Is the Penang State Government redundant?

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Aliran is amazed that the people of Penang are being told that their State Government is not in charge of the administration of public transport in the state and therefore the State Government is redundant.

In his statement on 14 July 2006 in reference to an earlier statement by Penang Chief Minister Dr Koh Tsu Koon, Entrepreneur and Cooperative Development Minister Khaled Nordin said “we cannot allow the state government to manage and run the public bus transportation system”.

The Penang CM had urged the Commercial Vehicle Licensing Board (CVLB) to delegate power to the State Government so that it could issue licences and permits to bus companies and improve the public transport system. The present system is in chaos due to the apparently unregulated issue and abuse of such licences and permits.

Khaled gave the impression that the CVLB and the Entrepreneur and Cooperative Development Ministry have all this while been doing a study of Penang’s fast-deteriorating public transport system and have only “over the past three months” discovered the system’s weaknesses. He claimed that these “weaknesses… had been identified and some operators had failed to adhere to the guidelines set by the CVLB”; further, that bus companies were making losses running “social routes”. The CVLB, he added, would check out any alternative bus company the Penang State Government cared to nominate to replace the bus companies it wished to terminate. He also belatedly stated that the RM50 million the State Government was proposing for the purchase of new public buses was insufficient.

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We agree that by law the CVLB should be doing the job of issuing permits and licences to public transport operators. But we would like to ask why the CVLB is not carrying out this lawful duty responsibly. If the Minister and the CVLB are so jealously defensive of their power to grant these licences and permits to suitable public transport companies, why then did the CVLB neglect to check out the current bus operators in Penang before granting them permits? The CVLB had also neglected to monitor the operation of the public transport system to ensure its smooth running and efficiency.

The impression that the CVLB has been studying the public transport situation in Penang is too presumptuous to be believable. The public in Penang cannot recall any survey or consultation made by any CVLB personnel or any government official, whether from the local or federal authorities, over the past three months to give credence to the Minister’s claims.

If the CVLB had in fact carried out such a study, it would be in the public interest to publicise it for public comment and information. The only voices we have heard so far are those of the NGO coalition, Citizens for Public Transport (CEPAT), which includes the newly founded Bus Users Group (BUG). CEPAT has been involved in an ongoing debate with Dr Teng Hock Nan of the Penang State Government, interspersed by one or two terse comments by CVLB or local government officials that have not been very constructive or sympathetic towards the bus-using public.

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The only valid point the Minister made in the whole press statement was to point out that the Penang State Government had not really thought of a viable alternative before proposing to terminate current incompetent bus operators. But the Minister himself made no viable or constructive suggestions regarding this, either.

With no evidence given of any study having been carried out by the CVLB or the Entrepreneur and Cooperative Development Ministry, we wonder how the Minister can state that bus companies are making losses on so-called “social routes”. The public has over time witnessed the ‘disappearance’ of buses allegedly plying these ‘social routes’, turning bus-stops along these routes into ‘ghost bus-stops’.

If, as the Minister says, RM50 million is not enough to buy new public buses, we would ask him if the Federal Government would be willing to provide more money. If the Minister and the CVLB really care about the public transport problem in Penang, then they should both be lobbying the Federal Government to make adequate provision to alleviate the problem.

It is regrettable that whilst the Minister and the CVLB exhibit this selfish attitude preventing the State Government from dealing with problems within its own state, they do not appear to have any constructive or practical alternatives or proposals to alleviate the state’s public transport woes. It is a shame that there seems to be a complete lack of political will to solve the problems faced by so many of the lower-income electorate in the Prime Minister’s home state of Penang.

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In view of this impasse between the Entrepreneur and Cooperative Development Ministry, the CVLB and the Penang State Government, Aliran urges Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and the Federal Government to transfer the powers of the CVLB to the Penang State Government so that Penang’s public transport woes may be expediently and expeditiously reduced.

We hope that the public will be consulted in future when formulating plans for a more affordable, people-friendly, environmentally-friendly and efficient public transport system in the whole state.

 

Angeline Loh

Executive committee member

20 July 2006 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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