The North-South Expressway Concession agreement should be made public and a public inquiry held into the burdens, hardships and inequities caused by over a decade of privatisation

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang
(Petaling Jaya, Monday):
Works Minister, Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu disclosed yesterday that the Cabinet had directed his Ministry six weeks ago to study whether highway toll rates can be reduced so that the burden of the people could be eased.

Samy Vellu said the study is expected to be completed in six to nine months and the review would include the agreement between the Government and the Project Lebuhraya Utara-Selatan (PLUS), the concessionaire of the North-South Expressway.

I welcome this review as I had been consistently calling both inside and outside Parliament in the past two years for a review and revision of the North-South Expressway concession agreement, as it is clearly unfair and inequitable that PLUS should have the right to increase toll rates annually for the next 24 years during the rest of the 30-year concession period and collect over RM100 billion in toll.

However, such a study by the Works Ministry should be an open and transparent one, involving concerned sectors of the public as the issues involved are social equity and justice, and should not be a secret affair as if it is some grave questions of state security.

As a first step, the Works Ministry should make public the North-South Expressway Concession Agreement as it goes against all principles of accountability and transparency for the agreement which has caused so much hardships to the people to be kept confidential and secret.

The time in fact has come for an overall review of the adverse impacts of privatisation on the people, and I would call on the Cabinet to establish a public inquiry into the burdens, hardships and inequities caused by over a decade of privatisation.

The recently-held Gerakan Delegates Conference expressed concern at the public unhappiness with the rising financial burden of using certain privatised services.

This is most commendable, although Samy Vellu was right when he noted that the Gerakan President, Datuk Dr. Lim Keng Yaik, as Cabinet Minister, was party to the government decision not only in the award of the North-South Expressway but also in the concession agreement fixing the toll rates.

It might have been different if Keng Yaik had given full support to the DAP in the late 1980s to ensure that the North-South Expressway privatisation had been conducted in an open, accountable and transparent manner, with particular emphasis on a fair regime of toll rate increases. However, the DAP stood alone then to safeguard the public interest with many DAP leaders paying a heavy price for their stand.

Be that as it may, I hope Keng Yaik could support in Cabinet on Wednesday the proposal for a public inquiry into the burdens, hardships and inequities of over a decade of privatisation and that the review by the Works Ministry about highway toll rates should be an open one, inviting public participation.

Although the Gerakan Delegates Conference focussed on the increasing hardships of privatisation, it is most regrettable that it had not given equal attention to the inequities of privatisation, and in particular, to the latest privatisation controversy - the privatisation of the national railway service to a consortium, Marak Unggul Sdn. Bhd. comprising Renong Bhd. (50%), Diversified Resources Bhd. (30%) and Bolton Properties Bhd. (20%).

Is there any conflict of interest in the privatisation of the Keretapi Tanah Malaya (KTM) to a consortium involving Bolton Properties Bhd. in view of the well-known association of Bolton Properties Bhd. to the Transport Minister, Datuk Seri Ling Liong Sik?

Have the legitimate rights, interests and grievances of the railway workers been fully taken into account, and the Railwaymen Union of Malaya been fully consulted in the whole process of the privatisation of KTM?

With the rapid growth of privatisation, the Cabinet should set up a Privatisation Watchdog body to protect the public interest by ensuring that the privatisation process is transparent and equitable and that the consumers are not sacrificed to corporate greed, by unfair privatisation terms, rates or tolls.


*Lim Kit Siang - Malaysian Parliamentary Opposition Leader, Democratic Action Party Secretary-General & Member of Parliament for Tanjong