PETALING JAYA: Dr Mahathir Mohamad today clarified his statement that Pakatan Harapan (PH) never promised to abolish highway tolls, and referred to the coalition’s election manifesto which pledged to review toll concessions.
The prime minister said the manifesto never promised to abolish tolls immediately, adding that Putrajaya would need to spend billions of ringgit to take over tolled highways.
“A deeper study reveals that the immediate abolition of tolls cannot be implemented as the government would need to buy them out.
“More time is needed to abolish tolls in order to lessen the burden on the public,” he said.
He added that the government would welcome proposals from private companies to reduce toll rates.
Speaking to reporters after attending a retreat with ruling MPs yesterday, Mahathir said there had been a misconception over PH’s promise related to highway tolls.
He said many people even within the coalition had not read the PH manifesto thoroughly.
“We never made a promise to abolish tolls, for example, but this is generally taken as part of our manifesto. There are many other things which are not read carefully and sometimes we get carried away with the views of the opposition,” he said.
Mahathir said the manifesto had stated PH’s commitment to end the monopoly of toll concessionaires.
“Our manifesto has the following passage: ‘The Pakatan Harapan government will review all highway concession agreements. We will renegotiate to obtain the best value for money for the people so that we can take over the concessions with the ultimate view of abolishing tolls gradually’,” he said.
Saying the previous government had accumulated debts to the tune of a trillion ringgit, Mahathir said paying back on the interests alone would amount to billions of ringgit.
“Once we have settled the debt, government funds would not be enough to undertake crucial infrastructure developments if the government operations are saddled with buying and maintaining the highways.
“Our study showed that the government cannot afford to accommodate projects for the people if it had to pick up the costs of highway maintenance.”