PETALING JAYA: A transport expert has urged the government to declassify its agreements with highway concessionaires to help the public understand its decision not to abolish highway tolls.
Transport consultant Rosli Azad Khan said being transparent with all old and new toll concession agreements would be a different approach towards ensuring better governance.
“I can’t see why concession agreements must be classified under the Official Secrets Act. If it is declassified, the public will be able to understand its contents,” he said, pointing out that these agreements were signed during the Barisan Nasional administration.
“Many agreements were skewed towards the concession holders or the corporate side. Thus, the high compensation cost (to abolish tolls),” he told FMT.
On Thursday, works minister Alexander Nanta Linggi said Putrajaya did not plan to abolish highway tolls for now as it did not want to bear the burden of paying huge compensations to concessionaires.
Gradually abolishing tolls on highways was among the pledges in Pakatan Harapan’s manifesto for the 15th general election.
PH had also made the same pledge for the 2018 general election, though then prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad admitted that abolishing tolls would be a financially taxing move for the government.
Previously, Nanta had also said the contents of concession agreements have been classified under the OSA and needed to be reclassified before they could be made public. The government is also subject to a confidentiality agreement.
Rosli said an alternative to declassifying the concession agreements was renegotiating the agreement to prevent any increases to toll rates.
“It is not feasible to abolish tolls overnight, as Nanta rightly pointed out, as the government would be faced with the additional financial burden of operating and maintaining the highways,” he said.
He also said funds from toll collections should be channelled to pay for the upgrading of intercity public transportation, since the sector lacked funding and had to compete with private car services.
Universiti Malaya economics professor Nazari Ismail also agreed with the decision not to abolish tolls as it would add to the government’s financial burden.
He said Malaysians have been taught to rely on government subsidies too much, causing the nation’s national debt level to exceed RM1.5 trillion now.
“In the end, the public will be forced to pay off the government’s debt anyway. So abolishing tolls will only cause more problems in the long-term.
“It is for the government to explain why they promised to abolish (tolls) before the election, perhaps it was a tactic to get votes,” he said.