Anthony Loke: PH made MRT stations more functional, reviewed ‘secretive’ projects like ECRL

Malay Mail
Malay Mail

KUALA LUMPUR, July 18 — The Pakatan Harapan (PH) government was not against public transportation projects, but had instead tried to improve the experience for Malaysian commuters, such as by focusing on making Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) rail stations more functional, former transport minister Anthony Loke has said.

In defending the PH administration against the “misconception” created by its political rivals, Loke in an interview with news portal The Vibes stressed that the PH coalition was only trying to make sure public transportation projects were renegotiated to be more favourable to Malaysia.

Following the May 2018 elections, PH took over the federal government, which was also after multiple major train projects had been launched or confirmed during former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s rule under the previous Barisan Nasional (BN) administration.

Asked to respond to Najib’s claim that public transportation projects in Malaysia had allegedly been delayed by the PH government, Loke said the PH administration was instead only trying to review “secretive” projects like the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) to obtain better deal terms for Malaysia.

“Most of the projects, of course we took the position to review, because most of the projects were executed in a very secretive manner.

“Take for example ECRL, the entire contract and the entire project was executed without any transparency. I mean when I was the minister of transport, even officers from SPAD (Land Public Transport Commission) cannot answer me, they were in the dark. They just took decisions from the Prime Minister’s Office to execute the whole thing without much deliberation.

“So a lot of these projects were done — I’m sure people could see and appreciate that some of these projects were executed in a very, very quick manner without much transparency. So what we had done was just to review the entire project and to see whether or not the project is sustainable, the project is viable and to make sure that the terms were better,” he said in the recent interview which is available as a podcast.

“For sure, it’s not our intention to stop progress to the public transportation system,” he stressed.

Loke pointed out that the PH administration had also renegotiated the entire Johor Baru-Singapore rapid transit system, pointing out that the entire agreement was not really favourable to Malaysia when it was signed by the Najib administration.

Loke said the Najib administration did not really push or negotiate for better terms or for benefits for Malaysia from the project, saying that the PH administration succeeded in negotiating with Singapore to change the project’s terms to be more beneficial to Malaysia.

As for the MRT project, Loke said PH’s approach was about managing the costs and ensuring that it is a functioning system.

“So in the past the MRT project was overdesigned, I think many people agree it was overdesigned in terms of the station and train and so on, it was overdesigned. So we took a more progressive approach in order to cut costs, so we want to make sure for example the MRT stations should be more functional instead of being grandiose, instead of being overdesigned, so that’s the approach we have taken, so I did not think it was really a mistake in that,” he said in the same interview.

He stressed that PH was not against public transportation projects, and that it was key to first ensure any such projects must be user-friendly and attract the public’s interest to use such public transport.

He noted, for example, that the first phase of the MRT project still has low ridership after several years in operation and that the cause of such numbers should be looked at such as whether it was due to design or inconveniences.

“I for one will never oppose public transportation projects, I think that is important. Of course, infrastructure is important, and I don’t think the PH government then opposed any public transportation projects.

“So it is actually a misconception of course created by the previous government, by BN, Najib and so on to say that PH opposed all public transportation projects.

“No, we did not. In fact, HSR (high-speed rail), a lot of people got it wrong, it was not PH which terminated HSR, it was the Muhyiddin government which terminated HSR,” he said, referring to the high-speed rail project initially meant to connect Kuala Lumpur and Singapore and the Perikatan Nasional government led by Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.

“What we did during the PH government was to review the project, so we managed to get the Singapore government to agree with us to suspend the project for two years for us to review the entire implementation of the project,” he said, reiterating that the HSR project was not terminated by the PH government but by the subsequent Muhyiddin administration.

As someone who believes in going to the ground such as by directly experiencing public transport when making policies, Loke in the same interview pointed out that the PH approach to public transport was to first understand the problems faced by the public, such as making transport costs more affordable.

He said that the PH government had for example introduced the monthly pass at RM100 to boost MRT ridership as daily usage of the train would have resulted in probably a few hundred ringgit in fares, and had also focused on issues of passengers’ security and safety, convenience, and the first and last mile.

“So those are the issues that we really focus and try to do things differently to ensure the public can appreciate public transport more, of course things are not perfect, we could have done more, we could have done better,” he said in the same interview.

Recently on July 11, Najib had in a Facebook post noted that Thailand and Indonesia were now building their own high-speed rail, and suggested that development projects were “cancelled” after the government changed hands from BN to PH.