Padungan rep insists Opposition’s ‘bankrupt’ statement caused Abang Jo to abandon LRT project

Chong (left) and Lo debated over the "bankrupt" statement made by Lim Guan Eng.

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KUCHING, May 20: Padungan assemblyman Chong Chieng Jen (PH-DAP) insists that it was the strong words of the Opposition against the Light Rail Transit (LRT) project that “knocked some sense” into Sarawak Premier Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg, who in 2019 announced that the project will not proceed and replaced it with the less costly ART (Autonomous Rail Transit) project.

Chong made the claim in a statement today, insisting also that Democratic Action Party (DAP) was not alone in expressing the worrying trend of Abang Johari’s series of multi-billion announcements of spending, which he claimed had the potential to “bankrupt the State”.

He said former Second Finance Minister Dato Sri Wong Soon Koh had on May 8, 2020 made the statement that “Sarawak’s bleak financial situation demands review of budget, projects”.

“The choice of the word ‘bankrupt’ by (DAP chairman and former Federal Finance Minister) Lim Guan Eng may not be as palatable to GPS (Gabungan Parti Sarawak) as the word ‘bleak financial situation’ used by Wong Soon Koh, but they are both basically expressing the same thing: if Abang Jo continues with his extravagance and multi-billion ringgit projects, Sarawak’s financial position will be in danger.

“It could be the word ‘bankrupt’ used by Lim Guan Eng that finally stopped Abang Jo’s fantasy of having a LRT from Santubong to Serian which all Sarawakians and our future generations will be made to pay for,” said Chong.

He said had it not been the strong opposition by DAP to Abang Jo’s LRT project, Abang Johari would have proceeded with it and Sarawak would be in financial trouble now.

“It is a blessing that the Premier accepted DAP’s view in aborting the plan on the proposed LRT project, otherwise, the State’s financial position will be in tatters,” said Chong.

He said the LRT project as first proposed by Abang Johari in 2017 would run from Santubong to Kuching and to Serian. That was more than 120 km of LRT lines. Based on the costs of construction of the Bandar Utama LRT and Kelana Jaya LRT lines, the estimated cost of construction then for the Santubong-Kuching-Serian LRT line would have been between RM25 to RM30 billion (excluding land acquisition costs).

“Had Abang Jo went ahead with the LRT project, given now that the construction materials have more than doubled in prices since his announcement, the costs would have inflated to an estimated RM50 billion.

“Beside the huge construction costs, there will be billions of ringgit in annual expenses on maintenance and operation of the LRT. That project alone would have bankrupted Sarawak’s reserves of RM28 billion,” said Chong.

He claimed that back in 2019, besides the LRT project, there was also the announcement by Abang Johari to acquire MASwings, which would have been another multi-billion venture. Again, that proposed takeover was subsequently put on hold.

Chong made the above statement in response to Batu Kitang assemblyman Lo Khere Chiang (GPS-SUPP), who had called on Chong and Lim to apologise to Sarawakians for “being rude and boastful, looking down on Sarawak’s capacity” when Pakatan Harapan (PH) won the 14th General Election (GE14) in 2018.

Lo said this in reference to Lim’s statement saying that Sarawak would go bankrupt in three years during the latter’s visit to Kuching in 2019, which Chong defended yesterday, asserting that Sarawak did not go bankrupt because Abang Johari abolished the LRT project. — DayakDaily