Pua: Only RM25b to buy back toll highways

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KUALA LUMPUR: The real cost of buying back toll concessionaires is closer to RM25 billion instead of RM231 billion as announced by Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop on Monday, an MP said today.

Tony Pua (Petaling Jaya Utara-DAP) said the cost indicated by Nor Mohamed was grossly inflated at prices meant to compensate fully the concessionaires for the loss of future profits.

"Should the government decide to pay these concessionaires 100% of the loss of future profits, it would render the entire buyback exercise pointless, as it just means that the burden of toll is shifted from the commuters to the taxpayers," Pua told a press conference at the parliament lobby today.

The declassified highway concession contracts revealed clearly under expropriation terms of the highways that the government would not pay compensation for future profits with the exception of the North-South Highway and the Penang Bridge, he said.

Therefore, for a highway like the Lebuhraya Damansara Puchong (LDP), which still has a lifespan of 20 years and whose toll rates are expected to be raised to RM3.20 by 2016 from the current RM1.60, the buyback cost to the government was estimated at less than RM1.5 billion, Pua said.

For the North-South Highway and other highways owned by PLUS Expressways Bhd, it would cost the government RM15 billion to buy back the company's shares it does not own.

The government need not buy back all the highways but only those that were clearly making astronomical profits at the expense of daily commuters, Pua said.

The LDP concessionaire, according to Pua, had projected total profits of RM18.8 billion from the concession, against the RM1.327 billion cost of the highway, including interest.

Pua, who has written to the minister for a detailed breakdown of the cost of buyback, said analysis of the facts derived from the declassified contracts and annual financial statements of the toll concessionaires showed that the government would not have to bear the cost of the RM25 billion proposed acquisition even after reducing the toll rates.