Saturday, February 24, 2018

Najib’s ‘new’ plan to abolish tolls is another repeated election promise that will be broken again

During a forum on Budget 2018 earlier this week, Najib said that tolls should be abolished, adding that wherever possible he would look into unraveling the legacy problems caused by toll concession agreements.

Malaysians shouldn’t fall the empty promises of the Prime Minister whose track record has proven that he has zero commitment in abolishing these tolls.

It isn’t the first time Dato’ Seri Najib Razak promised to abolish tolls or lower toll rates. In Barisan Nasional’s manifesto for the 13th General Election, Najib promised the gradual reduction of intracity tolls within 5 years. Yet, 5 years on, not only has this promise failed to be delivered, he delivered the exact opposite.

In October 2015, 18 tolls operated by 11 concessionaires were allowed to increase their fares with some even going up RM2.30 overnight. These included toll routes such as the LDP, SMART Tunnel, MEX, AKLEH and NPE in the Klang Valley as well as the Senai-Desaru Highway in Johor and the Butterworth Outer Ring Road (BORR) in Penang.

In response to this, Najib turned around and said the the government had no choice but to allow the toll fares to increase because preventing it would require massive compensation payments. The Prime Minister went on to threaten Malaysians that taxes would have to be increased if the government were to abolish tolls.

The Prime Minister’s threats have proven true because when the government did remove certain tolls, they paid exhorbitant compensation equivalent to the amount of toll these concessionaires would have collected anyway!

When the Batu Tiga, Sg Rasau, Bukit Kayu Hitam and Eastern Dispersal Link (EDL) tolls were removed last year, the government will be paying RM2.2 billion for the first 3 tolls. For the EDL, the government will reportedly be paying a yearly compensation of RM70 million.

The above means, Najib “abolish tolls” or not, the BN government would always profit the concessionaires.  Malaysians would either have to pay for the tolls directly, or pay for them via taxes paid to the Government.

Most hypocritically, the Prime Minister had only recent on 3rd December criticised Pakatan Harapan’s plan to eliminate highway tolls and reintroduce petrol subsidies will increase air pollution in the country. So did Najib temporarily change his mind to fish for votes in the impending General Election, just as he did in 2013?

Pakatan Harapan believes in the rule of law and the sanctity of the contract signed between the Government and the toll concessionaires.  The provisions of the contracts allow for the Government to expropriate or buy back the concessions at cost, subject to a minimum return for the concessionaires for the past years of operations.

Barring exceptions, the agreements do not at any point in time require the Government to compensate these concessionaires for future profits.  Why is the BN Government so adamant in ensuring these toll concessionaires are paid their future profits at the expense of Malaysian tax-payers?

All this is proof that Najib’s ‘promise’ to abolish tolls is just another empty promise by a Prime Minister and government desperate to hold on to power. Malaysians should not fall for these empty promises and should not forget the government’s own inability to deliver on the same pledge that it had made 5 years ago.

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