DAP Shall Hold A Series Of Nation-wide Protests At Toll Plazas Against The 10% Toll Hike On The North-South Expressway(NSE) By Project Lebuhraya Utara Selatan(PLUS)
by Lim Guan Eng
(Petaling Jaya, Friday): DAP shall hold a series of nation-wide protests at toll plazas on the NSE to protest against the governmentís decision to allow the 10% toll hike by PLUS. All DAP state committees shall decide on the time and venue of such protests before the toll hike to be implemented on 1.1.2005.
DAP expresses disappointment that both Works Minister Datuk Samy Vellu and Minister in the Prime Ministerís Department Datuk Mustapha Mohamed is more interested in protecting the interests of PLUS than the rights of ordinary Malaysians. If Datuk Samy Vellu is worried about having to pay RM 38 billion in compensation over the next 33 years to PLUS should toll hikes not be allowed, why did he agree and sign the agreement with PLUS in 1987 in the first place?
Similarly why is Datuk Mustapha more concerned that the toll increase would help PLUS settle RM 7.1 billion loans it took to finance the RM7.3 billion cost of constructing the NSE? The government can not run away from the responsibilty of burdening Malaysians with such unfair toll charges. Clearly governmentís refusal to a complete review to ensure a reasonable and just toll rate has resulted into a policy failure that has turned privatization into piratisation which benefits the few at the expense of the poor. Further many Malaysians are unhappy at the traffic congestion and poor road quality of our highways.
The privatization policy was flawed from the start with generous guarantees to Projek Lebuhraya Utara-Selatan(PLUS) not only in terms of guaranteed bank loans but also traffic volume to PLUS, effectively guaranteeing minimum revenue received. With such generous guarantees from the government where any company without any track record building highways can do the job, there is no reason why the can not undertake the job itself.
If BN MPs are sincere in stopping PLUS from making huge profits by increasing toll rates, they must press for a full and complete review of such unfair privatization contracts. Or demand that road tax be abolished or reduced to reflect the reduced financial commitments by the government to building roads.
Works Minister Datuk Samy Vellu had said that the government had to pay RM 80 million compensation annually to (PLUS) to offset losses owing to the freeze on toll rates since 1998, when the annual toll increase was changed to an increase once every 3 years. The concessionaire agreement was also extended from 2018 to 2030. PLUS has collected more than RM 9 billion since 1987 with more expected to come in the next 25 years.
Apart from the annual RM 80 million compensation to PLUS, Datuk Samy Vellu said that the Government is also making an annual compensation payment of RM 470 million to the concessionaire of the Kesas Highway(RM 50 million), RM60 million to Lebuhraya Damansara Puchong, RM290 million to Prolintas and another RM70 million to Sprint Highway. Such compensation is also an additional cost to Malaysians.
With such generous guarantees, it is not surprising PLUS enjoys the highest operating margin amongst toll concessionaires in the world of 82-3%, recording pre-tax profits of RM 736 million over a turnover of RM 1,580 million in 2003. Projected profits by PLUS this year is expected to be RM 800 million all contributed by Malaysians who continue to suffer congestion in highways and toll plazas.
For the government to allow PLUS unfettered powers to increase toll rates with such high profits is not just irresponsible but also not in the interests of 25 million Malaysians. Clearly the government is stubbornly going ahead with toll hikes despite the losses and opposition from the public. As BN can claim that the huge mandate gained in the 2004 general elections showed approval for such toll hikes, the people can only register their protest in the next general elections.
* Lim Guan Eng, DAP Secretary-General