Ex-Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan literally jumped for joy at the Causeway bridge as Singapore and Malaysia met to agree about restarting the Johor Bahru–Singapore Rapid Transit System (RTS), on Thursday (30 July).
Although the idea of a Mass Rapid Transit between Singapore and Johor Bahru was first suggested in 1991, actual work on the RTS project only began two decades later in 2011. The project, which was targeted to be completed by 2018, was marred by several delays. In 2017, officials from both countries announced a new completion target of 2024.
After more delays, Singapore and Malaysia signed a bilateral agreement on the project in 2018. Even more delays set in after the 2018 Malaysian general election. Despite efforts to reduce the national debt, Malaysia said it was committed to the project and would look at ways to reduce the cost of the project.
However, in mid-July 2018, then-Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said in Parliament that Singapore had not heard anything official from the new Malaysian government. In January 2019, Mr Khaw said that the project is not progressing well, with Malaysia missing deadlines that were set in the bilateral meeting in 2018.
Months later, in May 2019, the two countries agreed to suspend the project for 6 months until 30 September, after which the project was to continue. On 28 September 2019, Malaysia announced the extension of suspension to 31 October 2019. In May 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was agreed that the project be suspended further, until 31 July 2020.
A new dawn for the project finally emerged last month when Singapore and Malaysia held a signing ceremony at the Causeway to finalise the agreements between the two countries to proceed with the RTS Link project. Construction is due to begin in January 2021 with a targeted completion in 2026.
Although he has retired from politics, Mr Khaw was invited to the signing ceremony where Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Malaysia Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin met at the midway point of the Causeway and marked the resumption of the RTS project.
Hours after the ceremony, Mr Khaw expressed his sheer joy at the RTS project restarting. Sharing a photo of his colleagues jumping at the Causeway with him, he wrote: “At Causeway just now to mark the restart of RTS Link project. Good reason to jump for joy!”
In a comment, Mr Khaw said that PM Lee and new Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung invited him to the signing ceremony. Revealing that he had faced five Malaysian transport ministers who were tasked to work on the RTS project while he was at the helm of Singapore’s ministry, he wrote:
“PM and Min Ong kindly invited me to the RTS Link event this morning. This project experienced ups and downs. I counted five counterpart Malaysian Ministers since I got involved in its negotiations from day one!
The retired politician added: “This is in the nature of cross-border projects. Political risk is not insignificant. We are not naïve about it. Just as we are mindful of the upsides if both sides keep the larger public good in mind.
“Bottom line is that this can potentially further strengthening bilateral ties. When its potential is fully unleashed, it will benefit many commuters, including day workers who contribute to Singapore’s economy and quality of life.
“Not to engage at all will eliminate bilateral dispute, but the opportunities will correspondingly evaporate.”
At Causeway just now to mark the restart of RTS Link project. Good reason to jump for joy!