Standing invitation to Barisan Nasional MPs and leaders at all levels to take part in Sunday’s nation-wide peaceful protests by  Coalition Against Unfair Toll Increase to ask for two-month deferment of 10% NSE toll hike on 1.1.2005 to ensure transparent and fair NSE toll structure


Media Conference Statement
at the DAP protest against 10% North-South Expressway toll hike at  Juru Toll Plaza
by Lim Kit Siang

(Penang, Wednesday): I welcome the call by the  Deputy UMNO  Youth leader, Khairy Jamaludin to  PLUS Expressways Bhd (PLUS), the concessionaire for the North-South Expressway (NSE)  to be more transparent in explaining the toll rate increases.

The call by the UMNO Youth, coming a day after the high-level briefing by PLUS to senior government officers and the media organized and chaired by the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Mustapha Mohamed in his capacity as Executive Director of the National Economic Action Council (NEAC), as well as the unanimous stand by all Members of Parliament, both  government and  opposition  in the Dewan Rakyat the previous Tuesday opposing the 10% NSE toll hike, are proof of the prevalence and  legitimacy of nation-wide grievances of the people at unfair and untransparent NSE toll hikes.

The onus to be fair and transparent in the latest 10% NSE toll hike, however, does not just rest on PLUS alone but also on the Cabinet, which had  approved the latest NSE toll  increase at its meeting last Wednesday – making both PLUS and the Cabinet Ministers equally responsible to the 25 million Malaysians to present a strong and irrefutable case why the 10% NSE toll hike is fair, reasonable and defensible.

In the past week, I had posed six questions challenging the fairness, transparency and validity of the 10% NSE toll hike, but no answer on anyone of the six  had been forthcoming either from PLUS or the Cabinet Ministers, who had given their approval to PLUS for the NSE  toll hike.

Even Monday’s NEAC briefing by PLUS failed to provide answer to the question asked by Malaysian highway users as to why they have to pay toll increases for more jams, poorer services and deteriorating quality of road conditions on the NSE.

At the NEAC briefing, the PLUS managing director Datuk Idrose Mohamed sought to justify the 10% NSE toll hike by claiming that PLUS would be widening several stretches of the 848 km NSE  to address the problem of congestion – and that once the expansion is completed, expected in three years, the whole stretch between Sungkai in Perak and Ayer Keroh in Malacca would be in the form of three-lane dual carriageways, instead of the present, where most of the stretches are  two-lane dual carriageways.

This ground for the 10% NSE toll hike is dubious as it is only justifiable if PLUS is not asking for new benefits from the government for widening the NSE, such as an extension of the NSE concession by another eight to 12 years with the right to collect even more and higher toll charges from the expressway users, as well as various forms of government financial support like loans and  tax exemptions. 

I had specifically asked Works Minister Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu whether  PLUS had been given another extension of the NSE concession, doubling what was originally intended to be a 25-year concession into a 50-year contract, binding some three generations of Malaysians – which may explain his statement last week that   PLUS has another 33 years of the NSE concession to run  until 2038, when the publicly-known 42-year NSE concession from 1988 should end in 2030!

It is for this reason that the Coalition Against Unfair Toll Increase formed by different political parties and NGOs in Parliament on Monday is asking for the intervention of the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to order a two-month  deferment of  the 10% NSE toll hike scheduled to begin on 1.1.2005, so as to allow a full public study of its far-reaching implications.

UMNO Youth should  take the lead to support this reasonable and legitimate call for a two-month deferment of the 10% NSE toll hike, which will also demonstrate that Pak Lah’s pledges when he became Prime Minister and during the March general election that his administration will be fair, just, open and accountable, fully prepared to listen to the people, are  serious commitments meant to be honoured  and not just empty rhetoric.

In fact, I call on all Barisan Nasional MPs, Barisan Nasional component parties and their youth wings, including UMNO Youth, MCA Youth, Gerakan Youth and  MIC Youth to be in the forefront with the Coalition Against Unfair Toll Increase to demand for a transparent and fair NSE toll structure.

Khairy’s statement yesterday  is  a study in contradiction as on the one hand, he said  UMNO Youth wants PLUS to be more transparent to explain the toll rate increase but on the other hand, he pledged UMNO Youth’s support for the hike  although UMNO Youth does not know the reason for the increase or how the calculations were made each time new rates were imposed.

Khairy and UMNO Youth should be consistent to support the call for the deferment of the 10% NSE toll hike to allow for a fuller and deeper study, as how could they support the 10% NSE toll hike when they admitted not knowing why or how it is calculated?

I welcome the stand by the Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall yesterday expressing opposition to the 10% NSE toll hike and calling for the NSE concession to be made public to allow Malaysians access to its contents.

This is the time for every political party, consumer organization, trade union, NGO, association and society to speak up to express the frustrations of 25 million Malaysians at the unending increase of NSE price hikes and unending extension of the NSE concession with PLUS the only beneficiary in monopolizing a prize  cash cow continually fattened to print money  at the expense of some three generations of Malaysians.

The Coalition Against Unfair Toll Increase has decided to hold  four peaceful demonstrations on Sunday, December 26, in Penang, Ipoh, Selangor/Kuala Lumpur and Johore Baru to convey the strong objections of 25 million Malaysians, regardless of political party, race, religion or region, to  PLUS, the Cabinet Ministers and most important of all, the Prime Minister.  

I hope Barisan Nasional MPs, Barisan Nasional component parties and their youth wings, and all NGOs and civic organizations as well as individuals, will come together with the Coalition Against Unfair Toll Increase  to make the December 26 anti-unfair toll hike peaceful protest a powerful and memorable one.

DAP MP for Bukit Mertajam, Chong Eng and the Perak State Assembly Opposition Leader and Assemblyman for Sitiawan, Ngeh Koo Ham have been appointed convenors of the Penang and Perak anti-unfair toll hike peaceful protests respectively.

For Selangor/Kuala Lumpur and Johore peaceful anti-unfair toll hike protests, the convenors appointed by the Coalition Against Unfair Toll Increase at its inaugural meeting in Parliament on Monday are respectively Ronnie Liu (Selangor/KL) and  Salahuddin Ayub  PAS MP for Kubang Kerian (Johore Baru).

Barisan Nasional MPs and leaders at all levels have a standing invitation to take part in the nation-wide peaceful  protest action in Penang, Perak, Selangor/Kuala Lumpur and Johore on  Sunday  to ask for two-month deferment of 10% NSE toll hike on 1.1.2005 to ensure transparent and fair NSE toll structure.  

Let MPs, leaders and members from all political parties, whether Barisan Nasional or Opposition, prove that on an issue that is close to the heart of 25 million Malaysians, such as for a  transparent and fair NSE toll hike and to demand for a two-month deferment of the 10% NSE toll increase on 1.1.2005, they can  put aside their political differences and come together as one at  the four peaceful demonstrations at the NSE toll plazas in Penang, Perak, Selangor/KL and Johore this Sunday.


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