DAP calls for a Highways Consultative Council to protect the interests of both motorists and the general public from one-sided highway privatisation concessions and unfair tolls which shortchanged generations of Malaysians
(Ipoh, Tuesday): Works Minister, Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu said on Sunday that the Cabinet had approved the widening of the North-South Expressway (NSE) between Seremban and Ayer Keroh and from Rawang to Tanjung Malim from four to six lanes. When was this Cabinet approval given, whether it had been approved last year?
The question uppermost in the minds of Malaysians however is whether the NSE concession, which is so secretive and one-sided against the interests of generations of motorists, will become even more unfair and insensitive to the public interest, whether short, mid or long-term, and whether the government is prepared to subject the variation of the NSE concession to PLUS Expressway Bhd to public consultation and scrutiny.
These are pertinent and pressing issues in view of the latest 10% increase in the North-South Expressway toll beginning this year and the arbitrary and unfair imposition of “overstaying fines” on NSE motorists, with the latter incident highlighting the shocking fact that Cabinet Ministers do not know what rights of generations of Malaysians had signed away in the NSE concession.
Although public protests against the latest round of 10% NSE toll increase was comparatively muted as compared to previous hikes, virtually drowned and overwhelmed by the December 26 tsunami catastrophe, it will be a grave misjudgment if the authorities should assume that they can continue to act without accountability and transparency in privatization or extension of privatization contracts.
When justifying the latest round of 10% NSE toll hike in December, Samy Vellu claimed that the government would have to pay RM38 billion in compensation to PLUS over the next 33 years if the 10% NSE toll hike on 1.1.2005 was stopped.
I remain mystified as to why government compensation must be paid to PLUS for the next 33 years till 2038, when the NSE concession ends in 2030 – or in another 25 years! In 1999, the 30-year NSE concession (1988-2018) was extended by 12 years till 2030, following a renegotiation of the concession providing for a new toll structure, with increments every three to five years instead of annually in the original contract.
Could it be that by last December, the government had already secretly agreed to another eight-year extension of the NSE concession, giving it a 50-year tenure from 1988 to 2038 without any public announcement or consultation – whether related or not to the widening of NSE between Seremban and Ayer Keroh and from Rawang to Tanjung Malim from four to six lanes?
Be that as it may, Malaysians are entitled to know the full contents of the NSE privatization concession and any variation – and there can be no reason to continue to classify the privatization concession as an “official secret” kept away from public scrutiny and accountability.
In July last year, Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak announced a review of “lopsided” privatization contracts which “short-changed” the government and the Malaysian public with a view to re-negotiate them. Najib said the government would learn from past mistakes and weaknesses to ensure that in future, it was not short-changed when negotiating deals with the private sector.
Was the NSE concession, the most notorious of the privatization contracts, subject to such a review and renegotiation. If so, what is the outcome; and if not, why was it excluded from the review?
Malaysians want to know whether the government has really learnt from its past mistakes and weaknesses in privatization, particularly in the award of highway concessions like the NSE.
DAP calls for the establishment of 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 Highways Consultative Council should be fully consulted on any new highway concession or new variation, including the NSE concession, and it should be allowed full access to all highway concessions to be able to advise the government, Parliament and the public of features and conditions which are lopsided which could “shortchange” generations of the Malaysian public.
* Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman