Home TA Online Forget new cars for top officials; just take the bus!

Forget new cars for top officials; just take the bus!

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In an open letter, Adrian Lee tells political leaders and senior government officials they can save public money, reduce congestion and identify with the rakyat if they opt for public transport. 

Dear politicians and government officials with new cars awaiting

I’m writing to you after reading about announcements that new vehicles are to be or have been bought for ministers and senior government officials. This time, politicians from both sides of the political divide seem to be united about this.

The justification for buying new vehicles is that the cars have aged, other politicians have used them or that the 25-year concession with a car supplier has ended. (Twenty-five years is a long time to do business with only one company!)

Another reason is that travelling with German technology and luxury somewhat guarantees the safety and wellbeing of politicians.

Further justification is that the cars are said to be bought at half price (without heavy car import duties) and are thus a steal! (Anything would seem cheap if the money isn’t coming from your own pocket but from public coffers – even if the car is worth more than half a million ringgit.)

I am sure politicians require a vehicle to travel from one place to another in comfort. What concerns me are the following matters.

First, are there issues with the existing vehicles? Are they heavily worn out or in bad shape?

Or is there a need to change governmental vehicles in line with a change of government? This seems to be the trend with certain state governments: once they have taken office, a new fleet of vehicles would be bought to replace existing ones.

Many Malaysians drive their cars for over seven to nine years – for that is how long it takes to service our loans. They have to pay loan instalments, petrol, tolls, maintenance costs, road tax, insurance, parking fees – and maybe traffic fines!

Second, 3,000 luxury sedans are also to be bought. Would this also include the costs of hiring drivers, petrol, parking fees and tolls? Do we really have that many senior government officials who require an official car? Don’t they have their own cars?

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Back to the numbers: 3,000 (and more). A Malaysian made “premium-specs” vehicle is priced at more than RM120,000. So, in total, this would cost over RM400m – and that doesn’t include the newly purchased German technology.

Would these vehicles be covered by free, comprehensive three to five-year maintenance by the car company? This is after all the sales promotion offered by some car companies worldwide. Any fuel subsidies?

Third, who is footing the bill for these cars?

You may recall the request, about 20 months ago, to raise money for a certain tabung to help reduce the federal government’s crippling debt of over one trillion ringgit. We were all told to unite as Malaysians to reduce the financial stress caused by the scandals that had plagued the country. We were told to help strengthen the nation’s financial standing and accept austerity measures. Many Malaysians chipped in to help “mengurangkan beban hutang negara” (reduce the national debt burden).

I don’t need to be an economist or have a (real) PhD in economics, but where is the money to buy these new vehicles coming from, if the nation is one trillion ringgit in debt?

So kudos for not buying the 32 luxury SUVs. I had wondered if the ministers were planning to carpool with other fellow ministers – for one person travelling alone wouldn’t require a seven-seater SUV. But I have often seen motorcyclists carrying between one and six passengers. Perhaps these SUVs would be more useful to these motorcyclists so they can travel more safely and comfortably.

I have some suggestions on how the rakyat’s money could be better spent to benefit the people. Our political leaders should be looking out for the comfort and safety of the people, right?

Instead of buying luxury Malaysian-made vehicles and opting for German technology, use the money to buy crash helmets for children. Surely, it wouldn’t cost more than half a million ringgit for there is no need to buy German helmets.

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Perhaps it is also time to introduce side cars as many motorcyclists carry a few pillion passengers. I would imagine this could also help prevent illegal motorbike racing and Mat Rempit activities.

Why not buy cheaper and smaller Malaysian-made models? These would be cheaper to buy and maintain as well. Is it stated anywhere that politicians must be chauffeured to various functions in style and luxury? Malu apa if politicians drive small cars? Or are these cheaper Malaysian models driven by many Malaysians so inferior in design, comfort and safety that even the politicians shun them?

Should the politicians and senior government officials be “sehati-sejiwa” with the rakyat and refuse to buy such expensive cars, the money saved could be used to ensure that all motorcycles and bicycles have lights that are working. It is an almost daily occurrence for car drivers to be confronted by an oncoming motorcycle or bicycle that suddenly appears out of the darkness. If lights are too expensive, reflective vests would be a cheaper option.  

To be truly one with the people, forget the German technology or Malaysian-made luxury vehicles and hop on the bus or other forms of public transport. Or do you yourself not trust the public transport that you encourage the normal people to use daily? Do you really feel you need a vehicle that is funded and maintained by taxpayers’ money simply because you and I know how reliable public transport is in Malaysia.

Once, while trapped in one of Kuala Lumpur’s infamous traffic jams, I spotted a message displayed on one of the electronic display boards: Gunakan kenderaan awam untuk mengurangkan kesesakan lalulintas (Use public transport to reduce traffic congestion).

While this so-called public service announcement didn’t make me immediately abandon my car at the roadside and hop on a bus, I decided to give public transport a go. After all, the KL public transport system is often described as “smart”, “structured” and “well-planned”.

So, after a function at Jalan Tun Razak that ended at 5pm, I tried to get a taxi or a ride-hailing vehicle. None responded.

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I then decided to walk to the nearest train station, which I was told was “not too far away”. After about a 20-minute walk along a pavement that required me to zigzag to avoid broken tiles, overgrown tree roots and uncovered drains; cross busy highways using a pathway resourcefully made by earlier pedestrians; walk past a dirty and dangerous field (where I was told I could get robbed), I finally arrived at the station.

Of course, the lift at the train station had a sign that read: “Under maintenance.”

Escalator? Not working.

Ticket machines – one was “rosak” (out of order). To top it all, I had no small change for the machine that was working.

I then needed instructions on how to get to my destination and asked the person at the counter.

The response: “Mana saya tahu?”

Walk the talk by not driving to work then? I was ambitious enough to try. So, I checked Google Maps. It showed it would take almost four hours to get to work by bus. Yes, the bus. I decided to give it a go, anyway. The bus never turned up, and that was the end of it.

Given the option, I’d gladly pay for the bus fare – less than RM3 per journey, instead of over RM100 for petrol every week.

Cycle to work? It would take me more than two hours each way!

So dear politicians, it is time for us to practise “berat sama dipikul, ringan sama dijunjung.” Given the country’s economy, let’s unite as Malaysians. Rather than wasting public funds on buying flashy new cars, why not use your own vehicles, take public transport or carpool?

One day, should I bump into you as you’re taking the train to work, I would proudly call you a true leader of our nation. It is also the cheaper option: after all, the RM100 public transport pass allows unlimited rides on various modes of public transport. And wasn’t it recently announced that Komuter trains are underutilised?

So why not give it a go?

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