The Associated Press
Published: February 28, 2009
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: Malaysia's government has reversed its decision to increase toll rates for five key highways following a public outcry amid an economic slowdown, officials said Saturday.
Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who is currently in Thailand for a regional meeting, was quoted by the New Straits Times as saying the toll hike would only add to the people's hardship.
"At a time when we are planning a stimulus package ... to help the people, toll hikes are impractical," Abdullah said in the report. "There was also a lot of resistance."
The government earlier this week announced that tolls would be raised Sunday by up to 50 sen ($0.15) at collection booths on the North-South Highway spanning peninsular Malaysia and four other vital expressways in Kuala Lumpur, the largest city.
But consumer groups, truck and bus associations as well as opposition lawmakers had slammed the move, saying it would burden Malaysians.
Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak was quoted as saying the Cabinet decided Friday to defer the hike in toll rates. Under contractual obligations, the government has to pay 287 million ringgit ($78 million) this year to compensate the companies that maintain and operate the routes, he said.
An aide to Najib confirmed his comments but couldn't give further details.
Malaysia's economy grew 4.6 percent last year, below the government's target of 5 percent. Many economists have predicted a recession this year. The government is to unveil a second stimulus package March 10 to boost growth after a seven billion ringgit ($1.9 billion) injection announced earlier.