by Eileen Ng
The Malaysian Insider
January 02, 2014
The ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) government will continue to lose further support in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur by ending the 20% toll rebate for frequent users, even as most Malaysians tighten their belts to face the rising cost of living, say opposition lawmakers.
The Pakatan Rakyat (PR) lawmakers warned that the latest move, coming on the heels of an impending toll hike, will further burden Selangor and Kuala Lumpur residents who use privatised highways that criss-cross Malaysia’s wealthiest area in their daily commute.
BN has lost the majority of seats in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor in the last two general elections, apart from losing the popular vote in the 2013 elections. The next election is due by 2018 and BN is expected to continue relying on rural seats to keep power.
PKR’s Pandan MP Rafizi Ramli said the toll rebate removal was yet another in a series of decisions by the Najib administration which proved that it was out of touch with the people’s needs.
“BN can write off its chances from urban centres in the next 10 years. While they can get away with handouts to rural folk, the same cannot be said for urbanites because the hardships they are subjected to are across the board regardless of race and age,” he told The Malaysian Insider.
He said abolishing the toll rebate was “uncalled for”, adding that the public would not be able to empathise with Putrajaya’s explanation as it was seen as trivialising their hardship.
“The 20% rebate no matter how small can still contribute towards easing expenses, especially for those living in the Klang Valley,” Rafizi said.
DAP’s Serdang MP Dr Ong Kian Ming said the average user would have chalked up a rebate of between RM30 and RM40 per month and would feel the impact of the removal of this latest facility.
“This is in violation of Putrajaya’s mitigation measures that were introduced as part of the subsidy rationalisation programme.
“For Klang Valley folk, this is yet another sign that BN has abandoned them and it looks like BN is not interested in winning back their votes,” he said.
Petaling Jaya Utara MP Tony Pua said the toll rebate was never meant to be permanent and was never the solution to the overpriced highways.
Instead, it was a stop-gap policy to dampen the anti-government sentiment in the run up to the 13th general election.
“It is not surprising the rebate is withdrawn and toll rates are raised in accordance to the lopsided concessionaire agreements,” he said.
The Selangor DAP chairman said the only way for the government to stop the vicious cycle of toll hikes of toll operators making astronomical profits was to buy back the highways.
However, he said, it was clear Putrajaya was unwilling to do this, and as a result, concessionaires would continue to rake in lucrative profits.
PAS’s Kota Raja MP Dr Siti Mariah Mahmud said the rebate removal would cause hardship to the people and contribute to a rise in household debts as transport costs increased.
“It is a double jeopardy for consumers, on the heels of subsidies being slashed and rising prices of goods and services.”
She said while some might opt to use toll-free roads which would increase traffic at these alternative roads, there were also many places without alternative toll-free routes.
The move proved that the government was desperate to save money on the back of its fiscal deficit and this, unfortunately, came at the expense of the people, she said.
Datuk Seri Najib Razak, who celebrated his 100th day in office after taking power in April 2009, had introduced the rebate through the Touch ’n Go card as a “gift” to motorists.
To qualify for the rebate, motorists needed to use the Touch ’n Go card a minimum of 80 times to pay at any toll booth in the Klang Valley in a calendar month.
A 20% rebate was to be given to qualified cardholders, calculated at 20% of the total transaction.
Cardholders could redeem the rebates through a card reload at all Touch ’n Go sales counter.
A source told Malay daily Sinar Harian the rebate was Putrajaya’s prerogative as it was a “gift” and it could withdraw it any time.
Motorists have until June to claim whatever rebate that had been credited into their accounts, say highway officials.
However, the Najib administration which trumpeted the scheme at its 2009 launch as another caring government initiative has kept mum, leaving frantic motorists jamming counters to redeem the rebate since Monday.
“Yes, it was packed in the morning. They thought today was the last day. I had to explain that the rebate will be stopped, but they have until June to claim it,” said a cashier at the Sungai Besi Plus toll plaza visited by The Malaysian Insider.
The decision to scrap the rebate comes close on the heels of a proposed hike in toll. However, Putrajaya had reassured road users that it was still considering the options to reduce the impact of impending toll hikes.
Works Minister Datuk Fadillah Yusof said the government had yet to issue a directive to any of the concessionaires to hike up their rates.
“In reviewing the best steps to reduce the effects on the people, the government has to respect the concession agreements which were signed to ensure it continues to get investors’ confidence,” he said in a statement yesterday. – January 2, 2013.