BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN: Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam have in principle reached an understanding that the Pan Borneo Highway project, connecting Sarawak and Sabah, would not cut into the country.
The agreement was reached following a meeting between Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, which took place at the Istana Nurul Iman in conjunction with the former’s official visit to Brunei Darussalam.
Dr Mahathir said the agreement was based on several related factors, especially cost, as well as immigration issues should the highway cut into Brunei territory.
“The plan has always been to continue building this highway due to its importance to Sabah and Sarawak, but it will not enter Brunei, as initially planned.
“The Sultan of Brunei understands Malaysia’s stand on this, after taking into account the restrictions we face. The Sultan has no issues if the highway was to enter Brunei territory, but he understands our difficulties,” he said.
Dr Mahathir was speaking at a press conference at Istana Qashr Munee on Monday before ending his two-day working visit.
The prime minister said the decision was also made to simplify travel and save time as it would not be necessary to undergo immigration checks.
He said the government is studying alternative routes for the highway project, which is long awaited by the people of both states and can generate development for Sabah and Sarawak.
Asked on whether the government is studying any specific mechanisms to tackle the immigration issues, Dr Mahathir said if the highway cut across Brunei, the country’s immigration laws would still need to be adhered to.
“On that basis, we are looking at alternative routes to prevent such issues,” he said.
Dr Mahathir said the government is also studying the reason behind the delays affecting the Sabah portion of the Pan Borneo Highway.
“We will still go ahead with the project but it will take some time due to our financial situation.
“We are scrutinising the project’s delays in Sabah, as the funds have already been released. We want to know the reason behind the delay,” he said.
Dr Mahathir said the same meeting also led to an understanding being reached on a cooperation with Brunei involving exploration and drilling in two blocks given to the latter during the administration of former prime minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
“This cooperation can have a positive impact on Petronas’ performance,” he said, without specifying the two blocks in question.
This marks Dr Mahathir’s first visit to Brunei since becoming prime minister for the second time.