PETALING JAYA: PPBM Youth chief Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman today hit out at Umno leaders for labelling Dr Mahathir Mohamad as a “failure” in developing Malaysia’s public transportation network.
He said the criticisms were “odd” since the “failure” took place under the Umno-led government and the party used the transportation network Mahathir built as political capital during past elections.
“If Tun Mahathir’s legacy was truly a failure, why didn’t the Umno-led government do anything at that point in time? A lot of the ministers today were in Mahathir’s cabinet at that time.
“From people like Najib (Prime Minister Najib Razak) to (Defence Minister) Hishamuddin (Hussein). What did they do then?
“You can’t have your cake and eat it too. If Mahathir is to be blamed, Umno must be held accountable as well,” he said in a lengthy statement titled “In defence of Tun Mahathir, the real Father of Public Transportation”.
Syed Saddiq said he was glad that Najib continued Mahathir’s momentum in developing the public transportation network. From the mass rapid transit (MRT) to the light rail transit (LRT) extension projects.
However, he said it was too soon to give credit to Najib’s MRT project.
He noted that the MRT fares would be needed to pay off the bonds used to fund the project.
If a financial crisis, similar to the Asian financial crisis in 1998 occurred, the MRT project could be hit as happened to the early LRT lines, he said.
“What is important right now is for various parties to scrutinise the current system to ensure quality is always maintained to avoid loss of ridership.
“This is not a debt free project. It could be a big time bomb if ill managed, especially when taxpayers’ money is used to fully finance the projects.
“The longer the time we take to pay (off the debt), the higher the cost will be,” he said.
He said the opposition scrutinised the MRT project not for “fun”, but it was their duty to do so to ensure there would be no hanky panky.
Syed Saddiq also defended Mahathir’s decision to give the LRT projects during his premiership to private companies.
He said LRT was a new form of public transport, first introduced in America in 1978, and the government at the time needed the help of private investors to start the projects from scratch.
Renong Berhad, a Malaysian company granted the project for Putra LRT, was a Malaysian brand trusted to handle mega projects like the construction of the North-South Expressway.
“It was also critical for us at that time to not just rely on foreign experts/companies. There must be some form of technology transfer and gradual development of local talents.
“Yes, it will be costly in the short term, however the long-term gain will enable Malaysian companies to prosper in the future as they have already developed the local capacity to do so.
“I dare say that the trained workforce and local capacity which enabled the MRT lines to be built today originated from Mahathir’s past investments in our local talents,” he said.
On the accusation that the Putra-LRT, STAR-LRT and Intrakota public transport companies were bailed out by the government, Syed Saddiq said LRTs and monorails were alien to Malaysians back then.
“It was also a time when oil was ridiculously cheap and Proton was booming making public transportation a secondary option of transport.
“Today, due to the inroads made in the past, people are used to the concept of public transportation. Ridership has increased tremendously,” he said.
Syed Saddiq said it was never easy to start up a multi-billion ringgit public transportation channel in Malaysia.
Mahathir had the audacity to do so which helped smoothen the process today, he added.