Show Basis for Toll Hikes – Transport Groups

Questionable Increases, Questionable Deals

The protests lodged by groups of drivers, operators, people’s organizations, some concerned individuals such as a lawyer and a provincial governor, ranged from questioning the constitutionality of TRB’s deciding on public-private toll deals, to numerous questionable conducts and claims of both the TRB and private developers. These include lack of public bidding and transparency, among others.

Until now, the TRB and the SLTC have not furnished the public documents that would prove or explain the basis of their toll fee hikes, San Mateo said. Piston has been requesting pertinent documents from the TRB since June this year.

And yet, the Aquino government wants those opposing the hike to “explain why they are opposed” to it, and to provide “documented basis” for it. That is very, very wrong, San Mateo told Bulatlat. “The burden of defending the SLEx toll fee hike rests on the government and not on groups opposed to it.”

On top of questioning privatization, Piston specifically has four niggling questions about the proposed toll fee hike, which was why they said they have been asking the TRB to furnish them documents. One, how did the TRB arrive at the 250-percent toll fee hike for SLEx? Two, how did the costs of the SLEx rehab amount to P12-billion ($279 million)? Three, Why did the government allow the SLTC up to 18-percent return-on-rate-base (RORB) when the maximum allowable (by law) was 12-percent? Four, why did the contract between the TRB and the SLTC become a negotiated one, and why was there no public bidding?

In the absence of public biddings before the TRB granted SLTC the contract to operate SLEx, and in the absence of public hearings before the TRB decided to approve the 250-percent increase, not to mention the TRB’s failure to give the requesting transport groups and other opposing groups a copy of pertinent documents related to toll operations and proposed hikes, questions are being raised about a “possible anomaly and graft and corruption in that project and contract,” Piston said.

San Mateo said the toll road’s doubtful contract and project was approved and started under the corrupt-ridden Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo administration. “But why is President Aquino merely continuing that, despite his ‘righteous road’ rhetoric?”

Lawyer Ernesto Francisco, one of those who questioned the legality of the STOAs and who intends to pursue this at the Supreme Court, has questioned the discrepancy in the SLEx operators’ reported project costs. In a disclosure to Bursa Malaysia (formerly the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange) in 2006, MTD Capital Berhad (financier of the SLEx rehabilitation) said the project would cost P8.5 billion ($197 million), which includes four toll roads. But in its consolidated reply submitted to the SC recently, Francisco pointed out that TRB, SLTC and PNCC said the project already cost P10 billion ($232 million) and only covers two toll roads.

In a Manila Bulletin report, Francisco was quoted as saying that the increase in the level of toll rates for the three expressways are “drastic, unreasonable and constitute a killing for PNCC and its joint venture partners.”

Piston asked the motorists and riding public to join them in urging the Aquino government to scrap the implementation of toll fee increases, and to treat the country’s expressways as a “government’s basic public service, and not a means for profit by private operators.” Along with fisherfolks Pamalakaya and youth groups such as Kabataan Partylist, Piston called for a re-nationalization of the country’s roads. (Bulatlat.com)

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