S'pore and Malaysian PMs also announce plan for rapid transit link
A LARGE thorn in the side of Singapore-Malaysia relations was removed yesterday as leaders of both countries took big strides towards resolving a two-decade-old dispute over land owned by Malayan Railway (KTM) in Singapore.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his Malaysian counterpart, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, were all smiles as they emerged from their retreat at the Shangri-La Hotel to announce a breakthrough in the impasse over the Points of Agreement (POA) signed in 1990.
The two prime ministers told reporters that they had agreed to move the existing railway station from Tanjong Pagar to the Woodlands train checkpoint by July next year, and had sorted out how the redevelopment of the railway land left behind would be dealt with.
They had also agreed to set up a rapid transit system linking Johor Baru and Singapore by 2018. To make it easier for commuters, the link will be integrated with public transport systems on both sides.
Mr Lee and Mr Najib hailed the agreements as a boost to bilateral relations.
Referring to the POA impasse being broken, Mr Lee said: 'It enables us to move forward on many other areas, to cooperate and work together for mutual benefit without having this outstanding issue always there.
'If you can't solve this, how can you talk about new things? But we can solve this, and we are talking about new things.'
He noted that the two sides had been focused on developing the bilateral relationship, knowing the region needs to work together to stay competitive.
The original POA was signed in 1990 by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and Malaysian Finance Minister Daim Zainuddin. However, over the next two decades, the two sides disputed its interpretation.
Following yesterday's agreement, the railway station in Tanjong Pagar will be relocated to the Woodlands train checkpoint by July 1 next year.
Singapore will facilitate the move, and ensure bus services connect the Woodlands train checkpoint with a nearby MRT station.
A company known as M-S Pte Ltd will be established by Dec 31. Malaysia's Khazanah Nasional Berhad will hold a 60 per cent stake, while Temasek Holdings will control 40 per cent. This company will undertake the development of railway land.
Currently six parcels of land are involved - one each in Tanjong Pagar, Kranji, and Woodlands, and three in Bukit Timah.
However, these parcels of land may be swopped for land of equivalent value in the Marina South and the Ophir-Rochor areas.
PM Lee will go to Kuala Lumpur within a month with a land swop proposal. He noted yesterday that the value of the land involved was 'substantial'.
The transfer of the land parcels to M-S Pte Ltd for development will take effect when KTM vacates the Tanjong Pagar station.
Mr Najib called yesterday's agreement historic, saying it was the light at the end of the tunnel for 'a big legacy issue'.
He said: 'With the understanding that we achieved at today's meeting, we can say that the POA agreement, and some enhanced features of that agreement, should finally be put to rest, particularly when Prime Minister Hsien Loong meets with me in Kuala Lumpur in a month's time.'
The groundwork for yesterday's agreement was laid as early as 2008, when Singapore sent a proposal on how to resolve the POA dispute. PM Lee discussed the issue with Mr Najib when they met at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Peru that year. Foreign ministry officials from both sides have also been in discussion.
Following yesterday's agreement, a joint team will be set up to iron out implementation details. This will be led by the secretary-general of the Malaysian Foreign Ministry and the permanent secretary of the Singapore Foreign Ministry. It is due to complete its work by the end of the year. From there, a written instrument will be produced, to be signed by both countries once approved by the respective governments.
The POA aside, the two leaders also ironed out a host of other matters, including Singapore's role in the Iskandar Malaysia region in Johor, and means to increase connectivity between the two countries.
Mr Najib, in Singapore on a two-day visit, returned to Malaysia yesterday.
Source: Straits Times, 25 May 2010