Ex-CM: Is Putrajaya eyeing coal-rich Maliau Basin?

Former chief minister Yong Teck Lee wonders if the federal government has a hidden agenda.

KOTA KINABALU: Former Sabah chief minister Yong Teck Lee has questioned the federal government’s intentions in cancelling the RM4.04 billion Trans Sabah Gas Pipeline. He speculated that Putrajaya might have eyes on exploiting the coal-rich Maliau Basin.

Yong said other mega projects such as the RM44 billion East Coast Railway Link and RM140 billion Bandar Malaysia project had not been cancelled. “Even the RM110 billion KL-Singapore High Speed Rail was only deferred to a later date.”

He wondered if the federal government might have a hidden agenda in cancelling the gas pipeline so as to mine the coal at Maliau for a coal-fired power plant at Sandakan.

In a statement today, he gave other examples of huge sums being allocated by the government. “Last month, quietly and without any fuss, a whopping RM24 billion was used to bail out the Federal Land Development Authority (Felda) and Lembaga Tabung Haji,” he said. A new airport at Kulim in Kedah costing RM1.6 billion was also announced.

Meanwhile, the Sabah state government was completely in the dark about the cancellation of the gas pipeline.

“Not only was a major energy project in Sabah cancelled, but the Sabah government, being the major stakeholder, was not informed.

“I think the federal finance minister’s crude announcement of the pipeline cancellation is his funny way to thank the people of Sandakan. It was also funny that, as the finance minister said, most of the project funds had already been disbursed to the contractor but the government cancelled the project anyway,” he said.

Yesterday, Chief Minister Shafie Apdal said Sabah accepted the federal decision to scrap the pipeline, but noted the state government was not informed about it earlier.

Yong questioned the rationale for the cancellation. “If, as reported, 88% of the loans had been paid, but only 13% of the work done, then where is the logic of cancelling a project that you have almost paid for?” he said. “Why not get the China contractor to fulfil its part of the contract?”

“Without it, how is the Sabah government going to implement the tens of billions ringgit worth of investment such as a furniture hub at Sandakan, petrochemical plant at Lahad Datu Palm Oil Industrial Cluster, airports and tourism facilities, and the RM2.28 billion projects promised for Sandakan alone?”

Yong said the loss of the gas pipeline is also a denial of Sabah’s right to use its own natural resources.

“In the 2019 federal development budget, Sabah was allocated only RM5 billion of which RM2.28 billion was promised by the finance minister for Sandakan alone. Malaysians in Sabah have a right to be worried that Sabah is being left out of mainstream development,” he said.