January 27, 2018
A commentary by Zaidi Azmi
FRET not if you are confused with the whole ECRL cancellation drama because chances are, you’re not the only one. If the government’s dizzying bush beating still does not put you off, here’s basically what happened: Yes. No. Yes. Still deciding. Don’t know. Yes. Say what!?
But if you’re still curious about it, the following is a longer version of the synopsis above.
So before Pakatan Harapan’s historic victory at the May 9 GE14, axing the China-backed ECRL, also known as the East Coast Railway Link, was on Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s to-do-list once the coalition formed the government.
His reason? The mammoth 688 kilometres railway project – connecting Port Klang, Malaysia’s main shipping hub outside Kuala Lumpur, and Pengkalan Kubor near the Thai border- cost too much hence the July 3, 2018’s stop-work-order.
This was a tad odd because prior to the order, Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng had, in June 2018, given the ECRL a reprieve because Malaysia had already paid RM22 billion of the project’s RM55 billion price tag – which was eventually inflated to RM81 billion following a “review” post-GE14.
But never mind that. Let’s move on. So in July that year, Lim said that the controversial project will now get a go-ahead if its contractor, China Communications Construction Company (CCCC), “drastically cuts its cost.”
Despite the pre-condition, it was rather clear that the government did not want to proceed with the ECRL. The conditional go-ahead looked like an elaborate way to shoo CCCC, at least such was so until the government dispatched Tan Sri Daim Zainuddin to China for renegotiations.
Why Dr Mahathir decided to send Daim, in July 2018, – the chairman of an outfit that constitutionally has no jurisdiction over government matters – instead of Lim or any other related minister is anybody’s guess but no decision was made when the latter returned.
A month after Daim’s visit, Dr Mahathir himself decided to go to China but ahead of the trip, the 93-year old prime minister announced that he would seek to terminate several Chinese-backed projects, including the ECRL.
And boy did he do just that. In fact, the cancellation of the ECRL was announced the morning after he met China president Xi Jinping. Hot damn!
But just when everyone was ready to accept ECRL’s axing, Daim had, in November, re-inflicted the confusion over the government’s actual position on ECRL ; “give me a little bit of time and we will be able to address the issue.”
After that, there wasn’t any notable progress about the “on-going talks” and the confusion pretty much died down as Malaysia ushered in the new year until a report, last week, wrote that CCCC’s contract for ECRL had already been terminated.
Citing anonymous sources, Singapore’s Straits Times reported that aside for the contract termination, Putrajaya is seeking a new contractor to continue the ECRL which Dr Mahathir said he knew nothing about.
“I don’t know whether the contract has been terminated or not, but one way to address the problem is to end the contract. However, we will have to pay billions in compensation.We (the government) will discuss this issue,” he said last Thursday.
So basically, the government’s number one has no idea what’s going on in his own government and apparently, Dr Mahathir isn’t the only one who, by the looks of it, cannot make head or tail over the whole ECRL drama.
Where Economic Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Azmin Ali said that the Cabinet decided to scrap ECRL during a meeting on Thursday, Lim said that Azmin’s remark was a shocker to him.
“Azmin was not in the last Cabinet meeting. I am acting under the instruction of Tun (Mahathir) and the Cabinet,” said Lim who then immediately backtracked. “Sorry, I wouldn’t say he wasn’t at the Cabinet meeting. What I meant is that he wasn’t privy to the decisions made by Tun.”
Gosh. And they said J.R.R Tolkien’s Silmarillion was complex.
In the midst of this ministerial pandemonium, Foreign Affairs Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, not surprisingly, claimed that CCCC’s contract cancellation will not affect Malaysia’s diplomatic ties with China.