(Klang, Sunday): On Friday,
the Works Minister, Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu announced that the Government
had decided to defer increasing toll rates in four expressways until after
the Chinese New Year next month. However, he declined to disclose how much
the increase would be, saying an announcement would only be made after
Chinese New Year on 16th and 17th February.
Samy Vellu should not wait until after the Chinese New Year but immediately announce details of the new toll increase for the North-South Expressway as well as the other new terms of the various concessions to allow for public feedback.
The four expressways are the North-South Expressway operated by Projek Lebuhraya Utara Selatan, the North-South Central Link (Expressway Lingkaran Tengah Sdn. Bhd), Shah Alam-Kajang Expressway (Kesas Sdn. Bhd) and the Kulim-Butterworth Expressway (Konsortium Lebuhraya Kulim-Butterworth Sdn. Bhd).
The Minister said that although the Cabinet had decided that the toll increase will be effective from January, he had managed to urge the Cabinet to put off the increase until after Chinese New Year.
This is really nothing much to rejoice about as the expressway concessions are so one-sided against the interests of the public that the concessionaires are placed in a "no lose" situation, as the government must use the taxpayers’ money to compensate the concessionaires if they are not allowed to increase toll rates as had been contracted by the government.
The four expressway concessionnaires had sought government approval to raise the rates to 11.92 sen a kilometre from 10.5 sen. Last year, the Government disallowed toll rate increases and had to pay RM192 million in compensation to the concessionnaire companies.
In 1996, the government had to compensate PLUS to the tune of RM176 million because the government postponed the implementation of a 33.3% toll increase by nine months.
Malaysians have become very wary of these expressway concessions, as whether there is a toll increase or not, it is the people who are the final losers, who have to pay either directly in terms of higher toll or indirectly through higher taxes by way of government compensation.
This is why, for instance, the Works Minister must make public all the details about the new toll increase for North-South Expressway, as well as all the new terms concluded by the government with PLUS, so that the Malaysian public can give their feedback as to whether the toll increase as well as the new terms are acceptable or too burdensome and should be further reviewed.
The strong DAP opposition in 1987 to the privatisation of the North-South Expressway has now been proved right and if Barisan Nasional component parties had as public-spirited and far-sighted as the DAP 12 years ago, then the present and next generation of Malaysians would not have been burdened with such oppressive terms in the North-South Expressway concession contract and other expressway agreements.
The Cabinet must be held responsible for renegotiating the North-South Expressway toll contract and other expressway concessions to end oppressive terms like the the annual increase of toll rate by PLUS for the next 20 years, without imposing new burdens on the commuters or the taxpayers.