Mahathir: Better to pay off debt than end tolls

Dr Mahathir Mohamad speaking to the media after the National Finance Council meeting today.

PUTRAJAYA: Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad said today that the billions needed to buy over toll concessions could be better used to helping offset the national debt.

“We are now facing a problem,” Mahathir told a press conference after chairing a meeting of the National Finance Council.

He noted that Pakatan Harapan had pledged to abolish all tolls in stages but having taken power, PH leaders realised this would further burden the government.

Using the PLUS Highway concession as an example, he said: “The government will have to buy that highway (concession) at the cost of RM30 billion. That RM30 billion, it would be better if it is used to pay back debts. It can ease our financial burden.”

Mahathir said the government had not decided what to do about the unfulfilled toll promise.

Mahathir’s remarks come a day after government adviser Daim Zainuddin said PH, in their second year in power, should focus on affordable housing, cost of essential goods and reduction of toll rates.

Daim had also said that the government might be able to cut toll rates by up to 25%.

Mahathir said there were several suggestions from the private industry to take over the highway concessions but the possible toll rate cut was not up to 25%. The matter had yet to be decided.

He said the rakyat would feel at ease if highway tolls were abolished as promised but the government would not be at ease, having to foot the cost.

Mahathir has previously admitted that difficulty in meeting the promise. In February, he had acknowledged that there would be criticism from the people.

“But they must understand. Even if they don’t pay the toll, the government still has to pay for it, and this will come from the taxpayers’ money. In the end, the people pay, even if it is through the government.”