This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly on October 30, 2023 - November 5, 2023
Last week, during the Budget 2024 debate in parliament, a lawmaker questioned the significant cost difference between the estimated RM4.7 billion to build an additional five stations along the LRT3 line in Selangor and the RM10 billion to build the maiden LRT project in Penang, which will have 23 stations.
The five, which had previously been cancelled, are Tropicana, Raja Muda, Temasya, Bukit Raja and Bandar Botanik. The cost of the LRT3 project, which involves 20 stations, is RM16.6 billion in total including land acquisitions.
To recap, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim announced the construction costs of the two projects in his speech when he tabled the national budget on Oct 13.
Member of parliament for Bukit Bintang Fong Kui Lun highlighted that the five LRT3 stations are not even a greenfield project and yet it would cost about half of the entire Penang LRT project. He added that basic works, including the viaduct and basic structure, are already ongoing under the current contract.
Accordingly, he called on the Dewan Rakyat to discuss the cost discrepancy between the two projects to ensure sensible use of taxpayer money and accountability in national projects.
Fong’s question is indeed pertinent. The RM10 billion estimate for the Penang LRT line includes building an underground interchange to support a cross-channel link in George Town. Typically, the construction cost of an underground station is higher.
To quote the late British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, “There is no such thing as public money; there is only taxpayers’ money”. The government therefore needs to be mindful of and prudent about its expenditures.
Exorbitant project costs will raise eyebrows even higher now, considering the tight fiscal position the federal government is in currently. It does not look good that on the one hand, the federal government keeps reminding the public of the urgent need for subsidy cuts, but on the other hand, it is spending RM940 million on one LRT station.
Taxpayers deserve an explanation from the Ministry of Finance to justify the high costs.
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