(Petaling Jaya, Friday): The time has come for Malaysia to have a Highways Consultative Council to protect the interests of both motorists and the general public from one-sided highway privatisation concessions and unfair tolls.
The Works Minister, Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu responded positively when I put this proposal to him yesterday when DAP MPs and State Assembly members met him on the tolls controversy at the Works Ministry. Samy Vellu said he would take the proposal to the Cabinet.
The Highways Consultative Council can provide a forum for the public to voice their complaints and grievances about the highway privatisation, constructions, operations and tolls, and should be a model in the privatisation of other utilities.
The North-South Expressway (NSE) concessionaire, PLUS, has claimed that it has been operating at a loss of RM7.4 billion since 1989, that its toll collection for the 1989-1998 period was RM4.7 billion and another RM314.5 million from other sources while its expenditures for the period was RM12.5 billion, including RM6.6 billion to develop the NSE and another RM3.6 billion to service its bank loans.
One would have thought from the PLUS statement that the North-South Expressway concessionaire is in a very parlous state on the verge of financial collapse, when it is in fact the crown jewel of the Renong conglomerate, being the cash cow of the United Engineers Malaysia (UEM) which wholly owns the toll-operator of the 900-km NSE.
If PLUS is in such a such bad financial straits, then the Employees
Provident Fund should take over from PLUS as the toll-operator of North-South
Expressway, including all its debts, liabilities and assets.
Are PLUS, Renong and UEM prepared to relinquish to EPF the
concession as NSE toll-operator, as it had caused PLUS to lose RM7.4 billion
The claim that PLUS has been operating at a loss of RM7.4 billion since 1989 therefore does not make sense. If there is a Highways Consultative Council, it would be able to examine PLUSí claim and explain its real import to the people, including doing an audit of the various expenditures to check on their authenticity and legitimacy - the RM436 million spent on "emolument and training", the RM343 million spent on "utilities, rental, consultancy & advertising", the RM344 million spent on "routine maintenance", etc.
A delegation from the Coalition Against Toll (CAT) was to visit the PLUS headquarters in Kuala Lumpur this morning to seek a full explanation of the North-South Expressway privatisation, the unfair concession, the toll collections and expenditures, the unfair toll rate increases, etc. The visit has been postponed to next week as the CAT has been informed that the top PLUS management is having a meeting with the Malaysian Highway Authority today.
At the meeting with Samy Vellu yesterday, the DAP elected representatives also raised the double injustices of the Lebuhraya Damansara Puchong (LDP).
Firstly, the reduction of the LDP toll from RM1.50 to RM1 at each of the four toll plazas has not met the demands of the motorists for a reasonable toll rate, i.e. 50 sen, and this is reflected in the various mass media reports in the past two days.
Secondly, with government compensation to the LDP concessionaire, Litrak, for the reduction of the toll rate to the maximum of RM85 million a year, the government has imposed an injustice on the 20 million Malaysians in various parts of the country who do not use the LDP or even own vehicles and violated the basic principle of privatisation of "user pays".
This is why the government should undertake a full-scale renegotiation of all highway concessions, not only with regard to LDP, the North-South Expressway, but also all other highway concessions to protect the interests of both the motorists as well as the general public.
It is for this reason that the protests at the toll plazas in the country on Sunday at 10 a.m. called by the Coalition Against Toll is very important, for the people must send a clear and unmistakable message to the government that they want a renegotiation of all highway concessionaires to remove all the one-sided and unfair clauses which are causing so much hardships and injustices to Malaysians.