Reduce toll charges, make toll agreements public, urges economist

PETALING JAYA: An economist says the government should at least reduce toll charges if it is unable to keep its election pledge to abolish toll collection.

“This could be based on the user pay principle. The reduction could be to a level where it does not cost a spike in the national deficit nor where it burdens the users,” Sunway University Business School economics professor Yeah Kim Leng told FMT.

He also asked the government to make toll agreements public as the people were under the impression that some toll concessionaires were making “huge profits at their expense.”

The former group chief economist of RAM Holdings was responding to Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s statement that it was not possible to have highways without imposing toll collection as well.

Mahathir also revealed that he had been against the pledge for toll-free highways in the Pakatan Harapan (PH) manifesto.

“We made the manifesto thinking we would not be the government. Now we are the government, and this manifesto is a big burden,” Mahathir had said.

However, Yeah said the government should understand that more people were living away from the city to escape the high cost of living, and, therefore, using tolled highways more frequently.

He said the reduction was necessary as toll charges and housing were two major expenditures for most people in urban areas.

Yeah hoped the government would renegotiate with highway concessionaires to do away with the proposed toll hike every three to five years.

Yeah said, learning from this, the next manifesto drawn by political parties would be more realistic.

Reductions coming in a year or two, says deputy minister

Meanwhile, Deputy Rural Development Minister Sivarasa Rasiah said the government could not do away with tolls due to the current financial situation.

“Reducing or removing tolls will impose large liabilities on the government because of the current lopsided concession agreements,” he said.

However, he said, reductions could be carried out in a year or two.

“The agreements should be renegotiated or in the event of recalcitrant concessions, nullified by an act of Parliament.”

Other options, he said, included buying out the older concessions such as the North-South expressway where the investors had recouped their costs with handsome profits many years ago.

One of the ways to renegotiate with highway concessionaires was by looking at the facts of each highway concession, their reasonable returns and the duration of their agreement.

“Tolls for new highways must be properly negotiated to prevent a repeat of the old one-sided exploitative agreements,” Sivarasa added.