(Petaling Jaya, Thursday): The nation-wide controversy over the unfair and burdensome toll rate increases for highways and the introduction of new tolls is the best example as to why the DAPís nation-wide "Justice For All" campaign is relevant to all Malaysians, because we want justice in its largest sense, whether political, economic, educational, social, cultural or religious under the Malaysian sun.
I thank the Works Minister, Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu for answering my question as to why there is a RM48 million discrepancy in the government compensation to highway concessionaires last year, although he is causing even more confusion in the process.
Last Thursday, when he announced that toll rates for four expressways would be raised after the Chinese New Year next month, Samy Vellu said that the government had paid RM192 million in compensation to the four concessionaires for not allowing them to increase their toll rates to their full quantum as stipulated in their concessions.
However, 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.
In his clarification yesterday, Samy Vellu said that the government paid RM192 million in compensation to Projek Lebuhraya Utara Selatan (PLUS) for not raising toll rates along the North-South Expressway last year, and that another RM48 million in compensation was paid to the three other concessionaires.
As there are so many highway concessionaires in the country, It is clear that the government must have paid more than RM240 million in compensation to all the concessionaires last year. For instance, the government paid RM20 million last year as compensation for the Second Link because of the poor traffic volume and toll collection since its opening last March.
Malaysians are entitled to know the total amounts of compensation paid by the government to all the concessionaires last year, giving separate compensation figures for each concessionaire.
Although I thank Samy Vellu for his clarification on the RM48 million discrepancy, his answer has shocked me as I had not realised that the government compensation to PLUS last year was such a huge sum of RM192 million!
This means that the government had paid PLUS RM433 million as compensation in the past three years (RM176 million in 1996, RM65 million in 1997 and RM192 million in 1998). Including the governmentís compensation to to PLUS this year, the people through the government would have subsidised PLUS by over RM500 million in the four years from 1996-1999.
There can be no justification for such government subsidy or compensation to a private monopoly like PLUS, especially as it is collecting over RM1 billion in toll a year.
Another question raised by Samy Velluís clarification is what is the amount of government compensation to the four highway concessionaires next year when the government absorbs 60 per cent of the increase. Samy Vellu has been reported as saying that the government compensation this year would come to 60 per cent of last yearís compensation. Samy Vellu should clarify whether the government compensation to these four highway concessionaires is a hefty RM144 million (60 per cent of RM240 million)!
There can be no justification for PLUS to increase the toll rate for the North-South Expressway when it is collecting over RM1 billion in toll a year.
The Cabinet at its meeting next Wednesday should place the tolls issue on top of its agenda and I call on all Ministers, whether UMNO, MCA, Gerakan or MIC, to speak up and get the Cabinet to rescind its decision to approve toll rates increases or freeze them until the Works Minister has released all facts and information about the various highway concessions and their proposed toll rates increases and the people are given at least one month to study them and give their feedbacks.
I hope Barisan Nasional MPs will attend the meeting on the tolls rates increases which I have convened for MPs and NGOs in Parliament on Tuesday at 11 a.m. to let the people know that MPs can put aside their political party differences to take a common stand in the public interest.
The President of the Perak Consumers Association, Encik Abdul Rahman has informed me that he would attend the meeting of MPs and NGOs against unfair tolls increase at Parliament House on Tuesday, and I welcome all NGOs which feel strongly on the issue to the meeting. Any inquiries should be directed to my office, Tel: 03-7578022 and ask for Prem or Ms Foo.