Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has a responsibility to the Malaysian people to make an executive decision on the status of the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) project, said a Beijing-based political commentator.
In a commentary published in Channel News Asia today, Tom McGregor pointed out that the flip-flop is derailing Malaysia's credibility.
“Either he (Mahathir) supports the ECRL or stands opposed to it, and leads his government to implement that decision.
“To keep an external partner guessing and leave CCCC (the Beijing-owned China Communications Construction Co Ltd) in a state of animated suspense violates all sense of diplomatic decorum and kills off any remaining business confidence other countries might have in dealing with Malaysia,” he added.
McGregor said if Malaysia wished to remain as a respected member of the international community, the government must do better to honour its contractual obligations or fork out the required sum if it chose to backtrack on the agreement.
“Countries understand that when governments change, political considerations can lead to old deals being undone.
“But leadership is about making tough decisions and standing behind them. All parties involved deserve better than to be given contradictory statements with each passing day, with no end in sight.
“While China might come out of this situation with no deal or compensation in hand, the biggest loser is arguably Malaysia, because the country has just signalled they might not honour a deal signed previously,” he added.
For the record, Mahathir has always maintained that Putrajaya is not against the ECRL project but that the cost is too exorbitant.
McGregor noted how Mahathir had in August 2018 said the project would be cancelled “for now” and last week remarked that the RM81 billion deal would “impoverish” Malaysia.
He said these statements appeared to send the message that the deal was off, but Malaysian officials have since indicated otherwise.
“So what is the deal? Does Putrajaya even still have the same fundamental misgivings over the project they expressed when Pakatan Harapan first swept into office?
“Did the Malaysian government even formally cancel the pact, or was that just bluster to score a better deal on the ECRL and renegotiate the terms?
“Such yes-and-no decision-making does not bode well for Malaysia’s relations with other countries.
“No doubt the Pakatan government had a mandate from Malaysians to root out corruption, curtail public spending and straighten out Malaysia’s finances, but this domestically driven flip-flopping hurts Malaysia’s credibility and dents other countries’ desire to cooperate with Malaysia,” he added.