(Petaling Jaya, Monday): The Shah Alam Highway concessionaire, Konsortium Expressway Shah Alam Selangor (Kesas) announced yesterday that users face an increase of 20 per cent in toll rates once the new toll rate increases approved by the government are implemented after the Chinese New Year next month.
This is a most oppressive, unconscionable and unacceptate toll rate increase. It has just been announced that Malaysia's consumer price index (CPI), a parameter for inflation, for 1998 rose by 5.3 percent compared with 1997.
What then is the rationale and justification for the Cabinet to approve such a high rate of 20 per cent toll increase for the Shah Alam Highway?
As the Works Minister, Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu had declined to announce details of the new toll rate increases until after the Chinese New Year, is the announcement of the 20% toll rate increase by the Shah Alam Highway concessionaire indicative that the Works Minister has "privatised" away some of his Ministerial powers and responsibilities to the concessionaire companies, and his duty is now merely to confirm what had been announced by these companies?
Public outrage at the repeated toll increases at oppressive and unconscionable rates at the various expressways and highways is fully justified as the government has so far acted in total disregard of the principles of accountability and transparency.
It is not only motorists who are adversely affected by the toll rate increases at the various expressways and highways, but also the general Malaysian public who have pay taxes so that the government can compensate the concessionaire companies if the Cabinet does not approve the full quantum of the toll rate increases that they want.
Last year, the government paid RM192 million as compensation to the concessionaire companies, and this year, despite the new toll rate increases after the Chinese New Year, the government would still be required to pay compensation of between RM80 to RM115 million.
This is why Samy Vellu must first make public all the new toll rates increases, their rationale and justification, as well as all the highway concessionaire contracts for public scrutiny. It is most scandalous that the highway privatisation concession agreements, including the North-South Expressway Concession Contract signed over a decade ago, have been kept under wraps as if they are very sensitive state secrets whose revelation would gravely undermine national security and stability!
The public should be given at least one month to give their feedbacks to these information before any final decision is made about new toll rate increases.
I am seeking a meeting with the Works Ministers on this issue.
In view of widespread opposition to the new toll rate increases, as Parliamentary Opposition Leader, I am calling a meeting of MPs and NGOs at Parliament House next Tuesday (January 26) at 11 a.m. to take a common stand against oppressive and unconscionable toll rate increases as well as the imposition of new toll rates.
I hope MPs from all political parties, whether government or opposition, could put aside their political differences and taked a united position to demand a freeze on all toll rate increases, including suspending the introduction of new tolls, until there is a full public examination of the issue and a national consensus is reached by MPs and NGOs.