(Petaling Jaya, Sunday): The nation-wide protests at the countryís toll plazas called by the Coalition Against Toll (CAT) started off well when thousands of people gathered at the various toll plazas throughout the country to express their protests against unfair highway privatisation concessions and unfair tolls.
Incomplete reports received from all over the country shows that protests were held at the toll plazas in Johore, Malacca, Negri Sembilan, Selangor, Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur, Pahang, Perak, Penang and Kedah.
Protests were held at the toll plazas which had been announced by the Coalition Against Toll yesterday, viz:
Alor Star Utara Toll Plaza
Penang Juru Toll Plaza
Perak (1) Ampang Toll Plaza
(2) Jelapang Toll Plaza
FT/Selangor (1) Salak Jaya Toll Plaza
(2) Jalan Kepong-Jalan Damansara (LPD)
(3) Gombak Toll Plaza
Pahang Bentong Toll Plaza
N. Sembilan Seremban Toll Plaza
Malacca Ayer Keroh Toll Plaza
Johore Ayer Hitam Toll Plaza
Apart from these scheduled toll plaza protests, the Coalition Against Toll is also receiving reports of protests at other toll plazas organised either by member organisations of the Coalition Against Toll or by the people in the respective localities, including the Simpang Pulai toll plaza in Perak and the Cheras-Kajang toll plaza.
The government should seriously consider the message in these nation-wide toll plaza protests, and it should immediately set up a Highways Consultative Council to consider the publicís mounting protests against unfair highway privatisation concessions and unfair tolls.
The Cabinet should seriously consider the basic demands of the Coalition
Against Toll of "Five Noes" and "Two Yes", namely:
Yes to Justice for Motorists
Yes to Justice For ALL
The peopleís nation-wide protests at the toll plazas is the best answer to the silly statement by the Deputy Minister in the Prime Ministerís Department, Datuk Ibrahim Ali yesterday who said the people must be rational about toll rates and should not take part in the nation-wide protests at the toll plazas.
Ibrahim Ali had been a "kaki demonstrasi" since his student days in ITM and I can still remember the time when he urgently phoned me up from Kelantan in the 70s when he was involved in a spate of student demonstrations asking me to speak up on his behalf as he had returned to his home state from ITM for fear of being arrested.
As a "kaki demonstrasi", Ibrahim should defend the right of the people to peacefully protest at the toll plazas to express their opposition to unfair highway privatisation concessions and unfair tolls and not to turn his back to the people after becoming Deputy Minister.
The Cabinet should also give serious consideration to the whole issue of no tolls for the inner city of Kuala Lumpur. This is why the protest this morning at the Salak Jaya toll plaza of the Sungai Besi Highway which will be collecting RM1.20 toll attracted such great support from the local motorists although the new highway is not yet operational.
Next Sunday, an important focal point of the nation-wide toll plaza protest will be the Jalan Kuching Toll Plaza, which is supposed to become toll-free on the expiry of the nine-year concession on January 8, 1996.
However, the Jalan Kuching toll concession was extended for seven years in exchange for a road upgrading project. As a result, the motorists using the Jalan Kuching Toll Plaza never had the opportunity to enjoy using Jalan Kuching as a toll-free highway for a single day on the expiry of Kamuntingís highway concession in January 1996 and not much has been seen with regard to the new road upgrading project either.
The Jalan Kuching Toll Concession is the best example that all the government talk about highways and expressways, including the North-South Expressway, become toll free when they revert to the ownership of the Government at the end of the concession is mere empty talk.
The Coalition Against Toll will visit the PLUS headquarters in Kuala Lumpur next week 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 CAT visit to PLUS was originally scheduled last Friday but was postponed to next week as the top PLUS management had a pre-arranged meeting with the Malaysian Highway Authority on that day.
PLUS has said that it has been operating at a loss of RM7.4 billion since 1989 from its North-South Expressway (NSE) concession, 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 and 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.
The claim that PLUS has been operating at a loss of RM7.4 billion since 1989 is a meaningless statement. PLUS should submit to public scrutiny and audit its various expenditures to check on their authenticity and legitimacy - including the RM436 million spent on "emolument and training", the RM343 million spent on "utilities, rental, consultancy & advertising", the RM344 million spent on "routine maintenance" since 1989.
The Coalition Against Toll will hold its next meeting in Petaling Jaya on Tuesday, February 2, 1999 to review todayís nation-wide toll plazas protest and plan the next course of action.