A parcel of land intended for the Rapid Transit System (RTS) between Johor Bahru and Singapore was transferred to the Johor sultan just two days after he consented to its realignment.
In an exclusive interview published in the New Straits Times on Aug 7, 2017, Johor ruler Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar had expressed "serious reservations" about the RTS design.
The Johor ruler had taken issue with the original alignment that curves over the Straits of Johor.
"It disrupts the city skyline, and we are talking about a permanent fixture here. Go back to the drawing board and review the overall plan.
"The parties also have to consult me. Whatever (new plan) is presented to me, it will have to be logical, economical, and sustainable for the benefit of not only Johoreans but all Malaysians and Singaporeans," he had said.
A day later, Putrajaya scrambled to address the Johor ruler’s concern. The then minister in the Prime Minister Department Abdul Rahman Dahlan promised to seek an audience with the monarch.
This culminated in an announcement on Nov 17, 2017 by the Land Public Transport Commission (Spad), which has since been absorbed into the Transport Ministry as the Land Public Transport Agency (Apad).
In the announcement, Spad said it had sought an audience with the Johor ruler on Sept 19, and taken into account his feedback on the realignment.
“His Majesty has agreed to the option of a 25m high bridge which will cross the Straits of Johor in a straight line, while still complying with the Marine Department’s technical guidelines for a minimum of 25m air draught clearance.
“His Majesty also stressed the importance of ensuring adequate traffic dispersal at the RTS Bukit Chagar station area, and Spad will act on it,” it had said.
As a result, the initial estimate of RM4 billion for the RTS project climbed to RM5.3 billion.
Two days later on Nov 19, 2017, Lot PTB 23354 - a 4.5-hectare land in Bukit Chagar that will be used for the RTS project - was transferred to the Johor ruler.
The Johor ruler paid RM0 in quit rent, according to a land search.
The Johor government was supposed to transfer Lot PTB 23354 to the Federal Land Commissioner in 2010. This was in exchange for federal land in Tanjung Puteri for the construction of the Customs, Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ) complex.
However, a Johor Land and Mines Department report on who owned the Bukit Chagar lot sighted by Malaysiakini, indicates that the transfer to the Federal Land Commissioner never happened and the land eventually ended up in the hands of the Johor ruler.
The RTS will also pass through another 2.4-ha undersea land named Lot 45419, which came under the ownership of the Johor sultan on August 17, 2014.
This was also verified by a land search. Likewise, the quit rent was RM0.
Of the RM5.3 billion revised project cost, about 13 percent or RM 693.7 million will go towards compensating the Johor ruler for the two parcels of land.
The RTS is intended to be a rail link between Singapore's Thomson-East Coast MRT Line and Johor Bahru in Malaysia.
This will provide an additional link between the two countries as existing links are congested.
Yesterday, Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad said the government will buy back the lands only if the Johor ruler had paid for their acquisition.
However, Mahathir had said the government won't fork out any money to acquire the land if the Johor ruler had not paid for them when it came into his ownership.
In a statement today, the Johor sultan said through his private secretary Jaba Mohd Noah that he was unaware he owns land involved in the RTS project.
If it is true that his land was involved in the project, he said he consents to have it surrendered to the government without cost.
The land in question referred to by the Johor sultan is the 4.5 hectares Lot PTB 23354, which would have cost the government RM495.3 mil.
No mention was made about the 2.4 hectare Lot 45419, which will cost the government RM198.4 million.
This is on condition that the project proceeds immediately to ease the commute between Johor and Singapore.
As the project is also a bilateral issue, Putrajaya has until September before going back to Singapore on how it wishes to proceed with the project, which is presently stalled due to the land issue.