(Petaling Jaya, Tuesday): The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad said yesterday that it was not fair for opposition parties to resist the proposed increase in toll rates as the government needs to fork out billions of ringgit in compensation if the rates are not hiked.
"If we pay compensation, we will not be able to pay for construction of other roads and the salaries of public servants among other things," he said on arrival from Switzerland yesterday.
I agree with Mahathir that it is unfair for the government to pay compensation to the toll operators as this goes against the important principle of "user pays" in privatisation by shifting the burden of unfair highway privatisation to the general Malaysian public, including people in areas and states who do not use the highways.
This is why one of the demands of the Coalition Against Toll (CAT) is "No Government Compensation".
Mahathir however has failed to understand the outrage of Malaysians after 12 years of unfair highway privatisation with its unfair toll rates, namely the issue of transparency and accountability.
For the past 12 years, the government has not bothered to convince either the Opposition parties or the Malaysian public the fairness of the privatisation concessions and the toll rate structures and increases. In fact, up to now the North-South Expressway concession is still kept a secret under the Official Secrets Act - as if its full publication would undermine the security and stability of the nation.
Can Mahathir give one reason why the North-South Expressway Concession which was signed in 1988 must be kept a secret and cannot be made publice - apart from perpetuating a culture where the interests of the highway concessionaires are placed above the interests of the highway users and the general public.
The Cabinet at its meeting tomorrow should take a policy decision to begin a new phase of accountability and transparency in the entire privatisation process, starting with the highways privatisation, by making public the North-South Expressway concession as well as all highway concessions unless the government has good and convincing reasons to keep certain portions secret.
The Cabinet meeting tomorrow should also end one of the greatest injustices of the highway privatisation programme, the continued collection of the 50-sen toll at the Jalan Kuching toll plaza by Kamunting Corporation Bhd for more than three years although its nine-year concession had expired on January 8, 1996.
On 29th April 1996, Malaysians were shocked to read in the local press that Kamunting Corporation Bhd had been given permission by the Cabinet to continue to collect toll at Jalan Kuching for another six months although the concession ended on January 8 of the same year.
The Works Minister said that Kamunting Corporation Bhd might be granted a further extension to collect toll when the six-month extension ended on July 7, 1996 pending the consideration of the Economic Planning Unit (EPU) in the Prime Ministerís Department on the future of Jalan Kuching.
In July 1996, Samy Vellu announced that the Cabinet had on July 3, 1996 approved a 33-year concession to Syarikat Prestige that will entitle it to collect RM1 toll at Jalan Kuching when it completes a RM650 million underpass and road upgrading project.
Samy Vellu said the RM650 million project also involved the setting up of another toll collection centre at Jalan Semantan, where motorists would have to pay either RM1.30 or RM1.60 to enter the city.
The road upgrading works for Jalan Kuching included adding two lanes to the existing four, constructing a tiered flyover over the Jalan Kuching and Jalan Segambut roundabout, and widening the two lanes on Jalan Ipoh. The underpass would connect the Jalan Semantan/Jalan Damansara interchange to the Jalan Ismail junction (Wisma Sime Darby area) via Wisma Tani, while another underpass would be built from Jalan Raja Muda to Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman to connect with the underpass at the Jalan Sultan Ismail junction.
The Cabinet tomorrow should stop the 50-sen toll collection at Jalan Kuching toll plaza as no work has been done in the past three years in the extension of the concession in exchange of the RM650 million underpass and road upgrading project.
In fact, motorists are incensed that they are forced to continue to pay toll at Jalan Kuching for more than three years when the nine-year concession of Kamunting Corporation had ended on January 8, 1996 and they have been not been convinced that this is fair, just, proper and completely above-board.