AS the Government is offering a whopping RM2.25 bil to highway concessionaires as compensation, Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) offered an easier solution to mitigate the problem.
“The Perikatan Nasional Government (Perikatan) could invoke the Emergency Ordinance (EO) to nationalise the highways.
“This is the same as the Government invoking the EO to use private hospital assets to fight COVID-19,” its central committee member Sharan Raj said in a statement.
Recently, Senior Minister (Works) Datuk Seri Fadillah Yusof announced that the Government froze toll increase of several highways in the Klang Valley due to the economic turmoil triggered by the pandemic.
He said the postponement will cost the Government RM2.25 bil, and negotiations to restructure toll rates with the concessionaires were ongoing, which will be finalised before 2023.
“The estimated compensation will be determined after a traffic verification process is carried out by the Malaysian Highway Authority,” Bernama reported him as saying.
The highways include Shah Alam Expressway (KESAS), Duta-Ulu Kelang Expressway (DUKE), Damansara-Puchong Expressway (LDP) and the Kuala Lumpur-Putrajaya Expressway (MEX).
The decision drew the ire of Damansara MP Tony Pua, who said it made no financial sense and the Government could have saved hundreds of million if it had just continued with the previous Pakatan Harapan administration’s plan of acquiring highways owned by Gamuda Bhd, as announced under Budget 2020.
“In our plan, the Government would acquire the highways for RM6.2 bil but we would not have to pay a single sen for it because it will be funded via the existing toll collection.
“As a result, the Government no longer needs to pay these concessionaires any future compensation for ‘freezing’ toll rates – saving taxpayers a few hundred million ringgit for this year alone,” Pua was reported saying.
Mahathirism at its worst
Touching on the matter, Sharan said it was unacceptable that the Government would fork out RM2.25 bil to feed 20 highway operators, when the fund can be used to help close to 200,000 people from the B20 group who are in dire financial distress.
He added that using the same amount, the Government could provide RM900 monthly to the 200,000 people for at least a year, under the Modified Universal Basic Income (MUBI) proposal.
“For 40 years, the working class have paid an estimated hundreds of billions of toll charges to these highway corporations nationwide.
“These highway projects, pushed by former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, diverted valuable public resources to guarantee bonds, providing annual compensation and ensuring risk-free fixed profits to his highway cronies,” Sharan alleged.
On the highway concessionaires, the PSM leader said the former did little to help struggling Malaysians, with them retrenching thousands of toll operators in exchange for automated toll collection to boost profits.
“The highway corporations have also replaced thousands of Malaysian workers who were working as highway maintenance officers with underpaid but overworked migrant workers to maximise profits.
“Adding salt to injury, our minister can shamelessly announce that the Government would be deferring toll hike by compensating RM2.25 bil to the already super-rich highway operators,” Sharan added. – May 3, 2021.