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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

An Open Letter to Idris Jala

This is the edited version of my article posted in LoyarBurok website.

Richard Loh’s open letter to Idris Jala, expressing his hope that the implementation of the ETP will have the rakyat’s best interests at heart.

Hi Dato Seri Idris Jala,

I am Richard Loh from Penang and wish to speak my mind as a layman who really cares about our nation. I am eager to meet you upon learning that you will be at #UndiMsia!Chats but may not be able to attend, hence my open letter to you.

I would like apologise in advance should anything I say be wrong or offends you or anyone; it is unintentional, I am just speaking my mind.

Targeting to be a developed nation by 2020 is good provided we are laying the right path towards it. We would have achieved developed status in 2000 if we sincerely and truthfully laid, and followed, the right path. Until now, we are still in search for that right path; or perhaps we know it but dare not use it because of fear?

The question is, “What are the planned ETP based on?” Progress of the nation with the rakyat in mind? Or is it politically & monetary based? By monetary, I mean whereby only certain groups would benefit from it.

I would safely say that your answer will be for the “Progress of the nation with the rakyat in mind” — which I doubt, as I have lived long enough to see the various PMs fail miserably.

We can forget about our once world’s tallest structure, you can decide whether it served any purpose from the rakyat’s point of view.

I am for the highways and the North South Expressway because it truly serves the rakyat, but in a way it is killing the rakyat as well with its toll collection. I agree that toll has to be collected but to what extent? By now I would guess the toll collected for the NSE is many times over the total cost of construction, but we still need to pay toll with rates increasing for the next 30 to 40 years. Logically, toll rates should be reduced over time as the volume of vehicles increases, and toll collection should be at a minimum for the purpose of maintenance and upgrading only. The toll charges one way from Duta to Juru in Penang is RM54, and there are thousands of cars plying this route everyday. Just do the math.

The above is just one example of progress of necessity without considering the rakyat’s extra burden in the long term.

Now coming back to the latest ETP, brainchild of yours via PM Najib. I am truly glad that PM Najib roped you in for the ETP planning.

Let us take a look at the latest MRT project, assuming it to be non-political, with the sole purpose of benefiting and serving the rakyat. Yet I find many questions on how it is being planned or going to be implemented.

Q1. When was this latest MRT project planned, years ago before Najib was the PM or just recently when he took over the premiership?

It may have been planned years ago but put into cold storage and given a new life after Najib became the PM. But most likely it was hatched when Najib became PM. Why I say so is because there is no actual concrete finalised master plan. Everything is still in the planning or negotiation stages. Glaring proof is the cost, from an initial RM30+ billion, then RM40+ billion, to RM50+ billion and latest news it that the actual cost may go higher. Next, the decision was made to acquire historic or heritage locations, have the pros & cons been studied, and has it been concluded that the pros outweighed the cons? Is it really a must with no other feasible routes? Without a complete concrete master plan put into place it would be a disaster in terms of cost, time, and construction problems when work begins.

Q2. Is the MRT a transportation solution for the rakyat or a bid to be another “Malaysia Boleh” in the eyes of the world?

If it is a transportation solution, “connections” is the key word. Of course we do not expect all stations to be right in front of everyone’s doorsteps, but we expect bus stands to be in front of or near to all MRT stations, with buses ploughing through housing estates and high population areas. This brings us to my next question.

Q3. Has the planning of the MRT system incorporated bus transportation routes as well?

There is not much point providing parking spaces (as space is very limited and expensive) for motorists to drive to the stations in order to take the MRT, or the need to go to and from stations by taxis.

I am sure all the planners must have visited countries with mass MRT systems and did their research before coming up with our own system. Just take a look at the MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority (New York)) and you will understand what I mean. Connectivity. I have used our present monorail, LRT, etc whenever I am in KL and found it to be very disconnected. Hopefully the latest MRT will not repeat the same mistakes.

This kind of massive project cannot be rushed in its planning stage. It requires fully detailed planning from A to Z. Once completed, rectifying errors is possible but would cost much more.

If the ETP projects are not politically motivated, everything from planning, tendering and expenditure should be open and transparent. Any tendency for leakages should be prevented at all costs.

We now hear pleasing results from the ETP. But the actual end results will be jeopardised if we cannot admit that there are faults in our system that need to be rectified.

My hope is that the present ETP will not follow previous methods of implementation through political expediency for it will fail again.

Thank you for hearing me out.

Richard Loh

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