KUALA LUMPUR, March 20 — Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said the suspended East Coast Railway Link (ECRL) would cost the country RM130 billion to implement.
During Question Time today, the Langkawi MP reiterated that the project in its original form would severely drain public coffers.
He also said that while terminating the project would result in billions in compensation, this would be a one-time expense.
“However, if we carry on, we will also be tied down with billions in debt that will take decades to pay off.
“In the end, the debt total and interest will increase to RM130 billion,” he told the Dewan Rakyat.
Dr Mahathir was responding to Datuk Seri Ismail Mohamed Said (BN-Kuala Krau) who asked if it was feasible to postpone the project until public finances improve.
He said the ECRL would benefit those living in the east of the peninsula.
Dr Mahathir also criticised the previous administration for signing the disadvantageous agreement, the full extent of which he said Pakatan Harapan only discovered upon taking power.
“The government was forced to re-evaluate this project carefully, to ensure that the country gets good returns without hampering national development,” he added.
Last month, Dr Mahathir said the ECRL will continue only if the price is right.
The project is suspended pending direct negotiations between Putrajaya and Beijing.
Last month, Bloomberg quoted Foreign Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah as saying China is willing to reduce the US$20 billion (RM81.4 billion) direct cost for the ECRL, but did not divulge the reduced offer.
The ECRL is considered the local flagship of China’s Belt-Road Initiative.