Kadir Jasin: Diplomatic cost of cancelling ECRL too high

A general view of the construction site of the East Coast Rail Link project in Bentong July 10, 2018. — Bernama pic
A general view of the construction site of the East Coast Rail Link project in Bentong July 10, 2018. — Bernama pic

KUALA LUMPUR, April 21 — Pakatan Harapan (PH) would have damaged Malaysia’s ties with China if it had insisted on terminating the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) project launched under Barisan Nasional, news veteran Datuk A. Kadir Jasin said today.

In an opinion piece published on the Sinar Harian portal, he acknowledged that PH had pledged to do so ahead of the general election and agreed this appeared to be the least convoluted solution on the surface.

“But we would gain nothing from it and instead burn RM20 billion and give a freebie to China. The question that we must ask is why did Barisan Nasional (BN) leaders negotiate and accept such terms?

“Also, if we cancelled the project, our ties with China would surely be affected on bilateral trade,” he wrote, stating that China is the country’s second-largest trading partner after Singapore and more important than the United States and Japan.

Kadir also explained that Tun Daim Zainuddin was made the prime minister’s special envoy to lead ECRL negotiations with China due to the former finance minister’s vast experience in international negotiations and network of connections within the Asian superpower.

He said Daim has also been involved in solving various political crises since his 20s, starting with the Sarawak constitutional crisis in 1966 as well as being a behind-the-scenes negotiator on other issues affecting Malaysia previously.

Kadir said Daim’s success was visible through the RM21.5 billion reduction in the ECRL’s total cost and the drop from RM98 million to RM68 million as the per kilometre construction cost.

Kadir said it was agreed that there would be more trade of raw materials with China, especially palm oil.

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad previously said China made an initial purchase of 1.6 million metric tonnes of palm oil worth RM3.69 billion last month.

“These are some of the new terms and additional benefits that were gained through the renegotiation of the project, which will reduce our burden and at the same time, give hope that it would be more sustainable.

“This also proves that the BN government had neglected its responsibilities by negotiating an agreement that burdens the country and its people, either because it was inefficient or for suspicious reasons,” said Kadir.

On April 12, the Prime Minister’s Office announced that the construction cost for Phases 1 and 2 of the ECRL will resume with a reduced price tag of RM44 billion.

The project was initially shelved after PH ousted BN in the general election last year due to its high cost.