“Mahathir is talking about toll subsidy. When he said the government needed to pay concessionaires using taxpayer money, he meant to say that the “government needed to pay the government using taxpayer money.” The concessionaires are going to be government owned once Putrajaya completes talks with Gamuda. There isn’t a cat-in-hells chance the negotiations will fall through given that Raja Dato’ Seri Eleena Raja Azlan Shah has a majority stake in Gamuda. Just so that you know, Eleena is the younger sister of Sultan Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah and Forbes’ 40 Richest Malaysians’ top ten entrée”
Raggie Jessy Rithaudeen
Putrajaya courted controversy last Saturday when it announced ongoing talks with Gamuda Bhd to negotiate the acquisition of four highway concessions. The concessions involve the Lebuhraya Damansara Puchong (LDP), Sistem Penyuraian Trafik KL Barat (SPRINT), Lebuhraya Shah Alam (KESAS) and SMART Tunnel highways. The negotiations were described by Mahathir as the “first step” towards fulfilling Pakatan Harapan’s manifesto pledge to abolish toll collection nationwide.
The people are not buying it.
Hours ago, PAS vice-president Ustaz Idris Ahmad called on Mahathir to stop “cracking jokes” and asked how the announcement would benefit office-goers. According to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), toll mechanisms on the said highways would be replaced with “congestion charges” equivalent to existing rates for six “peak hours” daily. The office defined 11 pm to 5 am as the “off-peak” period and committed not to charge toll during that period. The remaining hours would see commuters enjoying discounted rates which the PMO said could go up to 30%.
Dato’ Seri Wee Ka Siong wasn’t amused.
Like Idris, the MCA president questioned the timing of the announcement and asked if it had anything to do with the Semenyih by-election. Wee pointed out that the manifesto pledge by Pakatan was to do away with tolls and not to rebrand collection as “congestion charge.” Netizens were equally bemused and called Mahathir’s bluff by asking the Prime Minister to stop fooling the people. But the biggest elephant in the room was not Pakatan’s failure to abide by its manifesto pledge but the increased number of Malaysians who will end up ‘paying’ toll one way or the other, directly or indirectly.
How, you ask?
Well, yesterday, Mahathir told newsmen that the government would end up paying for highway commuters who were not charged a single sen. That’s exactly the same as saying “the government can never abolish tolls because there is no such thing as a free lunch.” But it is what he said after that struck me as genius. According to him, the money used to pay the concessionaires would come from the taxpayer, meaning, even if you’re a Kelantanese in Kelantan who doesn’t own a ride, you’re going to help subsidise rides for Tan Sri Ananda Krishnan in the Klang Valley. Tell me, does that not mean millions of folks who aren’t already paying toll in the Klang Valley will end up paying concessionaires there a helluva lot of money?
Today, even the most congested of highways in the Klang Valley has never recorded an average daily volume in traffic exceeding 160,000 vehicles. Yet, millions of taxpayers would end up subsidising trips for a small percentage of commuters plying the four stretches Putrajaya wants Gamuda to let go. While the commuters will feel some form of relief, it is you, the non-commuter, who will end up contributing to that relief. Just imagine if the guy whose trips you’re helping subsidise is a billionaire tycoon driving a Ferrari while you’re a 22-year-old fresh grad in Kelantan who can’t even afford a bike.
Seriously, why would you, the Kelantanse, want to pay for Mahathir’s rides on highways you don’t even use? Why would you, the Terengganu smallholder, want to subsidise rides for Tan Sri Vincent Tan when you yourself struggle to make ends meet? Did you not know that the money you contribute will likely end in Federal highway development given that the ongoing negotiations between Gamuda and Putrajaya are sure to succeed? Would Kelantan and Terengganu be willing to ‘contribute’ towards that development when the Federal itself is dragging its feet in granting oil-royalty?
And who’s going to decide the average daily volume in traffic during “off-peak” hours anyway? Currently, the department of statistics can easily get data off toll concessionaires by looking at their collection records. Once you don’t have collections, you don’t have records. So who’s going to do the estimates and how are they going to be done? I remember Pakatan telling us prior to the 14thgeneral election (GE14) that the coalition would eliminate all administrative loopholes once it gets to Putrajaya. Is the “Gamuda move” not a loophole for government leaders to engage in financial shenanigans?
Mahathir is talking about toll subsidy. When he said the government needed to pay concessionaires using taxpayer money, he meant to say that the “government needed to pay the government using taxpayer money.” The concessionaires are going to be government owned once Putrajaya completes talks with Gamuda. There isn’t a cat-in-hells chance the negotiations will fall through given that Raja Dato’ Seri Eleena Raja Azlan Shah has a majority stake in Gamuda. For the record, Eleena is the younger sister of Sultan Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah and Forbes’ 40 Richest Malaysians’ top ten entrée.
And if you don’t already know, Sultan Nazrin is a staunch Mahathirist and among the reasons Sultan Muhammad V was removed as the Yang di-Pertuan Agong. But that is something I’m not going to touch and will probably follow me to my grave. What I will, however, tell you, is who’s going to benefit most from Putrajaya’s discussions with Gamuda. By tomorrow, you’ll discover how all this ties with Dato’ Seri Azmin Ali, Tan Sri Wan Azmi Wan Hamzah, Tommy Thomas and this other lady I’ve spoken about hundreds of times in recent days…
To be continued…