Abolishing tolls wouldn’t be a problem if not for 1MDB, says Guan Eng

Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng says buying out PLUS’ concessions would have cost RM45.2 billion but the 1MDB scandal had wiped out RM103 billion.

PETALING JAYA: Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng says it would not have been a problem for the government to abolish tolls if it were not for the 1MDB scandal.

Speaking to reporters after launching Ops Selamat in Butterworth, Penang, in conjunction with Chinese New Year, Lim also took a swipe at the former Barisan Nasional-led federal government on the extension of PLUS Malaysia Bhd’s toll concessions.

The government has decided against selling PLUS to the private sector and it will remain with its two owners — Khazanah, which owns 51% through UEM Group, and the Employees Provident Fund (EPF), which owns 49%.

The company’s concession, which was supposed to end in 2038, will be extended by 20 years to 2058. Toll rates will be reduced by 18% from this year, with no hikes for the next 38 years.

Addressing criticisms on the government’s decision, Lim said PLUS’ concession was previously extended from 2018 to 2038 by the BN-led government.

At the time, he said, toll rates were not reduced and were instead either raised or retained.

“Unlike the old government which increased the rates, this time, when we extended the concession for 20 years, we reduced the toll by 18% for the whole concession period.

“I do not think it is right for those who did not reduce the toll when in power to criticise us now.”

Lim said he hoped the people could appreciate the differences between the decisions of the two administrations.

“Some will say: Why not abolish the toll?’

“It is easy to talk like that. If not for 1MDB, it would not be a problem for us.

“1MDB cost us RM150 billion. Though we’ve recovered RM47 billion, we are still short of RM103 billion,” he said, adding that buying out PLUS’ concessions would cost RM45.2 billion.

“Where are we going to find this RM45.2 billion when RM103 billion has been wiped out by the 1MDB scandal? If not for this scandal, we can do it.”

Lim said the best the government could do for now was to reduce the toll.

“Why couldn’t the BN government do it (reduce toll rates) but we can?

“That’s because BN was more protective of the interests of big companies — not like the PH government, which looks after the people.”

Meanwhile, on the Kimanis by-election which BN won against PH’s Sabah ally, Warisan, Lim said he respected the decision of the people in the BN-stronghold.

All parties, he said, must work harder to meet the people’s high expectations.

He believed this by-election result was not necessarily an indication of how people would vote in the next general election.

He said people will still choose PH as it was less corrupt and more competent than the opposition.

In yesterday’s by-election, BN candidate Mohamad Alamin of Sabah Umno became the new Kimanis MP, being elected with a comfortable majority of 2,029 votes against his rival, Karim Bujang, of Warisan.