(Kuala Lumpur, Sunday): The Jalan Kuching toll is one of the best examples of an unfair, unaccountable highway privatisation which milks the motoring public for colossal profits by private corporations through secret concessions and unfair toll rates.
There is clearly no justification for the continued imposition of the 50-sen toll at Jalan Kuching after the expiry of the nine-year concession in January 1996, especially as the Jalan Kuching toll concessionaire, Kamunting Corporation Bhd had not only recovered all its investment outlays but already made colossal profits, and every sen it collects for the seven-year extension of its concession from 1996 to 2003 is a sen of clean and pure profit!
This is the real reason why the authorities and the highway concessionaires are not prepared to be accountable and transparent, by making public not only the highway privatisation concessions, the toll rates, toll revenues and traffic volumes, for the Malaysian people will know the stark truth as to how they have become captive victims of a most unfair highway privatisation programme.
From government statements, whether Parliamentary explanations by the Works Minister, Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu or the Deputy Works Minister, Datuk Railey Jaffrey, or press comments outside Parliament as well as press reports in the past few years, I have pieced together the following financial picture of the Jalan Kuching toll concession.
On 15th April 1985, a nine-year concession contract was signed and awarded to Kamunting Corporation Bhd to operate the Jalan Kuching toll, ending on 7th January 1996. This concession cost RM60 million for the construction of an interchange and the widening of the Jalan Batu roundabout and upgrading Jalan Kepong.
In 1987, Kamunting Corporation Bhd. was directed by the government to undertake several other upgrading works, such as the construction of two additional lanes, which were not specified in the original contract at a cost of RM14.6 million.
In exchange for this RM14.6 million additional road upgrading works, Kamunting was given a seven-year extension to collect the 50-sen toll from 1996 to 2,003.
The Jalan Kuching toll concession was a cash cow for the toll operator as Kamunting Corporation Bhd. netted RM183 million from toll for the nine-year concession from 1988-1996, and is expected to collect another RM250 million during the seven-year extension 1996-2003.
Where else in the world except in Malaysia can road-toll operators get such high rate of returns from highway privatisation, where a company can get RM430 million in return for a RM74.6 million investment - or a six-fold return!
The Jalan Kuching toll should never have been privatised in the first place in 1985, and the seven-year extension to Kamunting Corporation Bhd was clearly unjustifiable and against the public interest.
Even if the Jalan Kuching toll concession had been privatised in 1985, the Works Ministry should have ensured that the concession contract had been properly designed to meet the interests of the motorists as to include the subsequent RM14.6 million road upgrading works and any such omission must be regarded as professional and government negligence.
Alternatively, Kamunting Corporation should have been made to absorb the RM14.6 million road upgrading works, in view of the colossal profits it was making from the nine-year concession.
This is one example where as a result of secret highway privatisation concession contracts and the government’s slipshod and irresponsible drawing up of the concession contract, Malaysians have been burdened for another seven years to carry a toll burden of RM250 million!
The Works Minister, Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu, who was in charge of this portfolio when Kamunting Corporation Bhd. was awarded the concession in 1987 and granted the seven-year extension in 1987 should apologise to all Malaysians for his dereliction of duty in failing to get the best concession contract for the people and unnecessarily burdening them with a RM250 million toll for seven years from 1996 to 2003.
In July 1996, Samy Vellu announced that the Cabinet had approved a 33-year concession to Kamunting Corporation Bhd and 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 nother underpass would be built from Jalan Raja Muda to Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman to connect with the underpass at the Jalan Sultan Ismail junction.
Instead of surrendering Jalan Kuching to the government so that it becomes toll-free, Samy Vellu has now further burdened motorists with a higher RM1 toll for another 33 years!
The time has come for the people to make their dissatisfaction heard loud and clear, that they want an end to the unfair and exploitative toll imposition at Jalan Kuching.
Let Jalan Kuching be the first privatised highway to become toll-free after the end of its original concession to prove that privatised highways and expressways could indeed become toll-free after the end of their concession periods as repeatedly claimed by the government.
The Coalition Against Toll proposes to convene a public rally for the people of Kuala Lumpur to send a clear and unmistakable message to the Works Minister, Datuk Seri Samy Vellu to demand that Jalan Kuching become toll free as provided for in the first concession contract in 1985.
The injustice of unfair highway privatisation, unfair secret concession, unfair tolls, unfair Jalan Kuching toll collection, are issues that affect Malaysians regardless of race, religion or political affiliation.
I call on Gerakan, MCA, UMNO and MIC branches and members in Kuala Lumpur to co-operate with the Coalition Against Toll to make the Anti-Jalan Kuching Toll campaign a great success.