Finally, after more than a week of denying that the proposed East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) would cost a whopping RM55 billion, the hapless Transport Minister, Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai finally conceded that the project would indeed cost RM55 billion or RM91.7 million per kilometer.
This admission came after slamming me on 8 November last week in The Star that I was making assumptions of the cost of the ECRL when it was still not finalised yet. “We have to go into negotiation on every kilometre so where did he get the cost?” he had then asked.
The Transport Minister’s admission in Parliament yesterday came after the Pakatan Harapan law-makers exposed the existence of an extensive feasibility study by HSS Engineers Bhd which had estimated that the cost of the 545km project to be only RM29 billion or RM53.2 million per kilometer.
He then tried to defend the staggering increase in cost by arguing that:
The project has been extended from 545km to 600km to include the Gombak-Port Klang link – a fact which we have never disputed.
The HSS feasibility study is based on RM3.2 to the US Dollar in 2009-2010.
There is a new alignment resulting in an increase in tunnel length from 30km to 50km, which also results in additional viaducts.
Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai’s appears to be desperately making up responses to questions as they arise, as his answers raises far too many more questions on the highly questionable RM55 billion project.
The HSS feasibility study which cost the Government RM8.7 million was carried out over a 6-year period, starting in December 2009 and completing only in December 2015 before concluding on the cost of RM29 billion.
Is the Transport Minister telling us that HSS consultants, who have completed many mega-infrastructure projects in the country, are so stupid as to use the 2009-2010 exchange rates to calculate the cost of the project, even though they finalised the report only in December 2015 when the exchange rate was already RM4 to the Dollar by then?
Since the comprehensive HSS report had to take 6 years to complete and was finalised only in December 2015, how did the Government decide to suddenly alter the alignment within 6 months or so? Was a new engineering consultant actually appointed to carry out a new study which could be completed in such a time-frame?
I would agree with Dato’ Seri Liow that if there is an increase in tunnel length through the Titiwangsa range from 30km to 50km, it would certainly increase the cost of construction. However, it begs the question, why take a 50km tunnel route across Titiwangsa range if indeed HSS recommended the much shorter 30km route?
The Transport Minister had told the Parliament that “we have nothing to hide. We are a responsible, accountable and transparent government.”
If he really has nothing to hide, Datuk Seri Liow should immediately order that both the HSS feasibility study and the subsequent study which changed the scope of the HSS study be released to the public.
That way, if what Datuk Seri Liow said is right, then the Pakatan Harapan critics would have no choice but to shut up immediately. Otherwise, the Transport Minister, who is also the MCA President has no right to accuse us of trying to “gain political mileage” when what we clearly want to ensure is not another project where tens of billions of ringgit are embezzled by the powers that be. Instead it would be Datuk Seri Liow who is playing politics to cover up for another multi-billion ringgit mega-scandal.