You would have by now heard about the government’s proposal to acquire highway concessions and abolish toll collection in stages, starting with highways which Gamuda Berhad has a stake in such as the Lebuhraya Damansara Puchong (LDP), Sistem Penyuraian Trafik KL Barat (SPRINT), Lebuhraya Shah Alam (KESAS) and the SMART Tunnel.

There’s also the proposal to introduce a congestion charge to highways, where off-peak users will get to use the roads for free, and normal hour motorists will get a 30% discount. In the suggestion, peak period users will continue to pay today’s rates. Besides getting some vital revenue, this move is also aimed at spreading out traffic and easing jams. Recap here.

Unsurprisingly, the announcement has captured plenty of attention and received no shortage of feedback, from the public and commentators alike. The timing of the announcement just before a crucial by-election also got tongues wagging, although ministers such as Anthony Loke has come out to deny the connection.

Subsequently, prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and economic affairs minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali have come out to “urge calm”, temper expectations and deflect criticism of the congestion charge proposal.

“We are offering cheaper rate (during normal hours) as not many people are using, that would mean people will choose that time to travel to the benefit from the reduction of the rates,” Tun M said, reported by The Edge.

“To cancel all the rates becomes too expensive. We need to buy the tolled road. When you buy, you need to raise money and service the loans that we raise. So we try to reduce the money (costs) we have to pay for acquiring highways, that will go stage by stage and step by step, (we decided) on not a fully toll-free road but partially all free at certain time.” he added.

Azmin responded to the statement of Umno deputy president Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan, who had questioned why was the government not taking over PLUS. “One by one (toll takeover), just now you (reporters) said the huge financial burden when implementing the takeover.

“When the government takes over four toll concessions, there was mention of the inabiity to pay and now there is call to acquire one more,” he retorted, reported by Malay Mail. Azmin added that the highway takeover process needed comprehensive discussions such as reviewing the agreements as well as the financial implications.

The minister also assured that this move, which is to fulfil the Pakatan Harapan general elections manifesto, will not affect other development plans.

“This is our commitment in the past general election, but negotiations and discussions are being carried out so that it can be made in stages because the impact on the national’s finance is large. We have to ensure it will not affect other economic developments, as while we want to implement the manifesto, we also want economic development to continue to expand,” he told reporters.

On its part, Gamuda is seeking for a deal that follows “market valuation norms and practices,” according to the listed company’s announcement to Bursa Malaysia yesterday. “As the board of directors of Gamuda has a fiduciary duty to deliver fair and reasonable value to its shareholders, the company has to ensure that the proposed transaction will be based on market valuation norms and practices,” it said.

The Employees Provident Fund (EPF) is the largest shareholder in Gamuda with an 11.88% stake, followed by Amanah Saham Bumiputra (4.99%), Perak Royalty (4.79%) and Kumpulan Wang Persaraan (4.14%). Gamuda’s MD Datuk Lin Yun Ling has a personal 3.04% stake in the company he helms.