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No public office misfeasance over HSR project termination

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 30 — The High Court was informed today that the Malaysian government and four others did not commit any public office misfeasance when they decided to suspend and terminate the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High-Speed ​​Rail (HSR) project.

Senior Federal counsel (SFC) Donald Joseph Franklin said the defendants, including former prime ministers Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, exercised their authority and responsibility honestly, professionally, and in good faith without having any personal interests.

“At all material times, the defendants acted reasonably and properly based on the facts and in accordance with the law in carrying out their duties, responsibilities, and obligations.

“The defendants’ decision is a policy decision of the government of Malaysia after taking into account expert views, negotiations between the parties, national interest and cost implications,” he said.

Franklin was speaking at the hearing of the government and four political figures’ application to quash the suit filed by a member of the public, Mohd Hatta Sanuri, regarding the cancellation of the infrastructure project involving Malaysia and Singapore.

On December 30 last year, Hatta filed the suit on his behalf and on behalf of over 32 million Malaysians allegedly affected by the defendants’ decision.

He named Dr Mahathir, Muhyiddin, former minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Economy) Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed, former transport minister Datuk Seri Wee Ka Siong, and the Malaysian government as the first to fifth defendants.

Franklin also contended that the defendants’ decision-making process was based on wider considerations of the opinion of the experts, national interest, bilateral relationship between Malaysia and Singapore, and cost implications.

“Therefore, it is submitted that the court has no constitutional role or institutional competence to decide on the decision-making process of the executive body,” he said, adding the plaintiff also had no locus standi to bring the legal action before the court.

According to the SFC, the plaintiff failed to show he had a real and genuine interest in the subject matter or any material loss he suffered resulting from the defendants’ suspension and termination of the HSR project.

In the meantime, lawyer Mohaji Selamat, representing Hatta, argued all the defendants had been negligent and abused their public positions when deciding to suspend the project.

However, Judicial Commissioner Roz Mawar Rozain questioned Hatta’s claim, stating it lacked details to support the defendants’ allegation of abuse of public office and asked the plaintiff to provide specific details regarding the claim.

Mohaji said economists had also indicated the project would benefit the country, and the government would incur losses because it would have to compensate the Singaporean government after the project’s cancellation.

“The defendants’ failure to explain to the public why the HSR project was cancelled has caused confusion and resulted in losses for the plaintiff and other taxpayers. There is an element of abuse of public office,” said the lawyer.

The court then fixed December 15 for the decision.

In his statement of claim, Hatta is seeking a court order to declare the cancellation of the project null and void and for all the defendants to pay RM1 million compensation to him and all Malaysians for wrongfully and negligently cancelling the HSR project.

On January 1, 2021, Malaysia and Singapore announced the termination of the 350-kilometre HSR project, as the two countries failed to agree on changes Malaysia proposed before the project agreement expired on December 31, 2020.

Accordingly, Malaysia paid SG$102.8 million (RM320.27 million) in compensation to Singapore for costs incurred for the development of the HSR project and related to the extension of its suspension.

The project was expected to provide three main services: direct travel between Malaysia and Singapore within 90 minutes, domestic service in Malaysia, and shuttle service from Iskandar Puteri (Johor) to Singapore.

— Bernama

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