Shahrir Samad says vindicated by planned EDL buyout
KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 1 ― The government’s proposed takeover of the controversial Eastern Dispersal Link (EDL) reported on Thursday was timely and vindicates the principle that there should be no toll without free alternatives, said Johor Baru MP Tan Sri Shahrir Samad.
The EDL has not been allowed to collect tolls since it opened in April, in a move widely seen as an attempt to stave off any backlash in the Umno stronghold state of Johor ahead of the general election. The moratorium has severely affected the toll concessionaire’s financial prospects.
“This is a great Merdeka present,” said Shahrir when contacted by The Malaysian Insider yesterday, adding that he had previously objected to the collection of tolls on the EDL.
“We were debating it because you cannot impose a toll without providing an alternative road,” he said. “This is the principle. There should be an alternative.”
The federal government said on Thursday that it will buy out the EDL in Johor Baru from concession holder Malaysian Resources Corporation Berhad (MRCB), in an apparent move to prevent a potential six-fold toll increase for round trips to Singapore from becoming election fodder for Pakatan Rakyat (PR) in the Umno bastion.
Over 50,000 vehicles cross the bridge daily, mostly Malaysians living in and around the state capital who commute to the island republic to work.
While the details of the takeover were not announced, the deal is widely expected to cost the government RM1 billion and could potentially push the country’s public debt levels closer to the legal ceiling of 55 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP).
The country’s debt currently stands at about 53 per cent of GDP.
Malaysia has seen the proliferation of toll highways since the 1980’s during the country’s headlong rush into privatisation.
The tolls concessions, many of which have been criticised as being sweetheart deals, came back to haunt the Barisan Nasional, however, as bitter opposition to toll rate increases helped contribute to record losses during Election 2008.
The Najib administration has attempted to tackle the unpopularity of tolls by working with concessionaires to reduce and, in some cases, abolish tolls outright along some tolled roads in and around the nation’s capital.
However, the moves have not prevented more toll controversies from surfacing, including the recently proposed sale of the RM1.7 billion Maju Expressway (MEX) that was built using government assistance, which appeared to give owner Maju Holdings a profit of between RM600 million and RM1 billion after just four years of operation.
The government has since denied approving the sale of MEX.
The proposed RM7 billion West Coast Highway has also come under scrutiny from the opposition due to the interest subsidies, lengthy concession periods and soft loans being given by the government.