Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud said proposed aluminium smelter plan in Bintulu will go ahead as planned and expected to remain on track.

Activists blocking the entrance of Rio Tinto plant in Australia. Rio in a joint venture with Cahya Mata Sarawak will develop the aluminium smelting plant in Simalajau Bintulu.

Taib was responding to news report by Malaysiakini that the project’s future was in doubt following reports that Rio Tinto was cutting jobs and selling assets to reduce its debt.

Taib added that he had been told by Rio Tinto that the project would still cost about RM10bil (US$3bil) as planned.

“In fact, RM10bil may be a good estimate in view of the fact that the price of commodities such as steel has come down now because of recession. This is the best time to invest,” The Star quoted Taib as saying after performing an earth-breaking ceremony for a branch campus of the Inland Revenue Board’s National Tax Academy at Jalan Tabuan here on Friday.

The proposed smelter, to be located in Similajau about 60km from Bintulu town, will have an initial production capacity of 550,000 tonnes per year, with the capability to expand to 1.5 million tonnes per annum later.