-to-government project, and I have no authority to reveal details of the price.”
In view of his discussion with China’s leaders during his visit to China only in September, and the strong protest lodged with him by the Indian High Commissioner to Malaysia, Veena Sikri immediately after the shock annlouncement of the award to MMC-Gamuda last month, Abdullah has more than good cause to ask the Cabinet next Wednesday to re-open this subject and reconsider the award, including the option of cancelling the award to MMC-Gamuda and re-invite public tender for the project from all interested local and international parties in the best interests of competitive pricing, fair play, transparency and integrity.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman