Jumaat, Disember 24, 2004

Anti-toll hike: Consumer group targets one million signatures

Nurul Nazirin & Tan Chee Kwan

The Federation of Malaysian Consumers Association (Fomca) hopes to collect one million protest signatures against the toll hike along the North-South Expressway (NSE).

Fomca communications head Mohd Yusof Abdul Rahman said today the month-long campaign will kick off tomorrow at the association’s office in Petaling Jaya. The signatures will then be submitted to the government.

He said meeting the set target was not as important as highlighting the consumers’ grievances against the 10 percent hike - from 12.36 sen per kilometre to 13.60 per kilometre. It is scheduled to take effect on Jan 1 next year.

He added the campaign will cover non-governmental organisations, government agencies and the public. Tabulation will be done through fax, the short messaging service (sms), e-mail as well as snail mail.

“It is important that Fomca does something for the consumers,” he stressed when contacted.

Despite widespread protests from opposition leaders and other quarters, highway concessionaire Projek Lebuhraya Utara Selatan (Plus) has remained adamant about increasing the toll rate.

The company has also been given the green light by the government.

Reveal contract details

Previously, Works Minister S Samy Vellu said if the hike is not approved, the government would have to fork out a hefty compensation for Plus, according to the terms of the contract inked by both parties.

Yesterday, Plus’ top executives had declined to furnish a copy of the contract when requested by members of the Committee Against Unfair Toll Increases (Cauti).

Cauti, headed by DAP parliamentarian Teresa Kok, had also submitted a protest memorandum to the company on the hike.

Meanwhile, Yusof said it is only fair that consumers know the details, namely the terms and signatories, of the contract.

The Fomca communications head also called for a review of the contract, which he described as being ‘lop-sided’.

“We do not want an agreement that favours only one party - the concessionaire. Besides, the government should be sensitive towards the people’s needs.

“If the government continues to ‘take sides’ with government-linked companies, problems will continue to surface,” he said.

He also noted that the volume of traffic on NSE had increased over the years thus translating into greater profit for Plus.

Improvements needed

In a related development, Universiti Teknologi Mara Malaysian Institute of Transport (Mistrans) director associate professor Mohamad Arshad Haji Zainuddin termed the 10 percent hike as ‘definitely a bit too high’.

“If the quality is there and people are happy about it, they won’t be complaining so much about the toll hike,” he said when contacted.

He said although Plus is maintaining the expressway, there is still room for much improvement.

“There are some occasions when there is no water supply in the rest stops (R&R) along the highway. On top of that, most of these R&R are not brightly lit and the food court areas are swarmed with flies,” he added.

Arshad also suggested that the lanes on the expressway could be increased and the number of toll booths upped, especially during festive seasons, in order to ease congestion.

Meanwhile, Malaysian Trades Union Congress secretary-general and Cauti deputy chairperson G Rajasekaran said that Plus top brass present at yesterday’s meeting with Cauti, had claimed that 34 percent of the annual profits gained by Plus goes out to pay debts.

The debts were a result of the restructuring of the company carried out by the government, they said.

Rajasekaran said that Plus failed to provide a satisfactory answer when questioned on the big debt.

He added that the committee had also asked Plus to consider a two or three percent increase instead of the hefty 10 percent.

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