KUALA LUMPUR – Malaysia is exploring new options to push down the cost of the China-backed East Coast Rail Line (ECRL), after an impasse over pricing nearly torpedoed the 688-km line spanning the width of the peninsula last month.
The Straits Times understands that a new alignment was among solutions mooted soon after the Pakatan Harapan (PH) administration walked back on plans to cancel the contract with China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) signed under the ousted Barisan Nasional regime.
“It all needs to be recalculated. They are relooking the whole thing all over again,” a source familiar with the negotiations said.
Both Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng and Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah expressed optimism this week that a deal can be done before Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad attends Beijing’s Belt And Road Forum in April.
But former finance minister Daim Zainuddin, a close confidante of Tun Mahathir who is leading negotiations on the ECRL, told Nanyang Siang Pau in an interview published on Thursday (Feb 21) that Chinese negotiators are only due to visit this month and a final decision is “not easy due to this issue being quite complicated”.
Official sources told The Straits Times that the government wants to bring the price tag close to early estimates under the Najib Razak government. These ranged from RM27 billion to RM35 billion, compared to the RM66 billion that was finally agreed.
The PH administration claims that after including financing and land costs, the bill would balloon to RM81 billion, a figure it cannot afford having inherited over RM1 trillion in liabilities from its predecessor.