PUTRAJAYA, May 8 — Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) failure to keep its manifesto pledge to abolish tolls may well be among Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s biggest regrets since leading the coalition to an unexpected general election victory a year ago.
Ahead of the coalition’s first anniversary, the prime minister sought to placate public unhappiness by reiterating that the pledge’s fulfilment would further dent Putrajaya’s coffers at a time it is trying to recover from the Barisan Nasional (BN) administration’s profligacy.
“When you abolish the tolls, you earn nothing from the usage of the highways but we have to maintain the highways. And the maintenance cost will run into billions again,” Dr Mahathir said during a joint media interview here.
“And if we have to build another highway, we have to do it by [ourselves]. Because we cannot collect tolls, so the private sector won’t invest in new highways because they can’t earn anything from that.
“That will amplify our financial problems. So at this moment, we find it very difficult to implement a promise that was made without full knowledge of the cost and the damages that would be done,” he added.
According to Dr Mahathir, Putrajaya would have to fork out RM30 billion just to acquire highway operator PLUS Malaysia Berhad.
“So the question is, do we use the RM30 billion for that, or do we use the RM30 billion we have for another much more important purpose?” he asked.
Earlier this year, the Prime Minister’s Office said that the federal government plans to replace the current system of toll collection on highways with a congestion charge system, in which highway users will be charged the same as the existing toll rates for the peak period for six hours daily.
It also said the PH government has initiated steps to fulfil the coalition’s promise in its electoral manifesto last year to take over highway concessions and gradually reduce toll rates according to the terms in concession agreements.
During the interview, Dr Mahathir also brought up Putrajaya’s failure to abolish the death penalty, despite the moratorium on all pending death sentences.
“There’s quite a number of things that are opposed by a lot of people because they feel it is detrimental to their interests,” he added.
According to the unofficial Harapan Tracker that monitors all pledges made by PH prior to the elections, including those in the manifesto, the pact has only achieved 22 out of 555 and even broken 11 of them. Most of the pledges have yet to be started.