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Thursday, November 30, 2023

HSR cancellation: Upset with govt’s decision not enough for suit - court

An individual's mere dissatisfaction with the previous administration’s decision to cancel the RM110 billion High-Speed Rail (HSR) project between Malaysia and Singapore is insufficient grounds for a lawsuit, the Kuala Lumpur High Court said.

Judicial commissioner Roz Mawar Rozain made the observation while hearing oral submissions from Mohaji Selamat, the counsel for Mohd Hatta Sanuri who was suing for compensation over the cancellation.

Mohaji was submitting against bids by former premiers Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Muhyiddin Yassin to strike out a lawsuit over the 2021 cancellation of the ambitious railway undertaking.

Mahathir and Muhyiddin, as well as three other defendants, contended that the entire lawsuit should be struck out as it lacked details on the alleged misfeasance that drove the past government to cancel the project.

Mohaji submitted that there exists evidence of misfeasance behind the decision of the previous administration (under Mahathir) to first postpone the project in 2018 and then cancel it outright (during Muhyiddin’s administration in 2021).

Roz Mawar then made the observation that the suit’s statement of claim does not disclose any particulars of the alleged misfeasance in public office behind the government decision on HSR.

She asked him how the government’s decision was wrong, pointing out that she herself had gone through the lengthy court papers and did not see any listed particulars of the alleged misfeasance.

“You must show there has been an abuse of power behind the decision. Merely not liking the decision is not enough.

“Where are the particulars of the misfeasance?” Roz Mawar asked Mohaji during the open-court proceedings.

The lawyer then tried to bring up the issue of the present Anwar Ibrahim administration deciding this year to revive the HSR project as alleged evidence of the existence of misfeasance behind the previous administration’s decision.

Mohaji further claimed that there had been public confusion caused by the alleged U-turn of the Malaysian government.

However, Roz Mawar reminded him that the HSR revival was never part of the cause of action cited in the lawsuit filed on Dec 30 last year.

Former prime ministers Muhyiddin Yassin (left) and Dr Mahathir Mohamad

“This is not Parliament but the court of law. Focus on the law and not personal opinion,” she said, reminding the lawyer that mere allegation of public confusion is insufficient particulars on the existence of any alleged misfeasance in public office.

Roz then set Dec 15 to deliver her decision on the five defendants’ bid to nullify the entire civil action without the need for a full trial.

Malaysia and Singapore first inked the bilateral agreement on HSR on Dec 13, 2016 - during the administration of then-prime minister Najib Abdul Razak.

The RM110 billion project, which involves 350km of development, was intended to shorten the travel time from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore to only 90 minutes.

Later, during the Mahathir administration in late 2018, the government made the decision to postpone the HSR project.

Then on Jan 1, 2021, Muhyiddin in a joint media statement with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Shien Loong announced the cancellation of the project.

However, this year, the Anwar-led government confirmed the project’s revival, with the opening of a request for information (RFI) for local and international firms.

Through the lawsuit filed in December 2022, Hatta sought a court order to revive the project as well as demand that the five defendants cough up RM1 million in compensation to each Malaysian citizen.

Besides Mahathir and Muhyiddin, the other three defendants are former minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Mustapa Mohamed, former transport minister Wee Ka Siong, and the Malaysian government.

The plaintiff was also seeking an order to compel the defendants to give a written explanation regarding the reasons for the postponement and cancellation of the project.

Hatta came to the limelight previously over a failed legal bid against the government on the International Court of Justice (ICJ) awarding Singapore sovereignty over Pedra Branca (Pulau Batu Puteh).

Senior federal counsel Donalf Joseph Franklin appeared for Mahathir, Muhyiddin, Mustapa, Wee, and the government today. - Mkini

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