The long and drawn-out saga of toll abolishment continues, and in the run-up to Budget 2020, prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has reiterated that such a move would not be possible – at least, not right now – due to the high costs involved in taking over the country’s highways, according to Bernama.

The premier said that an immediate abolishment was never promised by Pakatan Harapan. “When I [previously] mentioned there was no promise of abolishing tolls, I was referring to the manifesto which stated that it would not be done immediately,” Mahathir said.

In the months leading up to the 14th general election, the party released a manifesto which pledged, among other things, to review all highway concession agreements and negotiate for the best deals to take over each concession, with the ultimate aim to abolish tolls in stages.

Mahathir said that an in-depth study showed that taking over all tolled highways immediately would cost the government tens of billions of ringgit, and billions of ringgit more to maintain. He added that Malaysia would need to repay a trillion-ringgit debt accumulated by the previous government to avoid bankruptcy, and that the interest and principal of the debt would cost billions of ringgit.

“When this is paid, government funds will be insufficient for key infrastructure development, [especially] if the costs of purchasing and maintaining highways are added to the government’s operational and development expenditure,” Mahathir said, adding that the study showed the government would not be able to afford the projects the people are requesting if it is saddled with the cost of maintaining highways.

He also said that not all companies that were awarded toll concessions by the government were able to make a profit, due to the high costs of maintaining the highways.