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Highway tolls: to abolish or not to abolish?

  • The PH government must make a clear statement on the abolition of highway tolls and not to keep dragging the issue indefinitely.

Sin Chew Daily

During a recent interview with Sin Chew Daily, works minister Baru Bian reiterated that the PH government had decided to defer the abolition of highway tolls until government finances were back to healthy levels.

According to earlier ministry statistics, the government would have to compensate more than RM400 billion if it were to abolish the highway tolls. Given the current state of government debts, it is impossible for it to come up with such a huge sum of money.

Abolishing highway tolls has been one of the election pledges of PH. Facing a mounting financial problem, the PH government has to defer the fulfillment of yet another of its many promises.

Baru Bian offered an alternative solution. Even if it is impossible to abolish the highway tolls at this juncture, the government will be exploring measures to lessen the economic burden of road users, including restructuring the entire toll system.

It is within expectation that soon after the decision was made, the PH government came under the attack of the opposition because prior to the elections, PH had blamed the toll issue on the previous BN administration.

However, there seems to be differing voices within the government whether RM400 billion compensation is needed in order to abolish the highway tolls.

Tony Pua, political secretary to the finance minister, is of the opinion that the compensation amount needs not be this high. He said the works ministry's calculation was based on earlier calculation by BN that included the future profits of highway concessionaires, but actually the government only needed to reimburse the construction cost, according to the contract.

The PH government must make a clear statement on the abolition of highway tolls and not to keep dragging the issue indefinitely.

Abolishing highway tolls will indeed lessen the burden of the public. In the past, PH accused the highway concessionaires of raising toll rates, sending transportation cost and goods prices higher.

Malaysians have to accept the decision now that the PH government has decided to defer the abolition of highway tolls. Nevertheless, if this is due to excessive compensation, it is necessary for the government to be explicit and consistent on the compensation amount in line with PH's pledge of transparency, which is consistent with Baru Bian's emphasis on transparency in privatization projects.

If compensation is the main issue encountered by the government, causing it to be unable to fulfill its pledge at this moment, at least it should do something to win back the faith of the rakyat, including strict supervision when fixing or reviewing toll rates so that no political cronies will profit from it.

Baru Bian has promised that the government will make public the full content of highway concession agreements signed by the government in future. Most importantly, the government must refrain from building more expressways unless they are absolutely necessary, particularly in Kang Valley.

In its stead, the government must improve the existing public transport infrastructure so that Malaysians will prioritize the use of public transport.

 

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