(Petaling Jaya, Saturday): Renong’s statement yesterday that the government would only review the tolling formula and tolling rates for the highways and that the government had never intended to review or change the agreements signed with the concessionaires is most arrogant and another example that its privileged position as favourite of government privatisation projects has made it insensitive to the problems of the ordinary people.
The Renong statement is a direct contradiction of the statement by the Works Minister, Datuk Seri Samy Vellu the day before that the government would review all highway concessions in view of the current economic situation.
Because of its privileged position, Renong and its various connected companies, whether PLUS, United Engineers Malaysia (UEM) or Expressway Lingkaran Tengah Sdn. Bhd. (Elite), is behaving as if it is supra-government or at least supra-Works Minister!
It is just not enough for the government to freeze the increase of the North-South Expressway toll rate for this year in exchange for an extension of the toll concession for another five years. Such an exchange would be inimical to public interest.
What the public wants is not only a freeze of this year’s toll rate increase for the North-South Expressway, but also the scrapping of the right of PLUS to have an annual increment or the right to government compensation in lieu of such increase.
The Cabinet should uphold the public interest and conduct a renegotiation of the highway concession agreements, not just over the toll rate for this year, but a review of all the one-sided terms in the Concession agreements.
In this connection, Renong should also be required to give a satisfactory explanation for its irresponsible use of the RM1.3 billion government loan to build the North-SouthExpressway to help precipitate the biggest crash in the Kuala Lumpur stock market in the six-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 in November, wiping out RM70 billion of the investors' funds in the stock exchange in the highly irresponsible RM3.24 billion UEM-Renong deal for UEM to acquire 723 million Renong shares, representing a 32.6 per cent stake.
Finally, to learn from the lessons of history, before any re-negotiated agreements are concluded with the highway companies, the terms of the new agreements should be made public and the people given an opportunity to give their views.