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KL-SG high-speed rail suit: ‘Mere dissatisfaction over govt decision alone not basis for legal action’

Publish date: Thu, 30 Nov 2023, 03:40 PM

KUALA LUMPUR (Nov 30): Dissatisfaction over a government decision alone is not the basis to take the government to court, the High Court here remarked on Thursday.

Judicial Commissioner (JC) Roz Mawar Rozain observed this while presiding the defendants’ application to strike out the suit by Mohd Hatta Sanuri against former prime ministers Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, and several others over the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore high-speed rail (KL-SG HSR)’s cancellation two years ago.

Besides the two ex-PMs, in his suit filed last December, Mohd Hatta also named former minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of economy Datuk Seri Mustapha Mohamed, former transport minister Datuk Seri Wee Ka Siong, and the government as defendants for alleged negligence and misconduct over the suspension and cancellation of the KL-SG HSR project.  

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The defendants had filed an application to strike out the suit on the grounds of public policy decisions made by the Cabinet being a non-justiciable matter in any court, and that Mohd Hatta has no legal right (locus standi) to initiate the suit.

However, Roz Mawar on Thursday highlighted that Mohd Hatta’s statement of claim (SOC) lacked particulars to support his assertion that there was an abuse of power or misfeasance in public office by the defendants, in deciding to suspend and terminate the project.

“You must show that there is an abuse of power in office, in coming to the decision. It is not a matter of whether we like the decision but where are the particulars of the abuse,” she asked the plaintiff’s counsel Mohaji Selamat.

Throughout the almost two-hour long submissions, Roz Mawar kept reverting to this question on why Mohaji’s client contended that the decision to not see the project through was wrong, and the facts to show misfeasance in public office.

In response, Mohaji highlighted that economists had said that the project would be beneficial for the country and that the government had incurred a loss, as it had to pay the Singapore government for the project’s developments and cost related to its delay. 

Mohaji had also said that the government had failed to explain the termination of the project in 2021, leading to public confusion. However, Roz Mawar asked if mere public confusion over a decision was a cause for legal action. 

During submissions on Thursday, senior federal counsel (SFC) Donald Joseph Franklin submitted that, non-judiciable matters which are not open for adjudication in court also include the government’s reasons to suspend and terminate the project.

In his suit, Mohd Hatta, a lawyer by profession, was also seeking for the 350-kilometre railway line - which would reduce travel time between the neighbouring countries to 90 minutes - be revived and the defendants be ordered to pay RM1 million compensation to each Malaysian. However, Franklin said that the plaintiff had also failed to show that any Malaysian had authorised him to act on their behalf in this matter.

Franklin also argued that Mohd Hatta’s SOC did not adhere to the requirements as per the law, as among others, it contained irrelevant allegations of facts, personal opinion and hearsay of matters he had no knowledge of.

In response, Mohaji said that the losses incurred by the government would not have happened if not for the project’s delay and termination. He alleged that these were taxpayers’ monies and as a citizen of Malaysia, his client was entitled to claim for a loss which he had suffered.

Mohaji argued that if all policy decisions cannot be questioned in court, then the government was free to spend on things it deemed “good”, notwithstanding the losses incurred. 

“The only hope is for check and balance [by] this honourable court [as to] why such payment was made,” he pleaded. 

Roz Mawar said that she has yet to arrive at a decision on the matter, and assured all parties that she will take into account all arguments and submissions made to court. She then set Dec 15 to deliver her verdict.

Back in December 2016, Malaysia under the leadership of then prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, and Singapore, had signed a bilateral agreement over the RM110 billion KL-SG HSR project.

However, it was put on hold in September 2018 under the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government and subsequently terminated in January 2021, during the Perikatan Nasional (PN)-led government, as the two countries could not reach an agreement on several changes proposed by Putrajaya.

The government then announced in March 2021 that it had paid S$102.8 million (RM330 million) to Singapore for the cost incurred by the republic, for the development of the project and related delays.

However, in March this year, the unity government’s Transport Minister Anthony Loke said that they were willing to revive the KL-SG HSR project, as long as the government does not bear the cost.

Since then, MyHSR Corp Sdn Bhd, mandated to develop the project, has initiated a request for information (RFI) from a private sector consortia to submit concept proposals for developing and operating the KL-SG HSR project.

In early November this year, MyHSR said that the RFI’s deadline has been extended from Nov 15 to Jan 15 next year, due to the “requests from international and local industry players in recent weeks”.

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