Najib ignored govt advice on ECRL, says Daim

Daim Zainuddin.

KUALA LUMPUR: Daim Zainuddin today claimed that former prime minister Najib Razak ignored advice by the Economic Planning Unit about the East Coast Rail Link when pushing for the RM65.5 billion rail project.

Daim said that the EPU, which prepares Malaysia’s five-year development plans, had objected to the project and had voiced its concerns.

Speaking to Bernama, the national news agency, Daim, who is Malaysia’s special envoy to China, also raised a question about who was sent by former prime minister Najib Razak to negotiate the contract with China.

“Was it a personal emissary of the former PM or was it an official representative of the government, as should have been the case,” said Daim.

He referred to remarks by Najib that he had ‘reservations’ about the new ECRL deal that has been negotiated. The ECRL was recently revived after Putrajaya managed to slash the cost to RM44 billion.

“I would like to remind him that the whole of Malaysia had many more “reservations” over the old ECRL deal – its shady conception, lack of transparency, lack of integrity, hasty approval, its vague details, its hefty cost, the absence of accountability to the rakyat, etc,” said Daim, himself a former finance minister.

Daim also said there were some feeble attempts to justify the previous ECRL contract such as citing a report from management consultants McKinsey, presented to the National Economic Council in 2015 and 2016.

“I was reliably informed that the study recommended the ECRL alignment stretch from Tumpat to Gombak, and the project was to be phased over a period of 18 years with a cost of RM47 billion.

“This was in recognition of the low economic returns and hence the report proposed that phase 1 should be Mentakab to Dungun and be built for freight traffic only.

“Well, we all know what happened. The former PM instead signed an ECRL deal costing RM66.7 billion and decided to implement it in one go,” he said.

Daim, who also chairs the Council of Eminent Persons, noted that the Barisan Nasional administration chose to award the project in just two months, even though an exercise commissioned by the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) requested for a period of 24 months to prepare submission bids

“Yet, the BN government chose to award the project just two months later in August 2016 via direct award (and) this too despite the expressions of interest from other bidders.

“Why did the Finance Minister at the time – who happened to also be the former PM – agree to a 15% advance payment to CCCC for the ECRL project as this was unprecedented since the government had always capped advance payment at 5-10%, which was usually restricted to contracts involving the provision of supplies.”

Did Najib’s personal emissary ink previous deal?

Daim also questioned whether Najib’s personal emissary was involved in direct discussions and negotiations on the old ECRL contract.

“Was it a personal emissary of the former PM or was it an official representative of the government, as should have been the case,” he asked.

Daim asked whether the personal emissary directly negotiated with China and China Communications Construction Company Ltd (CCCC), resulting in the old ECRL deal being inked at a hefty cost and devoid of transparency and accountability to the rakyat.

He said the EPU should have overseen the deal. “Or was the EPU merely directed to adopt a paper prepared by another agency?”