(Penang, Wednesday): Yesterday, the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad said that the government has no choice but to raise toll rates on four main expressways in the country so that its funds can be used for other development projects.
He said if the government did not allow highway concessionaires to increase the tolls, the Government would be forced to pay them compensation as stipulated in the agreements.
The four expressways are North-South Expressway, Elite Expressway, Shah Alam-Kajang Expressway and Kulim-Butterworth Expressway.
The first question that comes to mind is why the government signed such a one-sided contract with the concessionaires whereby the latter get all the profit but bear zero risk without consent or even consultation from the motorists or the Malaysian public whatsoever.
These highway concessions bear all the marks of "sweetheart deals" awarded without any open tender to specially-favoured companies at the expense of the public, which probably explains why up to now, the Works Ministry has refused to make public all the highway concession contracts as well as all relevant information about toll rate increases and government compensations to the various highway concessionaires.
The New Straits Times today reported that the Prime Minister told reporters at his Hari Raya Open House that the government paid out RM240 million in compensation to the four highway concessionaires last year after it rejected their application for an increase in toll rates.
This is at variance from what the Works Minister, Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu said last Thursday when he announced that toll rates for the four expressways would be raised after the Chinese New Year - which is RM192 million government compensation last year to the four concessionaires for not allowing them to increase their toll rates.
What is the reason for this RM48 million discrepancy between the Prime Minister and the Minister for Works on the amount of compensation paid to these four concessionaires last year?
I call on Samy Vellu to immediately make public a full list of the highway concessionaires in the country and the amount of government compensation which had been made to each of them right from the beginning.
Samy Vellu has said that the new toll rates increase at the four expressways
will be "minimal and not much of a burden" to the people. Yesterday, he
said the proposed increase in toll rates is "very reasonable" and
added: "It is not a question of a few dollars more, but that of a few sen
more. As such, the proposed increase is small."
Samy Velluís statement that the proposed increase in toll rates will not be "a few dollars more, but a few sen more" is no assurance at all, and in fact, quite meaningless, nonsensical and even alarming.
At present, the rate for private vehicles at the North-South Expressway is 10.5 sen per kilometre, and any talk of an increase of even a ringgit per kilometre would tantamount to an increase of over a thousand per cent while an increase by 10.5 sen per kilomtre would be a 100 per cent increase.
So what did Samy Vellu mean when he said that the increase in toll rates would not be "a few dollars more, but a few sen more" and "minimal", and if so, why then is he so reluctant to immediately announce the full details?