Call on Abdullah to intervene from New Delhi to direct a two-month deferment of the 10% NSE toll hike to allow a full public study of its far-reaching implications as it is a major test of the new Prime Minister’s general election pledge to lead a fair, just, open and accountable administration
- when convening a meeting of Members of Parliament, political parties, trade unions, consumer organizations and NGOs on the proposed formation of a coalition against unfair toll increases
by Lim Kit Siang
(Parliament House, Monday): I wish first to apologise for the terribly short notice for the convening of this meeting of Members of Parliament, political parties, trade unions, consumer organizations and NGOs to discuss the formation of a Coalition Against Unfair Toll Increases in the wake of nation-wide protest against the 10 percent North-South Expressway (NSE) toll hike which is to come into effect on January 1, 2005.
We are working under very great time constraints. It was only on Friday that the country woke up to the news in the morning press reporting the reason or non-reason given by the Works Minister, Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu as to why the Cabinet had rejected the unanimous call by Members of Parliament, Barisan Nasional and the Opposition, not to approve the 10% NSE toll hike from 1.1.2005.
The New Straits Times’ front-page headline report, “That 10% Hike Stays”, on Friday blazoned the quote from Samy Vellu in huge letterings, viz:
“If we stop the North-South Expressway toll hike it would be a big burden on the Government. We would have to pay RM38 billion to PLUS over the next 33 years. This money could be utilized for other projects.”
This has created a triple outrage, at:
The country will however be breaking for long holidays, with Christmas next Saturday and the New Year the following week. With the 10% NSE toll hike to begin in 12 days, there is no time for a single day’s delay to organize public support and to get the government to respect public opinion by at least directing a deferment of the unfair toll hike to allow for the fullest public study and understanding of its socio-economic and long-term implications.
Last evening, I again experienced the frustrations of millions of users of the NSE, reinforcing public sentiments against a 10% NSE toll hike. The motor trip from Ayer Keroh to Sungai Besi Toll Plaza, a distance of 115 km which should take less than an hour, took more than two hours, aggravated by the congestion at the toll plaza.
Malaysian highway users are entitled to ask as to why they have to pay toll increases for more jams, poorer services and deteriorating quality of road conditions on the expressway. There are more and more complaints from NSE users of being fleeced on the highway, when their telephone calls to Plus Emergency especially at night do not produce PLUS Patrol Units but private operators
It is outrageous that Samy Vellu did not bother to justify as to why there should be a 10% North-South toll hike on 1.1.2005, apart from claiming that the government is legally bound by the NSE concession. This is not good enough an explanation, as the 25 million Malaysians want to know why Samy Vellu and the government agreed to so unfair and lop-sided a concession, giving PLUS a cash cow at the expense of two generations of Malaysians.
The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi who is currently on an official visit to India should intervene from New Delhi to direct a two-month deferment of the 10% NSE toll hike to allow a full public study of its far-reaching implications as it is a major test of the new Prime Minister’s general election pledge to lead a fair, just, open and accountable administration.
Samy Vellu has raised even more questions about the NSE concession and toll structure. I will just mention six:
Firstly, when I asked in Parliament last Tuesday whether the government would support the establishment of a Parliamentary Select Committee on the NSE concession and toll in view of the serious traffic congestion on the expressway which negatived PLUS claim to provide a safe, smooth and comfortable journey, Samy said that the NSE was built for 160,000 cars a day but is being used by 1,200,000 vehicles.
This means a traffic volume which is 7.5 times the forecast volume, which also means a toll revenue which is some 7.5 times the forecast revenue. In such circumstances, with the NSE concessionaire enjoying a windfall of traffic volume and toll revenue so many times from the original forecasts, it would be a strong argument for the government why PLUS should not be allowed to increase its toll rate unless it could also substantially improve the quality of NSE services.
Secondly, Samy Vellu has said that the government will have to pay PLUS RM154 million a year in compensation or RM38 billion over the next 33 years for not raising the toll charges by 10 per cent. The grand toll for 33 years at RM154 million a year does not add up to RM38 billion but RM5 billion. What is the cause for this discrepancy.
Thirdly, why must compensation be paid to PLUS for the next 33 years till 2038, when the 30-year NSE concession which started in May 1988 is to end in 2030 after a 12-year extension in 1999? With another 25 years to run for the concession, at the compensation rate of RM154 million a year, the total compensation liable till the end of the concession is RM3.85 billion – one tenth of Samy Vellu’s hyperbolic claim of RM38 billion! What has Samy Vellu got to say to this?
Fourthly, had Samy Vellu inadvertently let slip of a secret agreement by the government to extend the NSE concession of PLUS by another eight years, making it a 50-year “cash cow” concession for PLUS from 1988 till 2038?
I do not believe Samy Vellu had made a mistake when he referred to PLUS as having another 33 years of NSE concession to run, as Samy Vellu, 68, is not senile but is still very sharp, nimble and alert, as his enemies in his party have found to their cost. Malaysians are entitled to know when and why PLUS has been secretly given a 50-year concession from an original 25-year concession offer in 1987 without any transparency and accountability to the suffering Malaysian public.
Fifthly, when Samy Vellu said that PLUS is entitled to RM38 billion compensation from the government over the next 33 years if it is not allowed a 10% increase in the toll rate, does this mean that in the next 33 years it is entitled to a gross toll collection of RM380 billion from the Malaysian NSE users?
Finally, Mingguan Malaysia yesterday and the Chinese press today reported that there would be eight more three-yearly 10% NSE toll rate increases in the 42-year NSE concession until 2,030, giving the following chart for the NSE toll rate structure:
The NSE toll by 2029 from KL to Bukit Kayu Hitam rising to RM130.70, KL to Johore Baru to RM105.20, and the whole NSE from JB to Bukit Kayu Hitam to cost RM230.70 is really staggering and astronomical.
Although the government has earlier claimed that the toll structure will not allow for any toll increase by 2016, government credibility is at an all-time low with Samy Vellu implying that the NSE concession has been secretly extended to 50 years and the NSE concession still classified as an official secret nearly two decades after it had been signed.
As Abdullah has said that the trademark of his premiership is to listen to the views of the people, he should order that the NSE concession should be declassified and be made public, so that Malaysians are in possession of the most basic information about their future so as to be able to give their informed views to the powers-that-be.
* Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman