As if the rakyat isn’t sufficiently burdened by the newly introduced Goods and Services Tax (GST), the massive depreciation of the Ringgit which resulted in a corresponding increase in the cost of basic imported goods and a stuttering economy resulting from a confidence crisis triggered by the monstrous 1MDB scandal, the Government has approved toll rate hikes for 15 highways across the country.
The new rates will involve the Kajang Ring Road (SILK), SMART Highway, Highway Maju Expressway (MEX), Duta-Ulu Kelang Expressway (DUKE), KL-Kuala Selangor Expressway (LATAR), New Pantai Expressway (NPE), Sungai Besi Expressway (BESRAYA), Ampang Kuala Lumpur Elevated Highway (AKLEH), Guthrie Corridor Expressway (GCE), Kemuning-Shah Alam Expressway (LKSA) and Kuala Lumpur-Karak Highway (KLK), Damansara-Puchong Highway (LDP), Kajang–Seremban Highway (LEKAS), Senai–Desaru Expressway, SPRINT Highway and the Grand Saga Highway.
The rate increases are exorbitant and will cause a massive dent to the Malaysian road users. The users of Sprint Damansara Highway is faced with a 100% increase from RM1.00 to RM2.00. The Kajang commuters using the SILK highway will be confronted with a 80% hike from RM1.00 to RM1.80. The Maju Expressway which connects the Sg Besi Highway with Putrajaya will see a 75% hike from RM2.00 to RM3.50. Both the Ampang Elevated Highway and Kerinchi Link will also see 66.7% increase in toll rates.
Come Thursday, 15 October, Malaysian motorist will feel like they been run over by a speeding monster truck. The toll rates have been approved despite the fact that nearly all of these highways have been recording lucrative profits over the past few years. The increase in toll rates merely allow the crony toll concessionaires to reap astronomical profits at the expense of the man-on-the-street, with the consent of the Government.
Litrak Bhd, the operating company for Lebuh Damansara Puchong (LDP) and SPRINT highways for example, made RM187 million in profit before tax for its financial year ending March 2015 on the back of RM380.7 million in revenue. That means more than 49 sen for every RM1 of toll paid by motorists goes directly to the bottom line of Litrak!
Despite its super-profitability, the toll rate for LDP will increase from RM1.60 to RM2.10 in 2 days time. Worse, based on the highway concession contract, the LDP is scheduled to increase its toll further to RM3.10 from 1 Jan 2016 or 93.8% from today’s rate!
Malaysians are now suffering from Barisan Nasional’s failed privatisation policies of yesteryears where crony companies were directly awarded highway concessions without any open tenders. The BN administration masked these piratisation projects via lower toll rates during the initial years to beguile ordinary Malaysians into accepting the toll concession scheme. However, the reality has become apparent today that BN colluded with these companies to backload all their astronomical profits via future steep toll hikes which we are burdened with today.
The Works Ministry can’t even be bothered to provide a more convincing excuse other than to say that “the amount saved from the increase can be utilised to implement development projects that will have a multiplier effect on the economy”. The excuse doesn’t even make sense because expenditure by the rakyat using the money saved from the toll hike will also similar have “a multiplier effect on the economy”.
Instead, the massive toll hikes across the board proved BN’s incapability of managing the country’s finances. The corruption, wastages, inefficiency and misappropriation of government funds have taken a toll on government expenditure. Despite massive increases in revenues over the past two decades resulting from the oil price boom, Malaysians not only have to pay heavily to use our own highways, the Federal Government is now so impoverished it needs to raise new taxes like the GST.
Needless to mention, Dato’ Seri Najib Razak promise to Malaysians in Barisan Nasional’s 2013 election manifesto that there will be a “gradual reduction of intra-city tolls” in the 5 years after the election is nothing but an empty promise to win votes.