(Petaling Jaya, Thursday): When Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was the Acting Prime Minister in June and July 1997, one of the Cabinet meetings chaired by him directed the Works Ministry to study whether highway toll rates can be reduced to ease the burdens of the people.
The Works Minister, Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu announced in August 1997
that the review, which would be completed in six to nine months,
would include the agreement between the Government and Projek Lebuhraya
Utara-Selatan (PLUS), the concessionaire of the North-South Expressway.
I call on Samy Vellu to make public the review completed by Works Ministry last year as to whether highway toll rates can be reduced. The Minister should take note of the recommendation of the National Economic Action Council that there should be frequent release of government information in order to strengthen public confidence in the government by enhancing transparency and accountability.
At the time, the Pan-Malaysian Lorry Owners’ Association had urged the Works Ministry to consider granting preferential toll rates to lorry drivers using the North-South Expressway and other toll roads which were given only to buses and taxis. What is the outcome of the Ministry’s consideration of such a request in its review?
Samy Vellu seems to be very selective in announcing new tolls or new toll rate increases. Yesterday for instance, he announced that the toll at all four toll plazas of the Damansara-Puchong Expressway beginning on January 25 has been fixed at RM1.50 for cars, without giving details for other categories of vehicles.
What is shocking is his arbitrary decision to cancel the building of an alternative road between Sungai Penchala and Bandar Sri Damansara, which allowed the Penchala toll plaza to be bypassed.
Samy Vellu should heed the demands of the people for full details about the new toll rate increases at the four expressways, including the North-South Expressway as his assurance that the toll rate increase would not be burdensome had proved to be wrong on other occasions.
The best example is the toll rate for the Second Link between Malaysia and Singapore.
In March last year, Samy Vellu announce that the toll for the Second Link between Malaysia and Singapore should not burden motorists as they have been reduced by 50 per cent and the government had taken into consideration the complaints from all quarters before deciding on the new rates.
However, when the new rates were introduced on March 16, 1998, the number of Second Link users dropped by 58 per cent on the first day of toll collection as compared with the toll free period between Jan 2 and March 15, 1998 and it swiftly became an expensive "white elephant".
Samy Vellu has now admitted that motorists’ reluctance to use the Johor-Singapore Second Link is costing the Malaysian government a whopping RM20 million (S$8.2 million) or so annually, being the amount which the government had to pay the concessionaire of the link.
Earlier last year, Parliament was told that a total of RM7.8 million in toll was collected at the Second Link from March 17 to June 30, when the projected collection should have been RM11.31 million for the same period.
This is again another one of the long catalogue of privatisation disasters where the interests of the public have been sacrificed to that of a selected few favoured corporations.