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Questions that Singapore parliament ought to answer about the High-Speed Rail project and 1MDB?

Just yesterday (July 20), the Department of Justice (DoJ) of United States, filed lawsuits on Wednesday seeking to seize dozens of properties tied to 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), saying that over $3.5 billion was misappropriated from the institution.

The DoJ wrote in its press release,

“According to the complaints, from 2009 through 2015, more than $3.5 billion in funds belonging to 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) was allegedly misappropriated by high-level officials of 1MDB and their associates.  With today’s complaints, the United States seeks to recover more than $1 billion laundered through the United States and traceable to the conspiracy.  1MDB was created by the government of Malaysia to promote economic development in Malaysia through global partnerships and foreign direct investment, and its funds were intended to be used for improving the well-being of the Malaysian people.  Instead, as detailed in the complaints, 1MDB officials and their associates allegedly misappropriated more than $3 billion.”

Just one day (July 19) before this news came out, Singapore signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Malaysia on the High-Speed Railway project that will link Singapore and Malaysia.

The MOU is said to guide the development of a legally-binding Bilateral Agreement to be signed by both Governments towards the end of this year. It also reiterates the two governments’ commitment to ensure that all project tenders are conducted in an open, fair and transparent manner, so as to encourage participation from technology and service providers worldwide.

However, as journalist, Bhavan Jaipragas wrote about the matter, there may be questions between the two matters that the parliament ought to answer.

Bhavan wrote on his Facebook account,

I probably sound like a broken record, but isn’t ANYONE in Singapore perturbed by the fact that the high-speed rail project is so closely intertwined with 1MDB?

For starters, Bandar Malaysia (the former Sungei Besi airbase), where the Malaysian terminus of the line will be located, is 40 percent owned by 1MDB. The tainted fund sold off the remaining 60 percent of the development last December to the China Railway Group Limited (CREC) as part of ‘debt rationalisation” plans.

We now know from the US DOJ revelations that the debt is at least partly caused by plunder. The sale also raises the question of whether the eventual tender process for the rail project will be completely open and unbiased.

Having already sold the terminus land to potential bidder CREC, why should Singaporeans believe that the Malaysian side will weigh competing bids in an agnostic manner?

Are we being taken for a ride? The Singapore government should be held to account in parliament.