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Briefs: S Iswaran assisting in CPIB probe; Malaysia attempts revival of KL-Singapore high-speed rail project

The Edge Singapore
The Edge Singapore • 8 min read
Briefs: S Iswaran assisting in CPIB probe; Malaysia attempts revival of KL-Singapore high-speed rail project
Singapore's transport minister, S Iswaran. Photo: Bloomberg
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Singapore’s transport minister assisting in CPIB probe; on leave of absence

Minister for Transport S Iswaran is assisting in an investigation conducted by the anti-graft agency Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB). In a July 12 statement by CPIB, the investigation arose due to a case that the bureau uncovered. This is the first case involving a cabinet minister in almost four decades.

CPIB adds that it will “investigate this case thoroughly with [a] strong resolve to establish the facts and the truth” while stressing that Singapore adopts a “strict zero-tolerance approach towards corruption”. The statement provided no further details about the probe.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has asked Iswaran to take a leave of absence until the investigation is completed. Lee adds that after being briefed, he gave the CPIB director his concurrence on July 6 to open a formal investigation involving Iswaran and several others.

“We will be upfront and transparent,” Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong said in a Facebook post. “We will not sweep anything under the carpet, even if they are potentially embarrassing or damaging.” 

See also: Retail investors pull record GBP1.8 bil from UK equity funds

Iswaran, 61, became a Member of Parliament in 1997 and joined the cabinet in 2006. Senior Minister of State Chee Hong Tat will serve as the Acting Minister for Transport in Iswaran’s absence. — Felicia Tan

Malaysia attempts revival of KL-Singapore high-speed rail project 

In a bid to revive the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore high-speed rail (KL-SG HSR) project, Malaysia’s MyHSR Corp announced that it is embarking on a full-fledged request for information (RFI) exercise to enable the private sector to officially submit concept proposals to develop and operate the project through a public-private partnership model.

See also: UK economy expands by 0.4% in May, double the expected pace

According to MyHSR Corp, which is wholly owned by Malaysia’s Minister of Finance and under the supervision of the Ministry of Transport of Malaysia, the RFI exercise marks the Malaysian government’s “initiative” to reactivate the KL-SG HSR project. The reactivation of the project will arrive via new funding mechanisms and implementation models to further improve the rail transport infrastructure and invigorate Malaysia’s economy, the company said in a press release on July 11.

The 350km-long KL-SG HSR was first mooted in 2013 before a binding agreement was signed in December 2016 with a target to have the line operational by 2026. The project was postponed and officially scrapped in January 2021 under a subsequent Malaysian government. Singapore received compensation of more than $102 million for costs incurred.

In March, MyHSR Corp engaged with selected private companies during the initial information-gathering stage to understand the level of interest, capabilities and resource requirements needed to make the project “sustainable” and received a “positive response”.

To further assist the Malaysian government in making informed decisions, MyHSR Corp says the RFI exercise will be open to local and international companies to submit their concept proposals. “The exercise will allow the Malaysian government to assess the industry’s interest and ability to fully fund the project while evaluating their capabilities in developing this major infrastructure project by looking into areas such as technical specifications, project costing, commercial and business models, as well as consortium and governance framework.”

MyHSR Corp CEO Mohd Nur Ismal Bin Mohamed Kamal is encouraging companies with the relevant experience to participate in the exercise and is looking forward to receiving “strong interest and high-quality proposals” that would serve as an important reference for the Malaysian government’s decision on the best way forward for the project.

“MyHSR Corp remains committed to supporting the Malaysian government to identify the most effective solution to revive the KL-SG HSR project. Globally, developments of HSR have proven to be growth engines, bringing about catalytic development and growth as well as multiplier effects that will benefit all walks of life,” he adds.

Chairman of MyHSR Corp Fauzi Bin Abdul Rahman says: “The KL-SG HSR project will bring tremendous benefits to the people, particularly in enhancing and expanding economic dynamism from the Klang Valley to the Southern Corridor of the peninsula, and eventually to the rest of Malaysia.

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“In addition to providing a new travel option that is safer, faster, more efficient and sustainable, the project will help us to contribute to the agenda of Malaysia Madani, generating long-term growth and sustainability for the people and the nation.” — Bryan Wu

Fed officials say higher interest rates needed to reach 2% inflation goal

Three Federal Reserve (Fed) officials on July 10 said policymakers will need to raise interest rates further this year to bring inflation back to the central bank’s goal.

“We’ve made a lot of progress in monetary policy, the work that we need to do, over the last year,” Fed vice chair for supervision Michael Barr told a Bipartisan Policy Center meeting on Monday. “I would say we’re close, but we still have some work to do.”

The Fed held interest rates steady in June after raising them for 10 straight meetings to a range of 5% to 5.25%. According to projections released after their June gathering, most policymakers expect to increase rates by a further half percentage point by the end of the year.

“We’re likely to need a couple more rate hikes over this year to bring inflation back [onto] a sustainable 2% path,” San Francisco Fed president Mary Daly said at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

Speaking at an event hosted by the University of California, San Diego, Cleveland Fed chief Loretta Mester said her view also “accords with” Fed officials’ median forecast for two more rate increases.

“To ensure that inflation is on a sustainable and timely path back to 2%, my view is that the fund’s rate will need to move up somewhat further from its current level and then hold there for a while as we accumulate more information on how the economy is evolving,” she added. The Federal Open Market Committee next meets on July 25–26 and is widely expected to resume rate increases at that meeting.

Daly said the risks of doing too little to curb inflation still outweigh the risks of doing too much, though the gap between those two is narrowing. The San Francisco Fed chief said she sees signs of the economy slowing and added that supply and demand are becoming better balanced.

A July 7 report from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics showed US job growth slowed last month, though pay gains remained robust. Mester said the current rate of wage growth is still “well above the level consistent with 2% inflation given current estimates of trend productivity growth”.

New York Fed president John Williams told the Financial Times that while the jobs market remains strong, he sees signs of slowing in the direction of labour demand. He said that an increase in unemployment and a further easing of demand would be needed to bring inflation back to target.

“My forecasts would have the unemployment rate rising to around 4% by the end of the year and getting up to 4.5% by the end of next year,” he told the Financial Times in an interview. The jobless rate edged down to 3.6% in June from 3.7%.

Williams said the Fed had to act aggressively last year to assure the public that it would achieve price stability promptly. “How quickly we moved from expansionary policy to restrictive policy, and now we’ve indicated through our projections and our communications that we think we still have some ways to go to get the policy to this sufficiently restrictive stance to get inflation to 2% — all of those reflect a commitment to get price stability not in over 10 years, but over a few years.”

Core inflation remains a concern for the Fed. While the personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index rose in May at the slowest annual pace in over two years, PCE minus food and energy climbed an annual 4.6% in May, suggesting underlying inflation remains sticky. “Inflation is our No. 1 problem,” Daly said.

Fed officials will also receive new inflation data this week, with the July 12 release of a monthly BLS report on consumer prices. Forecasters surveyed by Bloomberg expect it to show prices excluding food and energy advanced 0.3% last month, with the y-o-y increase moderating to 5%, according to the median estimate.

“I believe that we can be patient — our current policy is clearly in the restrictive territory,” Bostic told the Cobb County Chamber of Commerce in Atlanta. “We continue to see signs that the economy is slowing down, which tells me the restrictiveness is working.” — Bloomberg  

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