Highways and road networks form a pivotal transportation spine, driving the country’s economic pulse, bolstering commercial activities and forging social links.
For that reason, it is imperative that the government oversees these highways and road networks competently and efficiently.
In doing so, it should maintain impartiality and avoid siding with businessmen and highway concession firms whose interests are usually at odds with the rakyat.
The government’s actions must epitomise fearlessness and fairness, prioritising ordinary Malaysians over the self-serving interests of corporate entities.
The paramount consideration should be ensuring that our roads and highways boast robust safety features, with accident mitigation high on the ministry’s agenda.
It is crucial that the government probe the monopolistic tendencies among pivotal highway stakeholders and purge firms that engage in profiteering.
Revamping our toll payment systems would be a good place to begin.
While the problem appears simple, its solution is intricate.
Failing to discern the most optimal solutions for such elementary issues casts the government in an unfavourable light, painting it as inept.
A prime example would be the statement made by the deputy works minister in Parliament earlier this year that the government has allocated RM3.46 billion to study the benefits of implementing a multi-lane free flow system (MLFF) for toll collection on our highways.
This is absurd. The works ministry should not be spending public funds to support the private sector’s interest of determining the best method for toll collection.
Instead, the government ought to be scrutinising the monopolistic framework of highway operations to eliminate such policies and practices.
National policy across all economic and commercial spheres should make monopolistic enterprises that benefit only a select few Malaysians relics of the past.
The crux of the issue is the technical incompetence of policy influencers, which prevents them from harnessing the best value for Malaysians without exorbitant costs.
In Malaysia, multiple vested interests tend to intervene to weaken the rapport between the government and the rakyat, a longstanding weakness which the Madani government must address.
One example is where interested factions engage in toll collection.
In general, toll concession firms tend to resist the entry of third-party entities as collectors of toll on their behalf.
They argue that such methods would dent their toll revenue, which, in all fairness, is a valid concern.
Furthermore, these third-party collectors are in a position to amass wealth, as the arrangement would see them receive payment first before disbursing them to the toll concession firms.
It’s only natural for highway concession companies to desire autonomy over their revenue streams.
Unless the government (rather than another private entity) assumes ownership and control of this third-party payment system, such a conflict is bound to persist, exacerbating the plight of highway users.
Creating another monopolistic entity to manage the payment systems for our highways is a strategy we should abandon at once.
In fact, this ethos should resonate across other sectors as well, including car and food (especially rice and meat) imports, as well as other consumer goods.
The corporate monopoly concept can be traced back to the reign of former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad. In hindsight, we can say that it is a flawed legacy which has marred our economic landscape for years.
It is high time the Madani government takes decisive action to dismantle these monopolistic regimes across the entire government, starting at our highways’ toll gates.
Budget 2024 gives them the perfect opportunity to do so.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.