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Samy highway 'noway' - MGG Pillai
By web aNtu

24/12/1999 6:01 am Fri

The East Coast Highway: Burdening the Consumer To Lose Money

The works minister, Dato' Seri S. Samy Vellu, looks for ways to not complete the East Coast Highway, where the uncompleted stretch from Gambang to Kuala Trengganu or from the modified Kuantan to Kuala Trengganu cannot be privatised; indeed, of the three consortia only one found it viable -- and that on rather dubious calculations. It can be built only with federal government cast-iron guarantees. This Kuala Lumpur cannot with the country's finances at such a parlous state. The minister seeks to blame PAS for having to cancel it. So, when the new Trengganu PAS administration abolished the state imposed on the Sultan Mahmud bridge in Kuala Trengganu, Dato' Seri Samy Vellu, like a drowning man clutching at straws, decided that since the state did not agree on toll collections, the project would not proceed. The state government said no such thing, of course; indeed the Opposition Leader, Dato' Fadhil Noor, accepted in Parliament yesterday the principle of tolls for privatised federal highways. But his hope that the user would not be burdened would be cheerfully ignored. The principle of privatised highway in Malaysia is to fleece the user.

The federal government, in its mad rush to build privatised highways as expensively as possible -- despite the cash cow that the North-South Highway, the Renong-UEM consortium, which manages it, is all but bankrupt and from which it cannot get out without ma#sive official financial and legal intervention -- ignored a major sociological objection from the ground. Despite opening the country to economic exploitation, the high tolls constrict social travel amongst ordinary folk, the National Front equivalent of the RM150 Dunhill cigars the Perlis mentri besar, Tan Sri Shahidan Ka#sim, smokes when discussing with farmers their difficulty in earning in a month what one of his cigars cost. It is well nigh impossible for even middle cla#s workers in Kuala Lumpur visit their relatives in nearby Seremban because the RM15 toll cost more than petrol for the journey. For the government to insist that the toll rates are fair because they are cheaper than in Ougadougou is irrelevant. But the government's crowing about the excellent highways we have -- it is a ho-hum highway constructed not to permanence but to rake off as much off as possible during construction -- provided one more reason, even amongst loyal UMNO and National Front members, gainst it. Privatised tolled highways do not open up the country, as the coiffeured minister proclaims, but prevents development in areas other than the Klang Valley and four or five pockets within the country. The high toll costs adds to transportation costs, so this ensures a heavy concentration of economic development in Selangor, Perak, Penang, Johore. Kedah breaks the trend, but then it is the Prime Minister's home state.

The cabinet should consider why PAS does not raise objections to the tolled highways. It would isolate both Kelantan and Trengganu from the mainstream, if only because it would be too expensive to travel from the and within the two states. The blame would accrue to the centre, and the National Front can whistle for its support in future general elections. Dato' Seri Samy Vellu infers that Trengganu is anti-development when he picked on a spurious reason to want the East Coast Highway to stop at the Pahang-Trengganu border. Now that PAS has withdrawn its objection, he should proceed with it. Or cancel it for economic reasons, not because PAS opposes toll collection. But he should be prepared with sound and creative political reasons to counter the inevitable argument that this is to punish the two states for voting in PAS governments, that not extending the East Coast Highway to Kelantan and Trengganu is not political punishment but economic necessity. Good luck, Dato' Seri Samy Vellu.

M.G.G. Pillai

Link Reference : Proxy List Dec 1999