Call for a nation-wide protest at the 100 toll plazas (70 on  North-South Expressway and 30  on other highways) on Sunday at 10  a.m. to launch a national movement against unfair highway tolls and the "Five Noes and Two Yes" Demand

- meeting of MPs, political parties, NGOs and resident committees
on the unfair highway tolls
by Lim Kit Siang  

(Parliament House, Tuesday): Twelve years ago, in opposing the North-South Expressway privatisation to the United Engineers Malaysia (UEM) because of improprieties in the tender exercise, conflict of interest, lack of accountability and transparency and one-sided terms inimical to the interests of Malaysians for three decades, I coined the word "piratisation" to describe the most rapacious aspects of the Barisan Nasional privatisation programme.

In Parliament on July 8, 1987, in the debate on the Federal Roads (Private Management) Act Amendment Bill 1987  to enable the government to privatise the North-South Expressway, I said:

"Datuk Samy Vellu would be mortgaging the future generations of Malaysians for $31 billion if he signs the North-South Expressway contract with UEM later this month after the passage of the present Bill.  This is not privatisation, but downright piratisation!"

In August 1987, the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad stated that UEM, owned by UMNO trustee company, Hatibudi Sdn. Bhd.,  was chosen in order to finance the $360 million  UMNO Headquarters, the Putra World Trade Centre.

The row created by the DAP inside and outside Parliament opposing the privatisation of the North-South Expressway to UEM stopped the scheduled signing of the privatisation contract between the government and the UEM on July 17, 1987. I also filed an injunction to prevent UEM from signing the contract, and when I made headway in my public interest litigation, succeeding in securing an interim injunction, I was detained together with my counsel, Karpal Singh, under the Internal Security Act  in the mass crackdown codenamed Operation Lalang, where over a hundred people, including Opposition MPs, social and religious activists, were arrested.

When I came out from Kamunting Detention Centre in April 1989 with  DAP MP for Kota Melaka, Lim Guan Eng - as both of us were the last two to be released under  Operation Lalang - the court interim injunction had been lifted and the North-South Expressway concession signed.

My role in leading the opposition to the North-South Expressway privatisation to UEM, the predecessor to PLUS, and Karpal Singh's legal prowess in securing an interim injunction to stop the signing of the North-South Expressway concession were chiefly responsible for our detention  under the Internal Security Act  in October 1987 - giving to both of us the dubious honour of being the first victims of the North-South Expressway privatisation, not in terms of emptying our pockets but in depriving us of our personal liberties!

Now, the chickens have come home to roost, and what we had warned twelve years ago about the gross injustices that would ensue from the North-South Expressway concession to UEM have been proved right.

In August 1987, in my prologue to my booklet, North-South Highway Scandal, I had written:

Unfortunately, this is the position that we have come to, and I could have said: "I toll you so!"

Two   days ago, the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi  said the government would not accede to mounting public demands that it make public the North-South Highway concession, suggesting that the people should trust the government. He said there was no need to do so because "if we make public one agreement, they will ask for a thousand more agreements."

I am disappointed that the new Deputy Prime Minister has shown so early after his appointment his lack of understanding of the people’s  new demands of  higher standards for  good governance whether  in terms of  accountability, transparency or integrity.

If there are indeed one thousand highway concession contracts, why should’nt they all be made public if the government has nothing to hide, especially as it is the Malaysian public who are directly affected by the highway concessions.

The second reason why I am disappointed by the new Deputy Prime Minister is his lack of understanding of the grave crisis of confidence in the credibility of the government which has forfeited the trust of the people.

 The North-South Expressway concession and other highway privatisation contracts furnish ample examples as to why the people have ceased to trust the government because Ministers have repeatedly broken their promises and misled the public. 

Abdullah said the government had never been unfair to the people with  regards to toll collection as alternative roads were provided for motorists who  do not want to use the highway.

Abdullah should pay a personal visit to the Jalan Kepong/Jalan Damansara interchange of the new Lebuharaya Damansara Puchong (LDP) to see for himself that no alternative route had been provided although the new 40-km highway has started collecting RM1.50 toll at each of its four interchanges.

Adding salt to injury, the Works Minister, Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu declared yesterday at the opening of the LDP that highway concessionaires are not obliged to build alternative roads for motorists wanting to avoid paying toll!

Who are the people to believe, the new Deputy Prime Minister or the Works Minister?

Another example of the people’s loss of trust in the government is the misinformation which they had been fed about the highway privatisation.  At first, Samy Vellu said the government had paid RM192 million last year as compensation to the four expressway concessionaires who would be allowed to increase their toll rates after the Chinese New Year.  However,  when the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad came out with a higher figure of RM240 million, and I asked for an explanation for the RM48 million discrepancy, Samy Vellu clarified that the RM192 million was paid as compensation to PLUS alone while the balance were to the other three concessionaires.

This brings up the  third "sin" of the government - its refusal  to be frank, honest and truthful about the highway privatisation contracts with the people. When Samy Vellu announced in August 1996 the new toll rates for the North-South Expressway  from 1996-1998, providing for the 33 per cent increase in toll rates to be implemented in stages over the period instead of from January 1, 1996, the Malaysian public were not told of the actual compensation which the government would have to pay PLUS.

 At that time, Samy Vellu mentioned a vague figure of "about 100 million" as the amount of compensation which the government had to compensate PLUS for the losses for the review of the toll rates for the three years.  The total compensation which the government had to pay PLUS from 1996-1998 is not RM100 million but a mind-boggling RM433 million, comprising RM176 million in 1996, RM65 million in 1997 and RM192 million in 1998.

Including the government’s compensation to  PLUS this year, the people of Malaysia would be subsidising through the government over RM500 million in the four years from 1996-1999.

This is on top of the hefty toll the motorists have to pay. As a fourth reason why the government has lost the trust of the people is that no attempt had ever been made whether by PLUS or the government to justify the hefty tolls and the increases, especially at a time of economic recession and grave hardships faced by the people.

Is PLUS prepared to make  public full data such as its toll revenues,  traffic volumes, loan commitments to justify annual increase of toll rates on the North-South Expressway for the next 20 years?

PLUS has been collecting over RM1 billion in toll a year for the past  three years and I estimate that  it has collected about RM6 billion since 1989, and is about to collect RM2 billion toll revenue a year. 

According to PLUS forecasts, it expects to collect over RM80 billion from toll on the North-South Expressway during the 30-year concession period. However, this is only a conservative estimate, as with the vastly increased traffic volume in the past few years as compared to the forecast traffic volume, PLUS' total revenue might be exceeded from 50 to 100 per cent, which could bring it to the region between RM120 billion to RM160 billion.

 Samy Vellu said yesterday that the government would no longer provide guarantees on  traffic volume to concessionaires. "In the past, we used to give such  guarantees. If the volume is higher than the projected volume, we share the  profit and if lower, we compensate them....but we are not going to do that  anymore," he said.

 Can Samy Vellu explain whether the government would be sharing in the profit with PLUS if there is  an increase in the projected traffic volume on the North-South Expressway?

The highway  privatisation record of the government of the past 12 years has shown that the time has come for the people to stand up for their own rights.

The highway privatisation programme has worked double injustices. The first injustice is to the motorists because of  the exorbitant toll rates and regular increases, without proper public accountability and transparency.

The second injustice is the burden it had brought to the Malaysian general public, including the non-motorists and non-users of the highways which are against the very principle of privatisation of "user pays" by way of government compensation to concessionaires running into hundreds of millions of ringgit every year - which are public funds.

The time has come for a nation-wide movement to demand justice in the highway privatisation programme, and as a first step, I would call for a nation-wide protest by the people at the 100 toll plazas (70 on  North-South Expressway and 30  on other highways) on Sunday at 10  a.m. to launch a national movement against unfair highway tolls and the "Five Noes and Two Yes" Demand, namely:


*Lim Kit Siang - Malaysian Parliamentary Opposition Leader, Democratic Action Party Secretary-General & Member of Parliament for Tanjong