Malaysia Causeway toll operator to reap 'exorbitant profits' from toll hike: opposition

Malaysia's government revealed that 1.5 million paying vehicles crossed the Causeway in August after a toll-hike that has begun to hit Johor's economy.  -- PHOTO: ST FILE
Malaysia's government revealed that 1.5 million paying vehicles crossed the Causeway in August after a toll-hike that has begun to hit Johor's economy.  -- PHOTO: ST FILE

Toll concessionaire Malaysian Resources Corporation Berhad (MRCB) will reap "exorbitant profits", Malaysia's opposition said on Monday after the government revealed that 1.5 million paying vehicles crossed the Causeway in August after a toll-hike that has begun to hit Johor's economy.

Malaysia's works ministry revealed in Parliament last week that in the month following the August 1 hike, 729,657 paid the toll to enter Singapore while 721,384 shelled out the increased fare going the other way.

Malaysia added RM6.80 (S$2.63) each way to the existing RM2.90 to enter Johor from Singapore for cars, while buses saw a RM5.50 increase in both directions on top of the RM2.30 already paid heading north.

According to opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP), this totals close to RM11 million per month, the same as the compensation paid by the government to MRCB since 2012 when the toll hike was to come into effect but was delayed ahead of last year's closely-fought general elections.

DAP assistant publicity chief Teo Nie Ching said yesterday this would mean that the government-linked MRCB would rake in RM4.3 billion by the end of its 34-year concession, despite the Eastern Dispersal Link (EDL) highway - which terminates at the Johor Baru immigration complex - only costing RM1.2 billion.

"The profit that they are going to make from toll collection is still exorbitant and astronomical," the Johor-based MP said, adding that this was before taking into consideration future toll hikes written into the concession deal and increasing traffic volume over the next three decades.

Singapore matched Malaysia's collection on Oct 1, bringing the cost of a roundtrip to $13, from just $2.35 as recently as July.

The double hike caused alarm over the chilling economic impact especially to the Iskandar region - crucial to both nations - in Johor, which has just begun booming in the past two years after a quiet start.

Even Malaysian ruling party leaders were critical of the hike, such as Public Accounts Committee chief Nur Jazlan Mohamad who told The Straits Times "both governments have to decide if they want Iskandar or not because instead of promoting it, they are imposing a de facto tax."

MRCB has insisted that the financing cost incurred to build the EDL - an elevated highway connecting the Johor Baru immigration complex to the North-South Expressway - alone is RM11 million a month, with an additional RM1 million needed for operations and maintenance.

It also claims that it only collects RM6.80 upon exit and entry at the immigration complex (and not the existing RM2.90) but that up to 200,000 motorists use the EDL for free within Johor without crossing the border.

Ms Teo added that Kuala Lumpur "should immediately declassify concession agreement with MRCB so that Malaysians will know if our government has again abused its power to enrich its crony."

shannont@sph.com.sg