Friday, February 27, 2009

BN Rubs Salt On Our Wounds

At a time when Malaysians are facing the greatest economic challenge, when 100,000 Malaysians are expected to be out of a job by the end of the year as projected by the Minister of Human Resources, the Barisan Nasional Government has decided to increase toll rates from 5 to 25% for 5 toll concessions, while at the same time still pay compensation amounting to RM277 million to these toll concessionaires! The act is clearly a case of rubbing salt onto the wounds of anxious and suffering Malaysians.

In announcing this, Works Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Zin Mohammed said the increase was “minimal” and hoped the public understood that the increase was “stipulated in the concession agreements” that the government had signed.

Firstly we will like to reiterate that the increase was by no means minimal. For PLUS itself, even a 5% increase in toll rates will increase toll revenue by as much as RM120 million in 2009. This doesn't yet take into consideration the fact that the Government is likely to have to compensate PLUS for the other 5% which has yet to be increased, which may be an additional RM100 million. It is an insult for to all Malaysians to say that RM220 million to be incurred by road users and tax-payers “minimal”, especially in times of economic hardship, and shortfall in Government revenues.

In fact, we would like to ask the Government if the compensation sums being paid to concessionares are part of the “economic stimulus packages” to help turnaround our economy, badly affected by the global economic crisis.

Secondly, while the toll rate increase is indeed “stipulated in the concession agreements”, there were also other clauses stipulated in the agreements such as the “expropriation” clause which the Government has chosen to blatantly ignore. This selective compliance to the legal agreements smacks of a government favouring the interest of cronies instead of those of the people.

The DAP Ops Restore team has demonstrated using many examples over the past 2 months how expropriating these highways as per the terms “stipulated in the conession agreements” are more economical and cost effective for both the Government and the road users. But the Government continues to turn a blind eye to these constructive proposals.

Just yesterday, the team have outlined a detailed proposal on how the Government can “take back” PLUS Expressways Bhd without costing tax-payers a single cent and without unfairly penalising minority shareholders (they are to be offered 15% premium to the current share price) which will result in a toll-free North South Expressway by 2016.

Why does the Government who owns directly 65% of PLUS Expressway, continue to choose the route of unfairly “taxing” road-users and tax-payers (if compensation is paid) instead of taking appropriate actions to help the people?

It should also be noted that PLUS Expressways is extremely profitable. PLUS made RM1.31 billion in net profits before tax, which translates into an enormous net profit margin of 57.3% in 2007!

The privatisation policies a-la Barisan Nasional have brought an enourmous burden on all Malaysians and have profited only Barisan Nasional crony businessmen. If Prime Minister-elect, Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak wants to commence his term on the right note, then we call upon him to take back these highways, and other unfairly privatised projects to relieve the burden of the rakyat, especially in these difficult times.
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