Editorial Notes

When a solution becomes a problem: Sin Chew Daily

Vehicles queuing at the Jalan Duta Plaza Toll on the Plus Highway in Kuala Lumpur.
Vehicles queuing at the Jalan Duta Plaza Toll on the Plus Highway in Kuala Lumpur. PHOTO: THE STAR PUBLICATION

Inspired by the privatisation programmes of British prime minister Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, then prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir also followed suit, leading Malaysia down the same path of privatisation craze.

The objective of privatisation is to address the issue of sliding public sector efficiency while cutting back the government's financial burden.

In other words, privatisation is supposed to be a solution to solve our problems, but in reality, owing to the interception of human factors, privatisation has become a problem itself instead of a panacea that would fix our problems.

Our much controversial highway privatisation is one such instance.

By right the cost of building such highways should be transferred from the government to private companies.

Unfortunately, due to some irrational and absurd clauses in the concessionary agreements, the government has yet to fully unload its burden.

In order to postpone toll hikes to win the favour of the public, the government has from 2008 to 2013 disbursed a total of RM1,108.91 million (S$360 million) to compensate highway concessionaires for not upping the toll rates. 

The compensated amount for 2014 stood at RM402.99 million.

As earlier mentioned, privatisation is supposed to lessen the government's financial burden. But given the enormous sums of compensation above, this objective is far from being achieved.

Another objective of privatisation is to resolve the issue of public services efficiency. 

We have to admit that indeed some of the expressways have done this, by providing motorists with easy connections and significantly shortening traveling times.

Nevertheless, toll collection at these highways has also made them less efficient in facilitating traffic flow. 

Motorists in Klang Valley are well familiar with the fact that they have to put up with the long queues just to pay their tolls, and then get jammed up again after handing out the toll money.

This has defeated the purpose of providing improved access for motorists. 

And such inefficiency has reduced highway tolls to a convenient money-making tool for businesses.

As if that is not enough, there are more and more toll roads in our city, highways that are packaged as perfect solutions to resolve our traffic woes. 

The authorities have also become less prudent when it comes to traffic planning. 

After some time, these urban highways are no longer feasible alternatives but have become "regular" routes which we can no longer avoid.

As a consequence, we are paying tolls on a daily basis and get so accustomed to it that we have forgotten that it is the government's duty to provide the essential infrastructure so that we don't have to drive past two or three toll gates in our daily work commutes.

When a solution has evolved into a problem itself, perhaps it is time for us to re-look the whole concept of privatisation. 

Sin Chew Daily is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 22 newspapers seeking to promote coverage of Asian affairs.