Transport Minister, Datuk Seri Chan Kong Choy is pointing the finger of blame at everybody for the latest Bukit Gantang road carnage which killed 20 and injured nine except himself — when such horror road fatalities are not supposed to happen after the Kuala Lipis bus crash which claimed 14 lives and injured 26 people 45 months ago.
The Kuala Lipis road carnage happened in the first month of the premiership of Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi on 31st November 2003 and was the cause of a national hue-and-cry starting from the Prime Minister who demanded action by Chan to ensure that such tragedies do not recur.
Since then, there had not only been the road carnage at Km229 of the North-South Expressway near Bukit Gantang on Monday, but also the Nibong Tebal bus crash in July last year which left 11 dead and 35 injured among those on their way to the St. Anne’s Feast in Bukit Mertajam.
During the nation-wide hullabaloo led by the Transport Minister over the Kuala Lipis road carnage 45 months ago, I had warned the Prime Minister that his administration must learn from the expensive lessons of the past as to why the country had failed to end the road carnage on Malaysian roads which had wrought such great emotional and socio-economic havoc in terms of loss of human lives and economic costs to the community for the past 13 years.
I had expressed fears that “the latest bout of high-profile government and public concern about the high traffic accident rate and fatalities would not be another short-lived but quickly-forgotten “wonder” as had happened many times since 1990.
After the gruesome Karak Highway accident in 1990 which killed 17 people, a Cabinet Committee on Road Safety was formed with the specific target of reducing road fatalities by 30 per cent by the year 2000 based on 1989 figures.
However, the Cabinet Committee on Road Safety not only failed to meet its target of reducing road fatalities by 30 per cent by 2000 based on 1989 figures, the number of road fatalities sharply increased year after year and at one stage, reached 67 per cent higher than the 1989 fatalities instead of cutting it down by 30 per cent!
In 1989, the number of road fatalities stood at an all-time high of 3,773. If the Cabinet Committee on Road Safety had been on target, road fatalities would have progressively fallen until it was fully reduced to 30 per cent of the figure, or not more than 2,641 deaths, by 2,000. Instead, road fatalities increased by leaps and bounds in the 13 years since the establishment of the Cabinet Committee on Road Safety to cut down the death fatalities, registering 6,304 fatalities for 1996.
The total number of traffic fatalities since the establishment of the Cabinet Committee on Road Safety to reduce traffic accidents and fatalities in the 13 years from 1990 to 2002 was a most shocking toll of 70,749 human lives, while the number of injured totalled 537,689.
It is clear that among the root causes for the failure of the Cabinet Committee on Road Safety and the ever-worsening road carnage from 1990 to 2002 resulting in 70,000 avoidable deaths, over half a million injured and over RM70 billion economic losses to the country in the past 13 years were the double lack of political will and Ministerial accountability to end the avoidable road carnage on the roads.
There has been no change of this shocking scenario under the premiership of Abdullah — the abysmal double lack of political will and Ministerial accountability to end the avoidable road carnage on the roads.
This is why last year alone, there were 6,400 fatalities and about 300,000 accidents.
Since the Bukit Gantang carnage on Monday, the Transport Minister had been pointing the finger of blame at everybody except himself and the top government officials concerned.
At first, the public were told that the bus driver had two warrants of arrest against him and 13 outstanding summonses and that the bus company didn’t have a permit to ply the Johor Baru-Alor Star route. Then it was reported that the driver had “flouted almost every traffic rule” with checks revealing that the traffic summons issued to him could be more, with at least 39 other summons issued to three vehicles driven by him.
After the Kuala Lipis tragedy of Nov. 30, 2003, the Nibong Tebal and Bukit Gantang road carnages are not supposed to take place, if preventive measures outlined 45 months ago had been taken seriously by all relevant parties concerned, including by the Transport Minister regularly checking on the implementation of these measures.
There is no shortage of solutions to end the road carnage, only shortage of political will and accountability to enforce them.
A public inquiry must be held into the Bukit Gantang road carnage to inquire why the lessons from the Kuala Lipis bus crash which claimed 14 lives 45 months ago had not been learnt and for a public accounting of the authorities and individuals who must bear responsibility.
At present, Chan is pointing finger of blame at everyone except himself and the top public officials responsible for road safety — when everybody knows that he has lost all credibility, authority and legitimacy for this role for his Ministerial failings in the past 45 months.
He has made a shocking announcement of a new ruling after the Bukit Gantang carnage — the grounding of the entire fleet of buses when there is one fatal accident.
Is this a feasible and realistic solution or just a knee-jerk reaction, or worse, a proposal which is so outrageous that there would be another nation-wide uproar which would completely distract public attention from the responsibility and accountability of the Transport Minister and the top government officials for the continuing road carnage?
If one fatal accident and the entire fleet of buses will be grounded, is Chan prepared to also accept that one major road carnage like the Bukit Gantang tragedy and the Transport Minister submits his resignation?