Prime Minister heading the Cabinet Committee on Road Safety not the best idea as it is not a positive or encouraging sign that the Cabinet and government, as distinct from Abdullah personally, have the systemic political will to arrest and reduce the high and preventable road carnage in the country
by Lim Kit Siang
(Penang, Wednesday): The Prime Minister heading the Cabinet Committee on Road Safety is not the best idea as it is not a positive or encouraging sign that the Cabinet and government, as distinct from Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi personally, have the systemic political will to arrest and reduce the high and preventable road carnage in the country with the shocking average of 16 deaths a day all-the-year-round.
Abdullah made the announcement that he will now head the Cabinet Commitee on Road Safety in line with the Cabinet decision to emphasise the government's seriousness in dealing with the issue of road safety at yesterday’s public forum on 'Enhancing Road Safety and Preventing Road Accidents'.
Last month, I had called for the revamping of the Cabinet Committee on Road Safety to spearhead the national campaign to formulate and implement a strategy to slash the high rate of road fatalities, injuries and accidents in the country – and I was shocked that for one whole month until Abdullah’s announcement yesterday, neither the Transport Minister Datuk Seri Chan Kong Choy nor any other Cabinet Minister was able to inform the nation whether the Cabinet Committee on Road Safety had gone defunct, and if not, who is the head or whether it is “headless”.
I do not think having the Prime Minister as Chairman of the Cabinet Committee on Road Safety is the best idea to spearhead a successful national campaign against the road safety crisis or that it sends out the right and proper message that the Cabinet and government have now the political will to overcome the national road safety crisis, for four primary reasons:
Firstly, it is not a personal ”vote of no confidence” in Abdullah’s leadership, commitment or bona fides, as his preparedness to head the Cabinet Committee on Road Safety underlined his personal concern about the high and avoidable road fatalities, injuries and accidents in the country with enormous human and socio-economic costs. The reason is very simple and straightforward – that as Prime Minister, Abdullah would not be humanly possible to devote the time and leadership needed if such a national campaign is to succeed.
Abdullah is currently Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Finance Minister and Home Minister, continues to be Chairman of the Cabinet Committee on Good Governance which was set up immediately after the 1999 general election and countless other Cabinet Committees and National Committees, such as the National Action Council which he proposed yesterday should be the “one-stop centre to resolve problems of implementation and coordination on the spot" of all government projects.
He would be able to spend very little time and give minimal attention to the national road safety crisis which must be addressed 365 days a year and 24 hours a day, . This was why Abdullah could spend less than an hour at the “Road Safety Forum” yesterday to interact with the 600 participants after his opening speech, as he had “a plane to catch”. This was also why it has taken almost a month for his suggestion for the public forum on road safety to be held as it had to fit into his very tight schedule, juggling with his national and international, government and party commitments.
Secondly, it sends out the wrong message that without the Prime Minister as the Chairman, nothing can be expected of the Cabinet Committee on Road Safety if it is headed by some other Cabinet Minister – which is as good as admitting that minus Abdullah, neither the Cabinet nor the government has the political will to effectively tackle the national road safety crisis.
Do Prime Ministers of developed countries have to head their Cabinet Committee on Road Safety for the back of the problem of high road fatalities, injuries and accidents to be broken? This is in fact one example of the Malaysian malaise of “First World Infrastructure, Third World Mentality” which Abdullah had correctly diagnosed, but which he seems to be perpetuating unconsciously when he should be striking out in new directions of first-world mindsets and work ethics.
Thirdly, this is a path which had been traversed before and had failed. The Cabinet Committee on Road Safety was first set up 13 years ago after the horrific Karak Highway accident in 1990 which killed 17 people, with the specific task to reduce the 3,773 road fatalities chalked up in 1989 by 30 per cent by the year 2000. It was a major flop. Instead of reducing the 3,773 road fatalities by 30 per cent by 2000, road carnage increased by leaps and bounds, climbing to 6,304 in 1996, 6,302 in 1997, 5,744 in 1998, 5,791 in 1999, 6,035 in 2000, 5,849 in 2001 and 5,891 in 2002 – or an annual average of 5,988 and daily average of 16.4 road deaths in the past seven years.
The Cabinet Committee on Road Safety was first headed by the then Prime Minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad when it was first set up in 1990, but when death fatalities mounted year after year instead of the reverse, the Chair was taken over by the then Transport Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Ling Liong Sik who lost all interest in the Cabinet Committee in the last five years of his Cabinet tenure after failing to make any impacf on the problem.
Fourthly, a new mindset and culture of responsibility is needed to end the road carnage in the country. Denmark has a National Road Safety Plan which is monitored three times per year and evaluated every four years, focusing on the number of crashes, number of fatalities and serious injuries, speeds, drink-driving, accidents at intersections, and accidents involving cyclists. The vision and central theme in the Danish Road Safety Strategy is “Every Accident is One too Many”, setting the country on a zero-accident objective.
Malaysia does not even have a National Road Safety Plan or motto. Let us start with “Every Road Fatality is One too Many”!
To demonstrate that there is now the political will in Cabinet and government to declare an all-out war against road carnage in the country, the Transport Minister should head the Cabinet Committee on Road Safety and who will resign from the Cabinet if he fails to achieve the specific targets of a three-year National Road Safety Plan to reduce road fatalities.
Such a demonstration of political will have a most electrifying effect to inspire a national campaign to formulate and implement a National Road Safety Plan to remove Malaysia from among the world’s countries with the highest road fatalities per population.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman