Nation-wide protest action against unilateral,  arbitrary  and illegal  PLUS fines on motorists  for “overstaying” in the  North-South Expressway deferred until meeting with PLUS on Monday


Media Conference Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Penang, Friday): The nation-wide protest action  against the unilateral, arbitrary and illegal PLUS fines on motorists for “overstaying” in the North-South Expressway (NSE) is being deferred until a meeting with the PLUS management for full and satisfactory explanation and clarification of the matter  on Monday. 

I had phoned up the PLUS Expressway Bhd  management at its head office in Kuala Lumpur yesterday morning to query about the sudden imposition totally without notice  of the “fine for overstaying” at the NSE toll plazas in Perak on Wednesday. Last evening,  the PLUS corporate communications director Khalilah Mohd Talha faxed me a PLUS press release on the matter, viz: 

“Berikutan beberapa aduan yang diterima hari ini, Projek Lebuhraya Utara-Selatan Berhad (PLUS) ingin menjelaskan bahawa operasi yang dikendalikan di Wilayah Utara semalam adalah sebahagian daripada usaha berterusan syarikat ini untuk membendung kegiatan penyelewengan tol di kalangan pelanggan lebuh raya. 

“Hasil daripada siasatan PLUS, terdapat unsur-unsur  penyelewengan dikalangan pelanggan lebuh raya di mana tempoh perjalanan yang diambil oleh sesetengah pemandu bagi jarak dekat telah mengambil masa yang terlalu panjang dan tidak munasabah. 

“Berikutan operasi pemeriksaan mengejut yang diadakan semalam, kegiatan penipuan kadar tol telah berkurangan berbanding hari-hari yang sebelumnya. Langkah ini juga merupakan salah satu system kawalan PLUS bagi menjamin integriti kutipan tol dengan menjaga kepentingan syarikat. 

“Walau bagaimanapun, PLUS menasihatkan pelanggan lebuh raya yang dikenakan tindakan semasa operasi semalam tetapi mempunyai alasan yang kukuh supaya menghubungi syarikat ini menerusi talian 03-7981 8000 atau membuat aduan di plaza tol terdekat untuk menyelesaikan perkara tersebut.  Butir-butir yang diperlukan ialah lokasi plaza tol masuk, tarikh dan waktu masuk dan sebab-sebab mengapa tempoh perjalanan di antara dua plaza tol yang berhampiran mengambil masa terlalu panjang.” 

The  PLUS clarification is not  fully satisfactory or acceptable and I have asked for a meeting with the PLUS management on this  important and  pressing public interest issue on Monday, in view of the stretch of holidays this weekend. 

While I can understand the PLUS concern  to counter toll-evasion and cheating tactics  which had been reported in the media previously, such counter-measures must be  legal, reasonable, accountable,  transparent, commensurate with the problem and without creating  inconvenience for  the larger innocent motoring public, and not unilateral, arbitrary, illegal, excessive  and totally without notice as is the present case.  

This issue has raised anew the whole controversy  of unfair privatization and unfair toll, not only of the North-South Expressway, but of the entire privatization exercise to date. 

Yesterday, for instance, Tenaga Nasional Bhd disclaimed responsibility to give any rebates to consumers for the five-state  power outage on January 13. 

In justifying  the refusal to make any compensation to the consumers in the five states which  have suffered tens of millions of ringgit of losses, TNB chief executive officer/president Datuk Che Khatib Mohd Noh said that power to all consumers was restored “well within the guidelines set by the Energy Commission”, viz: to restore power within four hours in the event of minor faults and 12 hours for major faults. 

This issue of compensation for disruptions of power supply should not just hinge on length of power blackout, but on the actual losses incurred by the consumers, whether industrial, commercial or household. 

This is  one example where the regulator of utilities,  in this case the Energy Commission for energy, is regulating not to protect the interests of the consumers but the utility industry – and why privatization is getting such a bad name in Malaysia. 

The blanket refusal of TNB to pay compensation for the January 13 five-state  power blackout highlights the urgent need for an independent council for energy consumers to ensure that consumer protection is at the heart of the privatization and regulation of the power industry –  and which is equally pertinent for all other privatizations, whether utilities like water and telecommunications or highways. 

On water privatization, the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, said yesterday that the Federal Government’s takeover of water management and treatment is not meant to belittle anyone, including the rulers.

While such an assurance is to be lauded, it would have been better if the whole process of water federalization and privatization by the Federal Government had been handled with greater tact and circumspection by the Minister for Energy, Water and Communications, Datuk Seri Dr. Lim Keng Yaik, bearing in mind the clear provision of Article 76(1)© of the Federal Constitution that Parliament should not amend the Federal Constitution to remove “water management” from  State List without first  being requested by the respective State Legislative Assemblies.  Why did Keng Yaik rush to amend the Federal Constitution when the various State Assemblies have not yet met to request such an amendment by Parliament? 

In the three-day parliamentary debates by the Dewan Rakyat and Dewan Negara at the special Parliament sitting on federalization and privatization of water, MPs have expressed their concern about the terms and conditions of water privatization, not only with regard to tariff but also all other aspects, such as quality, efficiency and equity of the water services. 

The imposition of the  unilateral, arbitrary and illegal PLUS fines on motorists for “overstaying” in the North-South Expressway (NSE) is the latest reminder of new and unexpected injustices which could arise from unfair privatizations, and why Malaysians must unite to oppose not only unfair tolls and tariffs but unfair privatization as well.


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