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HSR cancellation was coalition policy from the start, says Mahathir

[KUALA LUMPUR] Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad denied on Friday that he pre-empted the Cabinet when announcing the cancellation of the High-Speed Rail (HSR) line between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.

"No, that was decided by the party from the very beginning," Dr Mahathir told a news conference when asked if he had pre-empted the other Cabinet ministers, pointing out that his Pakatan Harapan coalition had campaigned on the issue during the general elections in May.

"We campaigned on that issue. I am not going to go away from the decision of the party simply because I could not form the Cabinet soon enough," he said.

He also sought to assure investors that Malaysia would remain business-friendly and treat all companies fairly.

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"We cannot be afraid of inconsistencies because we have been in the government for only three weeks. So you can't assess us as being inconsistent. We want to be consistent. We will be very business friendly," he said when asked what the government would do to protect the interests of foreign investors.

"Local or foreign, all will be treated in the same way. If they have any problems, we will attend to those problems," he said, adding that the law would protect the rights of investors.

He vowed to correct any mistakes made by the previous Barisan Nasional government.

"We can't continue with their mistakes. It will be corrected but we will go according to the agreement or the contract that has been given," he said.

"Only when something wrong is done with the contract, then we will take action," he added.

Upon taking power, Dr Mahathir has announced the cancellation of several mega projects including the HSR, and introduced a slew of spending cuts as part of efforts to reduce the national debt of RM1 trillion (S$335 billion).

The Mahathir administration has said that the cost to build the HSR, at RM110 billion, was prohibitive considering Malaysia's current financial standing, while former premier Najib Razak claimed it would only have cost RM72 billion and that its economic benefits would far outweigh the estimated price tag.

THE STRAITS TIMES