Malaysia

Pakatan, analysts slam Barisan over unkept manifesto pledge on toll rates

BY JENNIFER GOMEZ
December 18, 2013

The gradual reduction of intra-city toll rate was one of the pledges in the Barisan Nasional manifesto. – December 18, 2013.The gradual reduction of intra-city toll rate was one of the pledges in the Barisan Nasional manifesto. – December 18, 2013.In the GE13 campaign, the Barisan Nasional (BN) pledged to reduce intra-city toll rates in their manifesto but their political foes and analysts now say the ruling coalition has gone back on their word as 13 highways are to see higher rates next year.

The scheduled hike in toll rates come on the back of higher electricity tariffs across the country, and a proposed increase in assessment rates and public transport fares in the Klang Valley which is home to some three million Malaysians.

DAP Klang MP Charles Santiago (pic) said BN had "played games" with voters from the start, as they had known all along that toll rates would go up and subsidies would be cut, resulting in a higher cost of living.

"Malaysians were basically taken for a ride and cheated, the government chose to be dishonest to the people and now they are in a delegitimated situation," Santiago said of the promise to reduce toll over the next five years which was enthusiastically highlighted by BN candidates in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur during the election campaign.

His party colleague and Serdang MP Dr Ong Kian Ming felt that the proposed toll hike was also a way to punish urban voters for not supporting the ruling coalition.

Federal Territories Minister Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor, who is BN secretary-general, did not want to be drawn into a debate on the manifesto and the promise that intra-city toll rates would be reduced.

“No comment,” was his terse reply to The Malaysian Insider in Kuala Lumpur yesterday when asked about the issue.

Respected pollster, Merdeka Centre diretor Ibrahim Suffian, went a step further and said that there were other promises made during speeches by BN leaders which had not been fulfilled.

He said it was obvious that Putrajaya was prepared to face the dissatisfaction of the public over the impending toll hike proposed for 13 highways which straddled Kuala Lumpur and Selangor.

"Ultimately, the government needs to address the deficit and debt ceiling in the economy and so they are prepared to face the dissatisfaction of the public.

"The next general election is far away and they would be able to ease tensions later as it gets closer to the GE14," he told The Malaysian Insider.

Political analyst Khoo Kay Peng felt differently, saying a combination of factors, including subsidy removals and rise in electricity tariffs and the proposed toll hike, would result in BN having to face the brunt of voter dissatisfaction, beginning with the Sarawak state polls in 2016.

"In Sarawak, they also face electricity tariff hike of 17%, and at the same time, income has not gone up.

"This shows bad planning on the part of the government and will cause a high inflation rate because all the increases are coming at one go, with the GST being the icing on the cake," Khoo said.

DAP's Ong vowed that Pakatan Rakyat will make sure that the public does not forget BN's broken promises.

"Pakatan Rakyat will make sure people remember because the increase in the cost of living is going to burden the rakyat for a long time, given the electricity, transport and sugar price increases coming at the same time," he said, adding that when the GST is implemented in April 2015, cost of more goods and services will go up.

The government had reduced fuel subsidies in September, announced the removal of sugar subsidy under Budget 2014 and recently announced electricity tariff hike which will come into effect next month.

The announcements followed Fitch Ratings' downgrade of Malaysia's credit outlook in July.

Ong also said that the opposition knew all along that the promises made by BN before the May 5 polls were not going to be fulfilled.

"This (reduction in intra-city toll rate) is just one of them and we knew it from the start.

"And this is how the opposition managed to get the urban votes, by saying that we would do away with toll charges, but they promised to reduce it over five years," he pointed out.

PKR strategy director Rafizi Ramli agreed that toll rates could go down instead of up.

He explained that this could be done if the government re-negotiate the agreement with the toll concessionaires, which he claimed were related agencies.

He also said that the the huge increase in the volume of vehicles on highways had also boosted toll operators' profits.

Santiago, however, felt that Malaysians would forget BN's broken promises.

"When have Malaysians ever remembered?

"And the government is not stupid, they are doing it now so that in three years, when it gets close to the elections, they will make some more promises and people would have forgotten about this," he said.

Ibrahim agreed, adding that the broken promise on the toll rate would not dent BN's vote bank as there would be new voters who would believe the promises the government makes in the coming elections.

"In every general election, there is between 20% and 25% new voters who are not yet registered but will get on the roll in the next four years.

"They will not even know or remember these issues," noted  Ibrahim.

The proposed toll hike is expected to take place next year to comply with the agreement between the federal government and the highway concessionaires.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Abdul Wahid Omar had said that the hike was inevitable, as it is an express condition in the concession agreement between Putrajaya and highway concession companies.

He had said that the toll rate should have been revised in 2011, as stated in the concession agreement, but it was maintained and cost Putrajaya RM400 million to compensate the companies using taxpayers' money.

The proposed toll rate hike followed the announcements of a possible public transport fare increase, a 15% rise in electricity tariffs and higher assessment rates for Kuala Lumpur properties. – December 18, 2013.