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Malaysia rejects all bids to buy its biggest highway operator

[KUALA LUMPUR] Malaysia has rejected all bids from companies seeking to buy stakes in the nation's biggest highway concession-holder, as the government sets out another plan to lower toll fares to meet an election pledge.

The Cabinet has decided that state funds Khazanah Nasional Bhd and Employees Provident Fund (EPF) will maintain their stakes in toll road operator PLUS Malaysia Bhd, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad told reporters on Thursday. The government has studied all proposals from the private sector, he said, without naming the bidders.

Instead, the government will cut toll fares by 18 per cent from the current rate and keep them unchanged despite inflation or changes to traffic, Dr Mahathir said.

"Remember that the 18 per cent is fixed at today's rate, which means that in 30 years' time that 18 per cent, I mean the toll rate will be very very low indeed," he said.

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The government has struggled to fulfill its election promise of abolishing toll fares as part of a plan to help lower living costs. Negotiations to acquire the remaining concessions for four separate highways from Gamuda Bhd has hit multiple delays since the RM6.2 billion (S$2.05 billion) acquisition was first announced in June.

PLUS is 51 per cent-owned by Khazanah through UEM Group Bhd, with the rest owned by EPF. The company operates the country's longest expressway connecting the southern border with Singapore to cities near the northern border with Thailand.