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Govt need not pay a single sen to acquire toll concessionaires: Tony Pua

KUALA LUMPUR (July 6): The government would not need to fork out a single sen to pay for the acquisition of four highway concessionaires as the RM6.2 billion purchase consideration will be entirely self-financed via the collection of proposed congestion fees, said political secretary to the Finance Minister, Tony Pua.

He said the acquisition, opposed by some critics, would also not increase the government’s debt burden because a designated special purpose vehicle would be raising the RM6.2 billion cost to finance the purchase of the concessionaires, namely Damansara-Puchong Highway (LDP), System Penyuraian Trafik KL Barat (SPRINT), Shah Alam Expressway (KESAS) and the Stormwater Management and Road Tunnel (SMART),.

"There needs to be a distinction between debt which the government will ultimately have to bear, versus debt which will be self-financed. In this case, the RM6.2 billion will be entirely self-financed via the collection of proposed congestion charges," he said in a statement here, today.

He said the Ministry of Finance (MoF) had issued two statements to  explain the benefits and rationale of the proposed acquisition.

"The offer was made on June 21, 2019 and has since received the acceptance from the Board of Directors of Gamuda Bhd and the respective toll concession companies. The exercise is currently awaiting further approval of the concession shareholders, as well as the final Cabinet approval prior to a successful completion," he said, adding there were still critics from some parties who are opposed to the exercise based on flawed logic and arguments.

Responding to the critics, Pua said the proposed acquisition of four toll concessionaires, on the contrary, would save billions of ringgit for the taxpayers and highway users, while providing the shareholders of the toll concessionaires a limited but reasonable return on their investment to ensure the stability of the fragile financial markets. 

He said there were those who argued that it would be cheaper to pay these concessionaires compensation for freezing toll rates than to acquire them.

The MoF has estimated that, without the acquisition, the government would have to compensate these concessionaires between RM5.3 billion and RM6.5 billion to freeze the toll rates until the end of the respective concession periods. With this self-financed acquisition, the government will hence save RM5.3 billion to RM6.5 billion in compensation payments.

"Therefore, the simple mathematics will conclude that it is vastly cheaper for the government to acquire the highways than to pay compensation, since the acquisition cost of RM6.2 billion is self-financed. On the other hand, if the toll rates are merely frozen, these concessionaires will collect at least RM5.3 billion in compensation from the government.

"Contrary to the critics’ argument, if the government pays compensation to the concessionaires to freeze toll rates, it will only profit the concessionaires and reduce the burden for the urban highway users only.

“However, by acquiring the highways, the RM5.3 billion saved in the future will go towards welfare and development expenditure for Malaysians all around the country, while the highway users can save even more than before," he said.

On the argument that certain highways which are expiring ‘soon’ should be allowed to expire instead of being acquired, he said these critics might have forgotten that even for the ‘expiring’ highway – specifically referring to KESAS which will expire in 2028, the government still needed to continue to compensate the concessionaire every year to freeze the toll rates.

"The government has offered to acquire KESAS at RM1.377 billion. The government would otherwise have to compensate the concessionaire between RM1.08 billion and RM1.19 billion depending on traffic volume up to the expiry of the concession.

"Hence, the same argument applies – that if the government can acquire KESAS for RM1.377 billion via a self-financing mechanism which does not require any government financial allocation, the Malaysian taxpayers will save between RM1.08 billion and RM1.19 billion in compensation payments to the concessionaire over the next nine years," he explained.

Pua said there are others who argued that the offer exercise is a bailout for ‘loss-making’ highways, citing SPRINT and SMART.

"For SPRINT, the highway is currently ‘loss-making’. However, the critics should be aware that its earnings and profit are back-loaded towards the end of the concession. This is especially since its debts will be progressively repaid and the toll rates for the three highways under the concession are entitled for increases in the future as provided in the existing concession agreement.

"Over the remaining life of the concession, SPRINT is expected to generate around RM1.5 billion in profit after tax for the shareholders, after settling all its outstanding debts. In comparison, the government has offered RM1.984 billion to acquire the concession, of which only approximately RM870 million to the shareholders. The balance of the RM1.114 billion is used to repay the debt holders of the highway.

“In addition, if the Government was to freeze toll rates and pay compensation, the compensation amount for SPRINT will range from RM1.57 billion to RM2.04 billion, depending on future traffic volume," he said.

As for SMART, Pua acknowledged that the highway concession which ends only in 2042 was expected to be loss-making for a long time, and it explained why the government was acquiring it at net book value of RM369 million.

On the contrary, if the concession is allowed to be continued, the "government would instead have to compensate the concessionaire between RM671 million and RM1.028 billion for the remainder of the concession.

In conclusion, he said it is substantially cheaper to acquire the highway today via a self-financing mechanism, instead of continuing to pay compensation for the remainder of the concession period.

"Finally, certain critics also claim that the government’s offer allow Gamuda to rake in all of its profits upfront, instead of over the concession period. This argument is again, misleading.

“The proposed acquisition, will indeed allow Gamuda and the other concessionaires shareholders to recognise some of the future profits today. Otherwise, what incentive do they have to become ‘willing sellers’?

“However, through this acquisition exercise, the ‘future profits’ will be shared between the concessionaire shareholders, the government – via elimination of compensation payments – and the highway users, via reduced congestion charges," said Pua.

The government will save at least RM5.3 billion, which would otherwise have gone into the concessionaires’ bottom-line, and the highway users will save up to RM180 million per annum from reduced congestion charges, or approximately RM2 billion over the respective concession periods.

"The reason why both the Government and the highway users are able to benefit is because the ‘future profit’ of these highways are shared.

In summary, the acquisition offer can be deemed as fair and reasonable given that it allows the government and the highway users to reap a total of more than RM7.3 billion of savings in the future while ensuring market stability without invoking the threat of expropriation," he added.

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