Did finance minister Lim Guan Eng roll out the RM6.2 billion highway takeover plan without the agreement of the cabinet? No such thing happened, says prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

“No such thing. The cabinet was told about this plan by the ministry of finance and we have not said no. The date of the implementation is going to be decided by the cabinet,” the PM said in Putrajaya today, reported by the Malay Mail. He also denied that the proposal to buy out the four toll concessionaires has been put on hold pending a full review, as alleged by reports.

Yesterday, Singapore’s Straits Times (ST) claimed that the proposed takeover has been paused for a re-examination of the offered price, and that some in the federal government, including cabinet members, believed that the offer was excessive. It also said that the finance ministry’s projected revenue, backed by congestion charge collection, may not allow for the acquisition to be self-funded as presented.

The ST report, picked up by local media, also mentioned that the issue was causing friction within the Pakatan Harapan coalition government, quoting an unnamed Malaysian minister. The minister said Lim had presented the plan to the public and made offers for the Gamuda-linked concessionaires without the agreement of the cabinet.

It was pointed out that Gamuda, which is agreeable to the buyout offers, is leading the ambitious RM46 billion Penang Transport Masterplan. Lim was the chief minister of Penang before last year’s general election. The report also quoted an unnamed DAP leader who somewhat confirmed the internal resistance to the takeover proposal. “The finance ministry is of the view that the proposal is good, but it has taken on an unfortunate political twist,” the person said.

In June, the Minister of Finance Inc made a RM6.2 billion offer to take over the operators of the Lebuhraya Damansara Puchong (LDP), Sistem Penyuraian Trafik KL Barat (Sprint), Lebuhraya Shah Alam (Kesas) and the Smart Tunnel.

Lim had said that the takeover bid is being done in the name of public interest, and with the congestion charge system in place, the highways will be toll-free during off-peak hours and toll rates will be 30% lower outside of peak hours.

“This is because the government is not an organisation looking to make a profit. We have taken out the element of profit and are doing it for the public good unlike private enterprises which must make a return,” he said.

The minister stressed that the highway takeover move will not incur cost to the government and that toll rates would not be increased. This is because the takeover will be financed through bond issuance, with congestion charges used to pay off the debt. The plan will also see consumers save up to RM180 million in toll charges during the concession period, he added.