Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Not transparent, nonnegotiable, unfriendly and unserious attitude – Disappointing attitudes of the government

We would like to register our grave disappointment with the government’s not transparent, nonnegotiable, unfriendly and unserious attitude in dealing with various issues arising from unfair highway toll hike.

First, the government is not transparent with the public when signing highway privatization concessionaire agreement with private companies, causing not only the bleeding of motorists’ pockets but also government coffer.

On September 22 last year in Parliament, Datuk Samy revealed that the government had RM38.5 billion in compensation to the 20 highway concession companies. The first toll collection began at the Shapadu highway in Klang in 1984 followed by the North-South Expressway in 1988.Of the total RM38.5 billion, the government paid RM1.76 billion in cash while the remainder was in tax exemption and extending the concession period.

Clearly the RM38.5 billion in compensation to the 20 highway companies does not include the toll collected from motorists using the highways. The Police has recently initiated investigation under 1972 Official Secret Act (OSA) to investigate four prominent Opposition leaders namely Ronnie Liu Tian Khiew (DAP), Tian Chua (PKR), Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim (PKR) and Dr Hatta Ramli (PAS).

Hiding behind the OSA can not cover up the fact that the RM38.5 billion compensation paid by the government alone is enough to pay for the construction cost without including the tens of billions ringgit more collected from motorists.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has disappointed Malaysians by failing to fulfill his promise to be transparent and accountable in justifying why the government paid compensation of RM4,864 million or RM739 million more than the construction cost of RM4,125 million for the 5 Klang Valley highways. Again the RM4,864 million in compensation paid does not include the toll collected directly from the public by the highway companies, which would be extra profits earned by them.

There is no economic rationale or financial sense for the government to refuse to buy over the highways when buying it over is cheaper and more cost-effective. Why let the 5 highway companies make RM739 million mid-way through their concession period ending between 2024-2035? By allowing the 5 Klang Valley highway companies to impose a 20-60% toll rate hike on 1 January 2006 despite already getting back their investment cost, the government is “abetting” these companies to reap huge profits at public’s expense.

There is mounting public anger over the toll hikes seen as “highway robbery in broad daylight that sells out” the rights of motorists, consumers and ordinary Malaysians to big corporations. Privatisation should result in efficiency gains as well as reduction of costs to government. However this has not happened in the privatization of our highways where the costs to the government continues to escalate until it exceeds the construction costs.

Second, the government ignores the constitutional right of the people to hold legitimate political activities including peaceful gathering to express disagreement against unfair, unjustified and not transparent highway privatization concessionaire agreement.

We witnessed more police brutalities and human right violations on 4th February 2007 – when 15 people were arrested in front of Puchong’s IOI shopping mall in the fourth peaceful demonstration against the unfair toll hikes.

Police brutalities and trampling on human rights started two weeks ago at the previous peaceful protest against the toll hikes at the Cheras-Kajang Highway Batu 11 toll booth where 21 people were arrested.

As the first two anti-toll hike protests at Subang’s Sunway City on Jan 7 and Gombak’s KL-Karak toll booth on Jan 14 had been conducted peacefully without any incidents, it would appear that the Police and the Abdullah administration have taken a policy decision to disregard human rights and given the greenlight for police violence and brutality to clamp down on the peaceful protests against the unfair toll hikes, organized by various organizations including PROTES and Opposition parties. This is more prevalent when there was an incident on the Jan 21 demonstration when an untagged and unidentified plaincloth policeman beaten demonstrators.

We felt gravely disappointed with such unfriendly and nonnegotiable attitude of the police which ignores the basic constitutional right of the people to hold peaceful gathering.

Third, if the government and the police have no intention to prosecute demonstrators, they shall not arrest them in the first place.

11 demonstrators participated in a peaceful demonstration in Cheras 11th Mile were summoned to attend the Kajang Magistrate Court on 5th February 2007. What is disappointing is that they were then told that the Mogistrate and the Prosecuting Officer are not notified and ready for the prosecution.

Selangor DAP Chairperson Ean Yong Hian Wah expressed his disappointment when he was notified that the Magistrate was on sick leave on that day. Their representing lawyer, Mr. Lim Lip Eng, who is also the Selangor DAP Publicity Secretary also criticized the Kajang Police Station for failure in submitting the investigation paper on time to the Magistrate.

He said that the eleven attended the Magistrate with the intention to cooperate with the Police and the court in the prosecution.

What we would like to ask is that, if the police have not finished their investigation, shall they be issued any summon to attend the court, more so when it is believed that there is no sincere intention from the police to prosecute them? Does this prove that the police does not mean business when they arrested the 21 persons high-handedly to prevent them from carrying out legitimate political activities.

Does this also mean that the Police should not clamp down on the peaceful protests against the unfair toll hikes, organized by various organizations including PROTES and Opposition parties, as the Police have no intention to prosecute them?

If that is the case, then we urge the police of not to interfere such peaceful gatherings organized by the people more.
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