Malaysia’s ex-PMs Mahathir, Muhyiddin sued over termination of high-speed rail project with S’pore

The plaintiff is seeking to compel the defendants to pay RM1 million in damages and compensation to every Malaysian citizen, a new report said.

Nadirah H. Rodzi

Nadirah H. Rodzi

The Straits Times

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Former Malaysian prime ministers Mahathir Mohamad (left) and Muhyiddin Yassin have been accused by a Malaysian man of negligence and the tort of misfeasance in public office. PHOTO: REUTERS, AFP

February 1, 2023

KUALA LUMPUR – Malaysia’s former prime ministers Mahathir Mohamad and Muhyiddin Yassin have been sued over the termination of the High Speed Rail (HSR) project between the country and Singapore.

The plaintiff is seeking to compel the defendants to pay RM1 million (S$308,000) in damages and compensation to every Malaysian citizen, a new report said.

The writ of summons targeting the two politicians and three other parties – former minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of the economy Mustapa Mohamed, former transport minister Wee Ka Siong, and the Malaysian government – was filed by a Malaysian named Mohd Hatta Sanuri on Dec 30, 2022, in order to revive the project as well as to demand compensation for the public.

Based on Malaysiakini’s news report, the 46-year-old is accusing Tun Dr Mahathir of negligence and committing “the tort of misfeasance in public office when the then Prime Minister made the decision to postpone the HSR project on Sept 5, 2018, which allegedly resulted in Malaysia paying RM46 million in compensation to Singapore on Jan 31, 2019”.

“The plaintiff claimed that Muhyiddin also committed negligence and tort of misfeasance in public office, as the prime minister then, by terminating the HSR project on Dec 31, 2020, and this purportedly led to Malaysia paying over RM320 million in compensation to Singapore in 2021 for the cancellation of the bilateral agreement between the two nations,” the news portal reported on Tuesday.

The two countries had signed a legally binding bilateral agreement on the HSR project in December 2016, witnessed by Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and then Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.

The 350km HSR was slated to have seven stations, and would have cut travel time between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore to 90 minutes, compared with more than four hours by car. The railway line was to be completed in 2026.

But the project was suspended several times at Malaysia’s request, for reasons including a change in Malaysian government following the May 2018 general election.

The project was terminated after the two sides failed to reach an agreement on changes proposed by Malaysia by the final deadline of Dec 31, 2020.

Singapore’s then Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung told Parliament in January 2021 that Malaysia had to compensate the Republic in accordance with the HSR agreements, noting that Singapore had spent about $270 million on the project up to the point in time.

The compensation included abortive costs, such as for consultancy services, design of infrastructure and manpower to deliver the project. It did not cover land acquisition costs as the value of the land could be recovered.

Malaysia paid about $102 million in compensation to Singapore, with a joint statement in March 2022 noting that both sides had reached an “amicable agreement” on the sum following a verification process by the Malaysian government.

However, Malaysia expressed its interest in reviving the HSR during a bilateral meeting in Singapore in 2022, but nothing materialised following another change in government after the next general election on Nov 19, 2022.

Mr Hatta claims that due to the termination of the project, the country had to bear the loss of foreign investors’ confidence; loss of 70,000 potential high-paying jobs from the project; loss of opportunity to gain RM70 billion in profits from the HSR’s construction, operation and “multi-player impact”; as well as over RM366 million in losses due to Malaysia paying the compensation to Singapore.

An artist’s impression of the Bandar Malaysia High Speed Rail station in Kuala Lumpur. The HSR project between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur was terminated on Dec 31, 2020, but Malaysia has expressed interest in reviving it. PHOTO: EDELMAN

“Based on the above facts, the defendants need to pay aggravated and exemplary damages to every Malaysian, including the plaintiff, for an action that is unconstitutional, vicious (kejam) and for their own dishonest benefit that turned back on the interests of Malaysians,” said Mr Hatta, as quoted by the news portal.

Among the reliefs sought by the plaintiff are a declaration to nullify the termination of the HSR project and to compel the defendants to pay RM1 million in damages and compensation to every Malaysian citizen, as well as a court order to compel the five defendants to give a written explanation regarding the reasons for the postponement and termination of the project.

The lawsuit is set for case management on Thursday in the High Court in Kuala Lumpur.

Mr Hatta previously came into the spotlight after filing a civil suit in May 2021 against the Malaysian government for withdrawing its application to revise an International Court of Justice ruling that Singapore had sovereignty over Pedra Branca.

His appeal over the matter is still ongoing at the Court of Appeal.

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