Liow Tiong Lai’s first test as Transport Minister

Train (EN)

Media statement by DAP National Political Education Director and MP for Kluang Liew Chin Tong on Friday 27th June 2014 in Kuala Lumpur

The Malaysian cabinet is a weird creature: that the Transport Minister has entirely no say over public transport is mind boggling. The first test for Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai as Transport Minister is to gain control over the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD).

SPAD is not part of the Transport Ministry but part of the already bloated Prime Minister’s Department. And strangely, passenger rail transport is being carved out from the Transport Ministry. I had previously said that for MCA to rejoin the Cabinet and assume the Transport portfolio, one of the preconditions should include placing SPAD within the purview of the Transport Ministry.

GEMAS-TUMPAT RAIL TRACK

Yesterday, SPAD averted a major crisis of confidence temporarily and I would like to commend it for doing so.

The Railwaymen Union’s of Malaya (RUM) was planning to picket in front of the office of Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) over the latter’s ruling for KTMB to halt all operations of the Gemas-Tumpat railway services from 27th June 2014. The proposed move by SPAD could potentially have resulted in a grave commuting crisis affecting hundreds of thousands of travelers especially in view of the approaching Ramadan and Hari Raya Aldilfitri.

It was so unbelievable that when it was first told to me a week ago I thought it was a hoax. I then issued a joint statement with Datuk Kamaruddin Jaffar, MP for Tumpat, to call on both SPAD and the Transport Ministry to explore other options. One of the options proposed by the RUM was to allow partial operations of the track for some hours each day.

While many were relieved that the order to cease operations indefinitely is now postponed to after 15th August, we are also extremely concerned about the safety of the tracks on the East Coast.

I call on SPAD to make public the Engineer’s opinion on the condition of the track (SPAD invoked Section 106 of Land Public Transport Act to order the closure of the track. In the same clause, an Engineer’s opinion is required to conclude that the track is unsafe).

For more than 80 years since 1931, trains service from Gemas to Tumpat has been running uninterrupted except during the Second World War under Japanese Occupation. Although the route passes by dense jungle where communist insurgents launched attacks and sabotages in the 1950s, KTMB continued to run their trains.

It is therefore inconceivable how bad have the tracks deteriorated over the years until it warrants a total shutdown for an indefinite period as directed by SPAD.

Transport Ministry and SPAD

But ultimately, the deeper problem is that the Malaysian cabinet is a very strange creature and the Transport Ministry is one that is exceedingly cannibalised.

Liow Tiong Lai should get the Cabinet to agree on a two-step approach to realign the governance of the transport sector.

First, Liow must get Cabinet to agree to inject SPAD into the purview of the Ministry of Transport. Without such realignment, we will continue to face with the impossibly lousy situation of “transport ministry with no role in public transport”. The other weird scenario is that MOT governs all the services and management of KTMB, the railway company, with the exception of passenger usage, which is under SPAD.

Second, a short-term solution is to appoint the Chief Secretary to MOT to be a commissioner of SPAD.

Currently, there are seven commissioners which included chief secretary of Ministry of Works and several business people but no representative from MOT. It is ridiculous that MOT has no role to play in governing public transport.

The seven commissioners are
Tan Sri Dato’ Seri Syed Hamid Syed Jaafar Albar, Chairman, SPAD
Mohd Nur Ismail Mohamed Kamal, CEO, SPAD
Dato Siow Kim Lun is currently board member of Kumpulan Wang Persaraan, UMW Holdings Berhad
Prof. Dr. Ahmad Farhan Mohd Sadullah is presently a Professor in Transport Studies at the School of Civil Engineering, Universiti Sains Malaysia.
Datuk Himmat Singh Ralla Singh is currently Chief Secretary of the Minstry of Work Malaysia (KKR).
Datuk Wan Ahmad Shihab Ismail Wan Ismail is currently Special Officer to the Prime Minister of Malaysia.
Dato’ Izudin Ishak is currently Managing Director of the Growth Avenue Sdn. Bhd.

Such strange and weird cabinet structure requires major realignment and it is hence the first test of Liow Tiong Lai as Minister of Transport.

Liew Chin Tong

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