SLIGHTLY more than a year ago, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong boarded a Malaysia Airlines flight to KL International Airport for his annual consultation with Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak in Putrajaya – an act seen by Malaysia as Lee’s support to a country still in shock over the MH370 incident.
Lee and Najib have always gotten along well. When Singapore’s first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew passed away in March, Najib was there to pay his last respects to Hsien Loong’s father.
Singapore appreciated this. The close relations between the two leaders have made bilateral issues at hand a little bit easier to handle in recent years.
The two leaders meet again tomorrow for their sixth annual consultations.
One year is a long time and many issues, old and new, have either reported progress or cropped up along the way.
For example, the Forest City project, which involves major land reclamation work and aims to build luxury homes on man-made islands off southern Johor, has reportedly sparked environmental concerns and fears among local fishermen about their livelihood.
Lee has personally written to Najib asking for clarification on the project last year, after two third-person notes from Singapore on the matter were sent to the Foreign Ministry.
Another letter was handed to Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Wahid Omar when he was in Singapore for a bilateral meeting.
The Star reported the Department of Environment approved the Forest City project’s detailed environmental impact assessment in January.
It is understood the EIA report has been submitted to Singapore but the republic has yet to respond until now.
Another issue that Singapore was unhappy about was the announcement of the RM20 vehicle entry permit via the Causeway and Second Link Expressway from Aug 1.
Officials said that Singapore, in implementing any new move involving Malaysia, would normally inform the Federal Government before hand.
“In the VEP case, they just wanted to know first before any announcement is made. They want us to reciprocate the way they do things involving Malaysia,” said an official.
Still high on the agenda of the leaders’ meeting would be the High Speed Rail (HSR) project and Rapid Transit System (RTS) link between Johor Baru and Singapore.
The HSR will reportedly cost RM40bil and cut rail travel time between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore from six hours to just 90 minutes.
The 330km rail line is expected to be completed by 2020 and will connect two terminus stations (Kuala Lumpur and Singapore) via five transit stops spread out across Negri Sembilan, Malacca and Johor.
In their last meeting, the leaders had announced Bandar Malaysia in Sungai Besi as the site for the country’s terminal for the HSR.
On the RTS, Wahid had said in April that an announcement would be made during the leaders’ meeting, once both parties had agreed to it.
“Talks between Malaysia and Singapore on the RTS link are still ongoing, including feasibility studies by relevant agencies in both countries,” Wahid had said.
Wahid said among the aspects involved in the studies include the project’s viability and its impact on both countries, congestion level at the Causeway and ridership of the transportation mode.
“We hope both Malaysia and Singapore will complete the studies and be able to present our findings to the respective prime ministers before the meeting.
“The final outcome whether the RTS trains will run above ground (grate) or via undersea tunnel will all depend on the recommendations of the two governments involved as well as costing,” he said.
Johor Baru and Woodlands in Singapore are linked by the 1.056km Johor Causeway completed in 1932. Between 80,000 and 100,000 vehicles use it daily.
The 1.9km long Second Link is a dual three-lane carriageway linking Tanjung Kupang to Tuas in Singapore.
What both countries need is to have the most efficient and cost-effective transport system to benefit them both.
It will be also interesting to see if Singapore, at this meeting, would respond to Najib’s proposal to build a friendship bridge to replace the Causeway, as a long-term initiative to enhance connectivity.
Lee has not officially responded to Najib’s proposal. Malaysia is keen as the congestion at the two links is getting acute especially during the weekends and public holidays.
It will be interesting if Lee will respond to Malaysia’s idea at this consultation.