FORMER prime ministers Datuk Seri Najib Razak and Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin may be political rivals, but they both agree on the need to revive the High-Speed Rail (HSR) project.
They spoke about this on separate occasions in the Dewan Rakyat during the debates on the 12th Malaysia Plan. Both had argued that the mammoth infrastructure project could help kickstart the Malaysian economy, which has been battered by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Cumulatively, the duo have almost one century of administrative and political experience under their belts. Surely their common position on the HSR project must amount to something.
Historically, there is nothing like infrastructure spending to yank economies out of the slump. During the Great Depression, the United States’ government through New Deal programmes like the Works Progress Administration and the Public Works Administration built roads, bridges and dams that provided jobs and income for millions of workers. The same happened during the Global Financial Crisis in 2008.
This is Keynesian Economics 101, where massive public or private spending creates multiplier effects. A contractor undertaking a mega infrastructure project would need to hire workers and pay downstream suppliers.
With more purchasing power, these people would then inject more liquidity into the economy, creating even more jobs and wealth in a seemingly endless loop.
Isn’t this the kind of stimulus that the Malaysian economy needs now? For close to two years, millions of Malaysians have lost jobs or had their incomes slashed. While the government has introduced a series of measures to tide Malaysians over, the quick-win solution would be big-ticket infrastructure spending.
Malaysia needs to quickly crank up its economic locomotive and make up for lost time before other emerging economies like Vietnam and Indonesia overtake us.
As of now, the Jakarta-Bandung High Speed Rail is swiftly becoming a reality. Last month, the 142km-long project took delivery of the last batch of Chinese-made 50m rails. With that, the region’s first HSR is on track for completion by next year, and Indonesia is expected to reap its massive spillover effect from connectivity of its key economic regions.
Malaysia is in dire need of better public infrastructure. At a time when the world is facing an impending climate crisis, importance should be placed on building public transport systems that are more sustainable than cars or planes. How can we build highways, bridges and skyscrapers but not a HSR that would bring numerous benefits to the country?
Muhyiddin has proposed that the HSR project, first mooted by Najib in 2010, extends all the way to Bangkok from Johor Baru after the planned Singapore-KL HSR track was scrapped in January this year.
With or without Singapore’s participation, Malaysia stands to reap immense economic returns in the long run from the HSR project with its high-speed land connectivity to major towns and cities within the country and beyond. A HSR will not only bring more convenience to Malaysians, it also has the potential to revive local economies. It will redirect development and economic opportunity to other parts of Malaysia besides the Klang Valley.
There is no time to lose. With the pandemic derailing our economic growth trajectory, the HSR project will not only put this nation back on track but also speed up our journey towards embracing the vibrant global economy.
DR SAMUEL THAM