(Dewan Rakyat, Thursday): It is most disappointing that there is still no news from the Works Minister, Datuk Seri Samy Vellu about the renegotiation on the North-South Expressway toll contract to end the annual increase of toll as the original contract was too one-sided without fully taking into account the interests of the public and future generations, which had been seriously compromised in 1987 as the primary consideration then was to enable UMNO to finance the RM330 million Putra World Trade Centre.
The Works Minister should be more sensitive to the public outcry and outrage at another round of toll increase by PLUS for the North-South Expressway beginning beginning on 1st January, which the government must recognise as growing public impatience and intolerance at the highly one-sided expressway concession contract, which allows PLUS to introduce an annual increase of toll rate for the next 22 years.
According to PLUS forecasts, it expects to collect over RM80 billion from toll on the North-South Expressway during the 30-year concession period. However, this is only a conservative estimate, as with the vastly increased traffic volume in the past few years as compared to the forecast traffic volume, PLUS' total revenue might be exceeded from 50 to 100 per cent, which could bring it to the region between RM120 billion to RM160 billion.
Since June this year, Malaysians have paid PLUS over RM3.2 billion in toll for the use of the North-South Expressway. The time has come for the North-South Expressway concession to be renegotiated to make it fairer to the commuters.
Last year, PLUS was compensated with RM176 million cash of taxpayers' money by the government for the delay and reduction in toll increase in 1996.
The ordinary Malaysian people are not interested in the legal niceties of the North-South Expressway Concession contract, which is still protected by the Official Secrets Act.
As the decision to privatise the North-South Expressway to United Engineers and later to PLUS was first and last a political one, the people expect and demand that the Cabinet take the political decision to renegotiate the contract to end the provision allowing PLUS to impose an annual increase of the toll rates as well as to demand compensation from the government for variation of the agreement.
It should not be forgotten that the government had given UEM a RM1.3 billion for the construction of the North-South Expressway, although this was billed as a privatisation project - which would mean there should have been no need for a single sen of commitment of public funds.
Recently, UEM was responsible for taking the national economic crisis to a new level when it announced that it had acquired 723 million Renong shares, representing a 32.6 per cent stake, from the open market for RM2.4 billion or an average of RM3.24 per Renong share.
The UEM-Renong deal, which had been the single corporate decision which precipitated the biggest crash in the Kuala Lumpur stock market in the four-month economic crisis, causing the KLSE Composite Index to fall by 19.58 per cent, from 667.29 to 536.62 points in three days, wiping out RM70 billion of the investors' funds in the stock exchange.
The UEM-Renong deal is an unmitigated catastrophe, to the UEM minority shareholders, UEM itself as well as to all investors in the KLSE. With the revocation of waiver, UEM now has to find another RM1.6 billion to make a general offer to the 23.1 per cent of Renong shares it does not own at the price of at least RM3.24 per share, when Renong share price has plummetted to RM1.80 per share.
If UEM can create a unmitigated catastrophe for UEM, UEM minority shareholders and KLSE investors in the dubious RM2.4 billion UEM-Renong deal despite a RM1.3 billion government loan for the North-South Expressway, PLUS (wholly-owned subsidiary of UEM), should not be allowed to insist on its concessionaire rights to increase toll next year as well as the right to increase toll rates for the next 22 years.
This argument is all the more cogent when it is considered that UEM is a favourite conglomerate, awarded numerous privatisation projects like the MSSC, the National Sports Complex and Commonwealth Games Village, NSECL/KLIA Expressway, the KL International Airport Satellite terminal and Putra LRT System II and the construction of hospitals in West Malaysia.
Finally, it is time that various Barisan Nasional component parties like Gerakan and UMNO Youth which have been expressing their opposition to another round of North-South Expressway toll increase should prove that they are serious about their opposition and not seeking cheap publicity.
The strong and single-handed DAP opposition in 1987 to the North-South Expressway has now been proved right. Barisan Nasional component parties, like Gerakan and UMNO Youth, who are one decade behind the DAP on this issue, have still to convince the people of their sincerity.
I would like to ask them whether they are prepared to join with the DAP and all other political parties, trade unions and NGOs like CUEPACS and FOMCA which have expressed their opposition to another increase of North-South Expressway toll next month to form an Alliance Against Toll Increase (AATI) to launch a nation-wide campaign against the toll increase.
Invitation would be sent to Gerakan and UMNO Youth should the government allow another round of North-South Expressway toll and I hope they would be prepared to join in the national campaign.