by Han Lang
Following Malaysian Prime Minister's confirmation earlier today that his Government will cancel the KL-Singapore High-Speed Rail (HSR) project, it is no longer possible for Singapore's political leaders to remain quiet - if they indeed value integrity as well as trust and respect from their citizens.
Dr Mahathir said today: "If this country is to avoid bankruptcy, we must learn how to manage our big debts. So one of the ways, of course, is to do away with projects that are not beneficial to the country."
The key words are "not beneficial".
It is not a case of the Malaysian Government cancelling the project because of national debt. While that is a key concern, the key emphasis of Dr Mahathir's comments made over the past two months (even before his electoral victory) is whether the HSR project will benefit Malaysia.
He has always been clear: the project will not benefit Malaysia.
An average reader will conclude from Dr Mahathir's comments that the project is then only beneficial to Singapore.
Is that a sentiment agreed and accepted by the Singapore leaders? If not, why is no one speaking up to rebut Dr Mahathir's "allegations"?
After all, we have no lack of politicians willing to jump into any debate so as to protect the integrity of our Government, isn't it?
Let's just look back at one recent case some three months ago.
On 1 March (Thursday), Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam accused Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim of making a "hypocritical and dishonest" statement about the Government's decision to raise GST. On the same day, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat also attempted to rebut Lim's comments. Heng followed up with a statement the following day, asking if Lim will withdraw her 'test balloon' allegation on GST hike timing. Before Lim could even reply, the then Senior Minister of State Indranee Rajah threw her name into the ring and on 5 March (Monday), she published a lengthy Facebook post titled "GST Hike: A Matter of Record" and claimed that she had to speak up on the matter because the relationship of trust between the Government and the people had been "painstakingly built up over the years". Not to be left behind, Leader of the House, Minister Grace Fu, called on Lim to apologise and withdraw her 'test balloons' allegation on GST hike the following day.
As we would remember, Lim refused to do so in Parliament on 8 March which drew criticisms from some Ministers, including Fu who said: “The allegations have indeed harmed and tarnished the reputations of other members, namely the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance.” If one thought the matter was over after the House Leader took Lim to task in Parliament, he was wrong.
Indranee must have felt that Fu did a poor job in admonishing Lim. Otherwise, why would she, a day later, publish another FB post titled "GST Hike: An Honourable Course of Conduct or Not?" in which she sought to define what she termed as the bottom line of the matter. The fact that she included the following line in her post showed that she was not convinced Fu had been clear in her statement made in Parliament a day earlier - "That is why the Leader of the House said this was not the honourable conduct expected of MPs."
But Indranee did not score the last goal of the game. That honour went to another Senior Minister of State, Chee Hong Tat, who then decided it's best to issue a public letter on 10 March - explaining why it was "important" that the Government removes any doubt about timing of GST hike to protect its integrity.
So, we have three Ministers and two Senior Ministers of State taking turns to blast shots at Lim over the space of 10 days. One would imagine that Edwin Tong would have jumped in too if he had been an office holder at that time. After all, it's clear from the footage that he had been whispering to Shanmugam on several occasions during the latter's "grilling" session with academic Thum Ping Tjin at the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods. One just wonder why Tong, as a member of the Select Committee, doesn't jump in and direct questions at Thum, instead of whispering certain points to Shanmugam, his ex-boss at the legal firm where he works and who will soon be his new boss at the Ministry of Law?
It is, therefore, a huge surprise that none of these politicians have since attempted to rebut Dr Mahathir's allegation. Isn't it important to do so - as Singaporeans may lose trust in the Government who had earlier spoken of the benefits the project would deliver to both countries? If Dr Mahathir is telling the truth about the non-benefit to Malaysia, that could only imply that the PMs of both countries had not been honest when they claimed in 2016 and again recently in January this year that the project would benefit both countries.
If Dr Mahathir is mistaken or had been dishonest, his allegation would have harmed and tarnished the reputations of both PM Lee and Najib, wouldn't it? Wouldn't this in turn impact the level of trust between the Singapore Government and its citizens which, in the words of Indranee, had been "painstakingly built up over the years"?
Would Shanmugam, Indranee, Chee, Tong or any politician out there demonstrate his or her leadership qualities at this moment and issue a full rebuttal of Dr Mahathir's claims - including the revelation that it would cost RM110 billion to construct the HSR, as opposed to what was indicated earlier - at RM50 billion to RM60 billion?
Singaporeans deserve to know the full picture, including every area of benefit which our Government had projected and presented publicly all this while - albeit without any elaboration.
It is no longer possible for the Government to keep silent on the matter. Otherwise, isn't there a display of double standards?
Or is it easier to admonish Sylvia Lim and not Dr Mahathir? If so, why?