AYER KEROH: Melaka caretaker chief minister Sulaiman Md Ali has drawn support from an economist and a business group for his rejection of the proposed Kuala Lumpur-Johor Bahru high-speed rail (HSR) project.
Sulaiman said recently that Melaka would not allow the line to pass through the state unless the original plan to extend it into Singapore was restored.
Economist Barjoyai Bardai of Universiti Tun Abdul Razak and Kamal Haslin Abdul Karim, chairman of the Malaysian Employers Federation’s Melaka division, said the original project would have benefited Melaka greatly by attracting tourists and encouraging businesses to set up operations in the state.
Last month, DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng urged the government to revive the original project, saying it would enhance ties between towns in Johor, Melaka, Negeri Sembilan as well as the Klang Valley and Singapore.
Former prime minister Najib Razak had also repeatedly called for the HSR project to be reinstated to its original route.
Barjoyai said there was no point, as far as Melaka was concerned, in having the HSR line end in Johor Bahru as there were not enough visitors from Johor to the state.
He said Sulaiman’s stand was rational as the project must be seen to be beneficial to Melaka.
“Extending the HSR project will definitely improve Melaka’s economy because more than 70% of Melakans rely on tourism as their source of revenue,” he added.
Kamal Haslin said the HSR would benefit Melaka if it encouraged Singaporeans, with their high spending power, to spend their holidays in Melaka.
“We need more Singaporean foreign direct investments in Melaka as well,” he said, adding that the HSR would also reduce travelling time to the state.
Carmelo Ferlito, chief executive of the Center for Market Education, said the project made sense even if the HSR line were to end in Johor Bahru.
He told FMT he saw it as a holistic attempt to move people and goods away from the highway to the railway.
However, he said there should be a plan to link the project to Thailand too, aside from Singapore.
He said Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore needed to think of a unified commercial and economic space to form a mutually beneficial integrated system for the transport of people and goods.
From 2018 to 2020, Melaka’s growth dropped from 8.3% in 2017 to 3.8%, 2.9% and -5.9% in 2018, 2019 and 2020. It did worse than the national economy, which recorded growth of 4.8%, 4.3% and -5.6% in the three years.
Barjoyai said the drop in economic activity in Melaka could not be attributed to the HSR project but could be due to the 2018 change in administrative bureaucracy.
“The economy in Melaka was about to stabilise in 2020,” he said. “However, it was disrupted again with another change in government at the federal and state levels.
“Also, in 2020, the pandemic stopped all tourism activities in Melaka.”