Call for Highways Consultative Council to protect interests of motorists and general public from lop-sided and burdensome highway concessions and unfair toll structure like NSE, which has collected over RM12 billion in toll and might have been secretly given a 50-year concession


Media Conference Statement (2)
-  at the Ampang Toll Plaza in the CAUTI (Coalition Against Unfair Toll Increase)  nation-wide protests against 10% North-South Expressway toll hike

by Lim Kit Siang

(Ipoh, Sunday): Seventeen  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 (NSE), 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 then 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 the then 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 NSE  concession signed.

My role in leading the opposition to the NSE  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 NSE 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 seventeen  years ago about the gross injustices that would ensue from the NSE  concession to UEM and subsequently to PLUS have been proved right and the country is in the midst of another round of nation-wide protests against the unfair, lopsided and burdensome NSE concession and toll rate structure which violates the pledges of the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi on openness, accountability, transparency, trustworthiness and integrity.

The time has come for Malaysia to have a Highways Consultative Council to protect the interests of both motorists and the general public from lopsided and burdensome  highway concessions and unfair toll structure like the NSE, which has collected over RM12 billion in toll and might have been secretly given a 50-year concession.

The Highways Consultative Council should  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.

This should be another reason for the Cabinet to defer the 10% NSE toll hike on 1.1.2005 and to refer the toll increase and NSE toll rate structure to the Highways Consultative Council, which should be required to complete its study and submit its recommendation to the Cabinet within two months. 

The deferment of the NSE toll hike and the establishment of the Highways Consultative Council will be the most eloquent testimony that Abdullah is fully committed to deliver his general election pledge to lead a clean, accountable and trustworthy administration which is prepared to listen to the truth from the people. 


* Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman