Jumaat, Disember 15, 2006

M'sians outraged by steep increase

Dec 14, 06 8:12pm

Consumer associations and NGOs have come out strongly against the government’s decision to raise toll rates for five highways in the Klang Valley by at least 20 percent as announced by Works Minister S Samy Vellu this afternoon.

The hikes, they said, were the latest in a series of price increases including for petrol and utilities which have raised the cost of living sharply for the lower-income groups.

The groups condemned the move, saying that these latest hikes would further spur a rise in living costs.

They said the move was unjustified coming soon after the nation's steepest ever fuel price hike early this year followed by an increase in electricity tariffs in June.

The toll rate hikes, which will take effect Jan 1, affects the Lebuhraya Damansara-Puchong (LDP) highway, the Kesas highway, the Cheras-Kajang highway, the Cheras-Kajang highway, the Kuala Lumpur-Karak highway and the Guthrie Corridor Expressway.

The rate increases vary from between 30 sen to one ringgit.

Below are excerpts of their comments.

Dr Jacob George, president and legal adviser, Consumer Association of Subang and Shah Alam (Cassa)

The nightmare begins. We will see a snowballing effect on the prices of goods and services where private agencies affected by the toll hike will pass on their costs to consumers.

It confirms the fears of all consumers that the secret contractual agreements between the government and the highway concessionaires have been totally one-sided. The increase has been dictated to consumers without their interests being taken into consideration.

The hike also clearly shows that the government is not practising what it preaches. The government has told enterprises not to increase prices, but they do the same themselves.

It once again raises a lot of questions on the need for transparency in terms of the government’s contractual agreements.

This is becoming a comedy of errors. The governments is allowing the fat cats, the highway concessionaires, who until today have not done any service to the nation, to get away with this.

Mohd Yusof Abdul Rahman, communications director, Federation of Malaysian Consumers Association (Fomca)

Fomca is against the toll hike. We have questioned the government repeatedly on the need to expose the highway concessionaire agreements which are biassed against the consumer.

We have informed the government that the agreements may be prolonged for a reasonable length of years. In other words, unless there is no hike, the government can prolong the length of the agreements.

We are willing to settle for a compromise, but we do not support or agree to any toll rate hike.

Er Sui See, president, Pan-Malaysia Lorry Drivers Association of Malaysia

It’s very unfair. Why is the government out to make money?

The highways were originally designed to cope with one million vehicles in traffic a year. The number of vehicles has gone up, and has offset the original projection already. We are somewhere in the region of three million. The areas where these new toll hikes hit see heavy commercial operations daily.

The agreements have become lopsided. We lorry operators are going to be very badly affected. We are paying twice the amount of private cars. And we also have to handle the higher diesel price.

The lorries are part of the service industry, not just transport, and we are carrying goods for everybody. Any toll hike will have spin-off effects.

We request the government to review all contracts signed with highway concessionaires. We shouldn't be subject to the demands of the concessionaires.

Syed Shahrir Syed Mohamad, president, Malaysian Trade Union Congress

First of all I want to record our sincere disappointment in this sad announcement by this government.

As far as the toll hikes are concerned, it will be an additional burden to the consumers, in particular the people at the lower rungs. This new burden is now coupled with the prices hikes for petrol, utility, services and goods.

The works minister said that comparatively, the increase is lower than what has been made by other countries.

I would like to ask what other countries are we are talking about? If you are talking about Korea, you have to consider the income of the Korean people.

You can say we are low in terms of the toll rates but in terms of income salary, if you want to compare, you have to be objective about it.

Secondly, we have to look closer at the standard of the roads there. I know the standard of roads and tunnels in Korea or Japan are of very high quality. From my little experience, you don’t have to queue so long. You go to Batu Tiga, you have to queue up for about a kilometre.

I think it is rather unfair on the part of the government to say that users have to pay for the highway concessionaires’ compensation. Who drafted the agreements? Who is putting the blame on whom? Nobody knows what is inside the agreement.

The public has the right to know what is inside the agreements. You talk about transparency, the public ought to know all this. I think the public now has to act seriously. You just can’t allow this government to increase and increase.

PC Yeoh, president, United Subang Jaya Residents Association (USJRA)

I have lost faith in the government. The two things I cannot tolerate are that the government signed concessionaire agreements where consumers lose both ways and that the government is not open about the contractual terms.

The highways’ traffic growth has also grown beyond their computations. The highway concessionaires should be able to cover any maintenance costs without increasing the toll rates.

There is no real competition in highway construction too. When the contracts are awarded, there is no check against people whacking up the prices.

If it continues at this rate, the government has signed very stupid agreements. They are not taking in the interests of the consumer.

The government has promoted the use of public transport, but they should make sure everything is in place first, so we can leave our cars behind. It’s a Catch-22 situation for residents here. I use my car because the public transport here is not reliable. We have had to deal with high petrol costs since early this year and now you slap us with this increase in toll rates. We lose either way.

Also, I would like to remind the government that we as consumers pay our road taxes. By virtue of this, we shouldn’t be charged with tolls in the first place.

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