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Daim hints previous cabinet didn't have full details on ECRL

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Special advisor to the government Daim Zainuddin has hinted that Najib Abdul Razak's cabinet was not clued in on the finer details regarding the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) project.

In an interview with Bernama's News Channel that was televised today, Daim said he was unsure why Najib was defending himself following the Harapan government's successful renegotiation of the project with China.

"He's a friend of mine. I don't like to debate with him in the open. I prefer to have the advice of experts.

"In this particular case, I don't understand why is he defending himself unless he is being blamed for (it). If it is the (former) cabinet's (decision) then that cabinet must come and defend him," said Daim.

Daim said what warranted investigations was whether the cabinet then made a collective decision on the ECRL project and whether there was a cabinet paper on it.

"Was a thorough study done? What did the McKinsey report say? What was Land Public Transport Agency's (Spad) recommendation?

"I think you should do an investigative report on this. See whether the EPU approved (the ECRL project) or not. I'm posing this question.

"You go and investigate all these things. I don't want to discuss this in public," said Daim.

On Monday, Putrajaya had announced the signing of a supplementary agreement between federal government-owned Malaysia Rail Link Sdn Bhd and the ECRL's contractors, China Communications Construction Company Ltd (CCCC).

The new deal will make the project significantly cheaper, open up more opportunities for Malaysian contractors and realign the track to include Negeri Sembilan.

Najib, however, criticised Putrajaya for allowing CCCC to be joint operators, saying it exposed Malaysia to security risks. He also rapped the new deal for making the total travelling time longer, among others.

On the allegation that Malaysia was exposed to security risks by allowing CCCC to jointly operate the ECRL project, Daim said this was the result of a "wild imagination".

He said as operators, CCCC would now share the burden of making the project profitable and the company had the necessary links to help industrialise the east coast in order for the ECRL line to haul more cargo.

He said planners during the Najib-era had predicted that 70 percent of ECRL's revenue would come from moving cargo.

"Now, with (CCCC committed to) MOM (management, operations and maintenance), we have put the burden on the Chinese company to bring in these industries. Otherwise, they will lose.

"They have connections. Last time, they were doing construction. Now they also invest. They are very confident that they can bring in investment. In fact, they are looking for land for industrial parks," he said.

Daim said the federal government welcomed public feedback which would help it improve but urged critics not to make wild accusations.

When pressed again on Najib's national security concerns, Daim replied: "Wild imagination. Who managed MAS in the past? Distinguish between management and ownership".

Daim also advised bumiputera contractors who do not have the capacity to take up ECRL work packages to seek joint ventures with firms with the necessary expertise.

"Bumiputera (contractors) want negotiated tenders. Cannot. This is an international tender. The best thing is, my advice to bumiuptera contractors, if you don't have sufficient capacity, go and JV.

"It doesn't matter (if the partner is a foreign company). There are so many packages," he said.

He also advised state governments along the ECRL route to start preparing for the eventual completion of the project and ensure they maximise returns.

He urged the state governments to find their own investors instead of relying on the federal government.

"The east coast should prepare now. (The project will be completed on) in 2026. Prepare now," he advised.

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