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New M$20 Road Charge: The Low-down

160714 Road Charge

I have been openly critical of Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan. But with Malaysia’s impending M$20 ‘Road Charge’, I fully support and praise his decision to “match it in some form“. Proviso: I have a personal interest in this; my wife and I drive to JB (often, to stretch our grocery dollars & food hunt) as well as KL (occasionally).

Why then support a move that will cost me more?

Simple: Oppose government policies I may but when other countries seek to exploit us, our duty is to stand on the side of our Singapore. Higher cost becomes secondary.

How did Malaysia come to finally, finally pull this trigger? In a word, GREED.

But first, there are two important factors, without which, greed might have taken a back seat to the commercial interests of Malaysian retail and tourist business owners whose support the Malaysian government need badly to oil their political and personal interests. Or, for that matter, both governments’ hollow expressed desire to increase, improve people-to-people contact.

1. Smiling Tigers
Here’s ex-Malaysian High Commissioner to Singapore Datuk Parameswaran urging Malaysia to match Singapore’s new VEP on every SG car entering Malaysia:

“I think the notion that Singaporeans will shun Johor if a levy is imposed no longer holds water. Things have changed in recent years as many Singaporeans have bought property here, and are commuting between both countries daily.” (quoted in Star Aug 2014, hyperlink lost)

Such a statement may be par for the course with the usual politician. But an ex-high commissioner? We would think he’d try to help his country understand a neighbour better –  the better to build up government-to-government and people-to-people relationships. But no, not Datuk Parameswaran. He’s right in front pushing his government to exploit Singaporeans.

2. Toothless Lions
Singapore is known for no protests allowed. Our northern neighbours, nay the whole world, could see, have seen how we-the-citizens are such docile, submissive, almost spineless creatures. Too afraid, almost beaten to a pulp by repressive laws and ruthless lawsuits.

All PAP leaders need to do is to give cursory explanations, no need to convince anyone, then sign a tax or whatever into law. And Singaporeans will simply fall in line – no ifs, no buts, no protests.

Is it any wonder that Malaysian politicians rub their hands in glee at the PAP-given opportunities aplenty to extract money for their country and for themselves. After all, LKY’s “what’s wrong with collecting more money” has not only never been challenged but his idea has been systematically hijacked by LKY-wannabe ministers and civil elites into a key article of faith across all ministries. Pay-And-Pay!

But herein lies the paradox of his declaration: Carried out judiciously, it’s good for a government’s legit revenues. But practised across most if not all ministries, what Singaporeans end up with is that we live and work mostly to Pay-And-Pay into government’s coffers (via public services and GLCs…with some unknown amounts leaking into Temasek Holdings’ top management, as bonuses for rent-seeking us their captive customers).

Similarly, with a “no protest please, we are Singaporeans”, helped by state-controlled media, the unintended consequence or paradox is you end up not allowing Singaporeans, human beings, to vent our collective emotions, sense of injustice, anger against exploitation etc – in the moment, not just rationally at general elections.

The Truth Behind The M$6,90 x 2 Tolls
Does anyone recall the initial hooha when Malaysia implemented the RM$6.90 per way toll on 27 Jul 2014? Who protested? It was the Malaysian transport companies that loudly protested and blocked the Causeway – for a day. Where were Singaporeans? Were there any significant discussions in the media, let alone physical protests? Parliamentary debates? – what a joke, Zero. Zilch. Kosong. Read here for more info.

What then happened to the Malaysian protests? Here’s my guess. Behind closed doors, their government explained to the Malaysian protestors (mainly Chinese-owned business interests), “Look, 90% of the vehicles are from Singapore side. We collect the money from their wallets. Johoreans then get to use the EDL (Eastern Dispersal Link) – for FREE. What do you think, Mr Chinese businessmen?”

Since then, that M$6.90 toll has yielded an estimated minimum o f M$110,00/day for the Malaysian government, manna from heaven with just a stroke of their pen. That’s M$40mil out of mostly Singaporeans’ pockets! Of course, it also means LTA pocketing additional S$15.8mil/year, also out of Singaporeans’ discretionary income. (based on my own estimated average of 8000 cars/day).

The Truth Behind The New M$20 Road Charge
GREED, in and of itself, cannot succeed if the exploited party refuses to co-operate or are not as daft and easily conned. Or docile. Or submissive. And spineless, not exposed to unite in protest.

Unfortunately, the observation that Singaporeans are Toothless Lions (citizenry) that cannot even roar, let alone bite or fight back against our northern Smiling Tigers (politicians/civil servants) has been reinforced by the success seen in the M$6.90/way charge implemented since Aug 2014. Traffic went back to normal after the initial drop.

The bottomline is: Voiceless, docile, submissive and spineless Singaporeans will again help fill up Malaysia’s state coffers to the tune of another M$M160,000 (assume 8000 cars unchanged) every day till kingdom cometh! That also means another S$7.80/car/day (=S$62,400/day total = S$22.77mil/year) into LTA coffers. In total, another S$40mil out of Singaporeans’ discretionary income.

“What’s wrong with collecting more money?” INDEED!

So, Why Support LTA’s Policy?
In the face of exploitation that benefits other governments and in the absence of any meaningful, effective way to register our unhappiness to Malaysia, we must stand together to try to make the latter’s greed backfire on themselves.

Aside from the soundness of Khaw’s “long-standing policy is to ensure Malaysia takes into consideration Singapore’s response whenever it plans to raise tolls”, the likely impact of a much higher toll will, hopefully, result in a drastic and more lasting drop in Singaporeans’ spending in Johore – to the detriment of the commercial interests (mainly Chinese & Indians but also Malay), other tax & fee payable by same and, over time trickle down to noticeable job loss affecting the livelihood of their citizens of all races. Perhaps, then an impact on the ballot boxes in Johore will result.

It’s a longer route to make Singaporeans’ voices and interests heard across the Causeway. But what else can we do?

Oh, boycott Johore? That’s a dead-in-the-water option where Singaporeans are concerned. Apart from our pathetic lack of will and practice to rise up collectively in a meaningful, physical but non-violent way, we are kiasu to the core, remember? Individual self-interest is paramount…let someone else take the lead. How I wish to be proven wrong!

Conclusion
So, bring on the additional toll, LTA, to match Malaysia’s money grab. You have a supporter in me this instance.

But, if I may postulate from the situation described above, stretch the argument a little further, what the neighbours observe of we-the-citizens is a real worry. Never mind if SG has the latest weaponry and strong economics, the people are toothless, docile, submissive and spineless to stand up for themselves. Their politicians have got the daft citizenry, like a “young apprentice caught between the Scylla and Charibdes” and wrapped around their little fingers.

How is the attribute good for Singapore’s defence and survival when the unexpected crisis comes? Can our elected leaders (oh, so many decorated military generals who never fought a war but demonstrated how good they are at selling off NOL, not able to resolve train issues, skipping from ministries to ministries without any concrete results to show for their geniuses) rally us to be united? How?

Can we reasonably expect Singaporeans will rise up in unison at external threats when a people has never learned how to organize themselves spontaneously and willfully? Especially when there’s palpable disquiet about our sons having to serve NS while foreigners and their sons steal a 2-year march in our sons’ career?

Perhaps, that’s something for us all to ponder over. As I say, it may be a stretch to link the no-protest-allowed issue with our ability to unite meaningfully and spontaneously. But there’s always “the law of unintended consequences”. Or, as I see it, there’s always a weakness in a strength – usually hidden and revealed only too late.

Law Kim Hwee

 

 

 

 

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