(Petaling Jaya, Wednesday): The National Economic Action Council (NEAC) seems to have become the defender and champion of the North-South Expressway concessionaire, PLUS, claiming that PLUS had been operating at a loss of RM7.4 billion since 1989.
The NEAC source said that overall, PLUS collected RM4.7 billion in toll for the 1989-1998 period and another RM314.5 million from other sources. It spent RM6.6 billion to develop the NSE and another RM3.6 billion to service its bank loans during the period. Its total expenditure for the period was RM12.5 billion.
The NEAC source said that from PLUS projections, it would not be making any profit until the year 2012 - 24 years after the concession agreement was signed. It claims that currently, PLUS doesn't even make enough to cover interest payments let alone provide for maintenance and loan repayments.
The NEAC source said that PLUS has so far been able to cope with its financial obligations because its loan repayments are structured to increase in tandem with projected growth in traffic on the expressway.
Most of PLUS' current revenue goes to paying off the banks and there is no surplus money until the year 2006 when these borrowings are fully settled. Beyond 2006, it still has to pay off the Government's support loan of RM3.5 billion. For this reason, the company would not see any free cash flow until the year 2012, or 24 years after embarking on the project.
I am not very impressed with these attempts by the NEAC to justify the unfair and one-sided North-South Expressway privatisation, its unfair toll rates, its unfair contract terms and unfair annual toll rate increases.
The most important question is whether the people are being given all the facts, and whether the information released represent the true and full facts.
What for instance are the forecasted toll revenue and the actual toll collection between 1989-1998, the forecasted traffic volume and the actual traffic volume for the same period, as well as for each year for the rest of the concession period.
The NEAC source said that PLUS collected RM1.06 billion from toll in 1997 and RM950 million in 1998, making a total of RM4.76 million from toll from 1989-1998.
I have reasons to believe that these are not the correct figures of the toll reveneue collected by PLUS but an understatement. If this is true, it is not only a shocking act of irresponsibilty of PLUS but also of the NEAC.
The Coalition Against Toll set up by political parties and NGOs will send a delegation to PLUS headquarters on Friday at 10.30 a.m. to seek a full explanation of the North-South Expressway privatisation, the veracity of the toll collections made public by PLUS through the NEAC yesterday, the unfair concession, the unfair tolls rate and unfair toll increases.
I hope the PLUS Chairman, the Managing Director and other responsible officers would be able to give the Coalition Against Toll a satisfactory explanation during our visit to the PLUS headquarters on Friday.
The Coalition Against Toll has called for a nation-wide protest at 100 toll plazas (70 along North-South Expressway and 30 plazas at other highways) by the people on Sunday at 10 a.m. for the people to spontaneously show their strong opposition to the unfair highway privatisation contracts and tolls and to demand a renegotiation of all the highway concessions.
Concern has been expressed about these protests, and I want to make it very clear that these protests must be conducted in a peaceful, civil and even civilised manner, and that they should not be unruly demonstrations as this will allow the authorities and the highway concessionaires to deflect the issue of unfair highway tolls to unruly demonstrations, defeating the purpose of the nation-wide protest against unfair tolls.
I therefore call on everyone to play their part, not only in coming out in large numbers at the 100 toll plazas in the country to show their protest at unfair highway tolls, but also to show high standards of Malaysian civic-spiritedness in ensuring that no unseemly incidents take place at all. Let Malaysians show to the government and the whole world that they are peaceful citizens who merely want their voice against unfair highway tolls to be heard through the peaceful protests at the 100 toll plazas all over the country on Sunday.