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Time to nationalise Plus?

FOR the week of 22 to 28 Nov, the Chinese media highlighted the toll rebate incentive, the ongoing Pempena scandal; and Negarakuku rapper Wee Meng Chee being in hot water again over a YouTube clip.

Oriental Daily‘s Liew Ching Wen reported on 24 Nov that because only 10% of car owners would be able to enjoy the toll rebate incentives recently announced by Plus Expressway Bhd, public sentiment of the measure was mostly negative, with many saying it was merely a cosmetic exercise.

Liew noted that the 10% discount was given to private car users taking the North-South Expressway (NSE) and North-South Expressway Central Link (Elite) Highway from midnight until 7am.

“(Though) 88% of the income from the [Plus-run] North South Expressway (NSE) comes from private car users, car flow during non-peak hours is less than 10%.  Thus, the benefit enjoyed by users is very limited.  And driving at midnight is not safe for many drivers,” he said.

He said that it was better to call these measures a promotion gimmick for toll concessionaires to encourage the public to use the NSE during non-peak hours.

Liew noted that Plus was a government-linked company. Khazanah Nasional and the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) directly or indirectly control about 74% of Plus.

“The government is the largest shareholder of Plus; the reduction of toll is seen as a government measure to help people. However, a more effective step would be to nationalise the company,” said Liew.

Liew suggested that if the government could allocate about RM3.8 billion to buy the remaining 26% of shares, it can wholly own Plus.

“Petrol price has fallen sharply and the government no longer needs to subsidise petrol. Hence, it is not difficult to find the budget for this nationalisation measure,” said Liew.

As long as Plus belongs to the government, they can cut down the toll or even let car users use it free of charge. Lorry operators and bus companies would also be able to cut costs, said Liew.

“If transportation costs go down, the price of goods can also be reduced,” opined Liew.

Financial scandals

On 23 Nov, Lim Sue Goan’s article in Sin Chew Daily titled Spending money mindlessly said the political mood of late was rather gloomy.

“This is not because everyone is waiting for a new premier to take over the baton. What is happening is that under the shadow of a global financial crisis, the government has almost stopped implementing measures to adjust and rectify economic problems,” said Lim.

Lim noted that while the economic challenges remain critical, political leaders have been indifferent about a few financial scandals of their own making. “This is exactly the crisis (we are facing now),” said Lim.

These irregularities include the losses incurred by the Tourism Ministry and state-owned Pempena Sdn Bhd that amounted to RM20 million in June 2008.

According to former Pempena chairperson, Kee Phaik Cheen, the company made a profit of RM50 million from 2004 to 2006.

Lim wondered what happened in the past two years that led to such drastic losses for Pempena.

“Has the Tourism Ministry taken any steps to trace the culprits?  Who will be penalised? Who approved all these [failed] investment projects? Did they follow professional evaluation and procedure?” asked Lim.

Another mini-scandal is the case of 10 parliamentarians who were found to have spent over RM10 million in open house activities in 2007. Lim said even if the Anti- Corruption Agency did not launch an investigation, the Prime Minister’s Department should kickstart their own.

Another case of money being wasted, according to Lim, was the generous commissions — so far RM16 million has been paid out — by the government to Pos Malaysia for handling the petrol rebate. “What business can be more lucrative than this?” asked Lim.

All these examples showed that the government was imprudent in spending the people’s hard-earned money, said Lim.

Another video controversy

China Press reported on 25 Nov that Wee Meng Chee, the singer who found himself in hot water for his Negarakuku YouTube video, is courting controversy again.

He has received a legal notice from his former school, Chong Hwa High School in Muar, demanding the removal of his latest video clip which pokes fun at the standard of English in Chinese schools.

The clip, entitled Teacher Hew’s ABC Time Part 1, 2 and 3, was uploaded onto YouTube by the rapper. The school has found it offensive and wants to sue him.

The video clip features a teacher using vulgar words to teach English. The inclusion of shots taken from the school compound and a signboard bearing Chong Hwa High School’s name has left school officials fuming. They contend the video has tarnished the school’s image and reputation, and have since asked Wee to apologize.

However, the report quoted Wee, 25, as saying that his video clip merely reflected the predicament of Chinese-educated students who were sidelined by mainstream society.

Wee, whose nickname is Namewee, added he was not surprised by the school’s action, and said he was ready for it.

According to Wee, Chong Hwa’s action will only let more people know about the video clip and bring to light the issue of Chinese students who are unable to integrate into society due to language barriers.

Wee claimed that the clip was a form of protest and meant to garner public interest.

“Similarly, hunger strikes and self-immolation are a form of protest to create publicity for an issue,” said Wee in the report.

On 28 Nov, Wee finally bowed to the pressure and removed the offending clips. TNG

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