Sunday, January 29, 2012

WCE Smells Scandal

Last Tuesday when I left Sitiawan for Petaling Jaya I took the advice to avoid the North South Highway (NSE) in anticipation of the traffic jam by returnees to their homes in Kuala Lumpur, Klang Valley and the southern states of peninsular Malaysia and of course, Singapore. If I had taken the NSE I would exit either Bidor or Sungkai toll and exposed myself to the trap along the Tanjong Malim to Rawang stretch. My alternative was to take the coastal roads to Sungei Besar, Sekinchan, Tanjong Karang, Kuala Selangor and Klang from where I would take the Federal Highway to my PJ destination. I depended on my GPS to lead the way as I hardly use the coastal roads at all.

Past Kuala Selangor, at Bukit Rotan, a signage said to Shah Alam using the LATAR Expressway (which links Kuala Selangor to Kuala Lumpur). Shah Alam is between Klang and Petaling Jaya so would be a good via point to head to. Furthermore I've never used LATAR and made the spot decision to miss Klang to use LATAR instead. It was a good decision as I found LATAR smooth driving and I paid only RM4 toll all together (I stand corrected as I was concentrating on whether I made the right choice). My only concern was linking up LATAR to wherever it leads me to to take me to PJ. I saw signboards that pointed to Rawang, Sungei Buloh and Gombak and I was worried I might be taken into Kuala Lumpur city instead of bypassing it south to PJ. Following my GPS faithfully I suddenly discovered myself merging into a heavy traffic flow along a highway my wife quickly identified as the NSE. Now I must admit my sense of direction is poor and it took me a few minutes to recognize the scenery as those before the Sungei Buloh Rest Area with the overhead bridge where we often stop over for early Burger King lunch whenever we travel north to either Sitiawan or Ipoh. From there on I got my bearing right.

The trip took me longer as it involved driving on trunk roads mostly but it saved me on toll, as well as on distance. So on the whole I benefited, especially from not encountering any traffic jam. The anticipated construction of the West Coast Expressway or WCE will certainly make driving much smoother and faster, dispersing traffic to it from the NSE so travelers will encounter less likelihood of congestion especially during festival traveling. When the WCE is completed I would link directly to it from Sitiawan and bypass Sungei Besar, Sekinchan, Tanjong Karang and Kuala Selangor. It will be an entirely highway drive to Banting where I am sure later on another coastal highway will be built to link it southward to Port Dickson and Melaka. Also noteworthy is Banting is only about 30km from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. I am sure motorists welcome the new highway but the recent announcement HERE and the reactions HERE and HERE make concerned citizens worried that the terms of concession are again lopsided to the disadvantage of the highway users. Whose interest are the government looking after? The concessionaire's or the road users? Are the terms unreasonable to the users? Are there hidden factors we don't know of that need to be exposed and discussed publicly? I am not against profit making but since the days when former PM Mahathir decided to privatize several public utility projects like road constructions, electricity and water supplies and telecommunication service, Malaysians had suffered into paying more than if they were managed by the government instead. Privatization absolved the government from actually operating and providing these essential services to business entities from whom they collect taxes and other form of income (I leave that to your imagination) which such businesses must find creative ways to make provision for. In the process the 'victims' are the people in general due to the high costs of using the services (former Works Minister Samy Velu I remember said we should not complain of paying toll as it gave us convenience and a faster, and shorter, traveling time to our destinations). I would think it should be any good government's responsibility to raise the people's standard of living by saving time and expenses.

The awarding of building and operating WCE to a company without a track record smells like a scandal brewing, a little like the National Feedlot Centre which is smack in a public outcry for mismanaging the funds loaned by the government. The NFC too has no track record of running a cattle business. My question is this. Why is the government blundering again and again into such nefarious practices openly and exposing itself to further criticism? Why didn't it tender out this multi-billion ringgit project? It is becoming fodder for the Opposition as election is just months away.

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