Back as transport minister, Anthony Loke hopes to leave lasting positive impact

Malay Mail
Malay Mail

KUALA LUMPUR, March 22 — Transport Minister Anthony Loke said when he returned to the ministry after the unity government was formed, he was relieved to see some of the changes he made in 2018 were still intact.

He said he was glad the restructuring he did for the ministry was not undone.

“Probably a lot of people did not realise that one of the major components which is public transport was never parked under MOT (Ministry of Transport) — public transport.

“In the past, be it LPKP (Commercial Vehicle Licensing Board) or SPAD (Land Public Transport Commission) was never under MOT.

“It was always under Prime Minister’s Department and MOT had no say in terms of SPAD’s jurisdiction (today known as APAD - Land Public Transport Agency),” Loke told Malay Mail during an interview.

He said MOT previously had no role to play in terms of public transportation, be it the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit), LRT(Light Rail Transit) and any urban rail for example as they were entirely parked under SPAD.

“Even issuance of bus and taxi permits, it was never under MOT,” he said.

With these changes, Loke said there was a consolidation of all transportation portfolios under one roof so that it became an integrated Transport Ministry.

“In that sense, 2018 was a watershed in terms of transforming the MOT.

“When Wee (Datuk Seri Wee Ka Siong) took over in 2020, basically he continued because the structure was already there.

“There was continuity in that. Certain initiatives, of course, had been continued such as a monthly travel pass for public transportation, that was already structured in the budget, but there were certain policies and regulations which he undid — when I left — one of it was the cabotage exemption to repair undersea cables — it became an issue, and certain projects were reviewed.

“So this time around when I went back, certain decisions we did not reverse it again — one prime example is the East-Coast Rail Link (ECRL),” he said.

Loke said the ECRL project went through three changes whereby in 2018, the ministry under him had renegotiated the entire project, and managed to convince the Chinese side to review the entire project with different scopes, lowered the cost and changed the alignment.

“That was a major change as far as ECRL is concerned. So when we left, the previous administration changed it back to the original with some amendments.

“But when we came back this time around, we made a commitment that there will be no further changes as there will be too many disruptions and quite impractical to change every now and then because then you will never be able to complete the project and the cost will balloon,” he said.

In 2018, Loke said major reviews were done on many projects including ECRL, MRT 2 — in terms of the scope deduction of cost — LRT 3 the same exercise.

“So this time around we did not take that approach again because a lot of the infrastructure projects — whatever we needed to trim were already trimmed. There is not much for us to review anymore.

“The only exception is MRT 3 because that project was not awarded yet, but then that was always the core of the MOF (Ministry of Finance),” he said.

Loke said for MRT 3 changes that were made in 2018 were mostly made by Finance Ministry in terms of trimming down of costs while MOT was in charge of the actual implementation of the project.

Apart from the ECRL, MOT is also handling the RTS project (Johor Baru-Singapore Rapid Transit System), the yet to be completed Gemas-Johor Baru Electrified Double Tracking, the Klang Valley Double Tracking calibration project.

“We are looking forward to MRT 3, and these are the major urban rail projects which are ongoing right now and are part and parcel of MOT’s jurisdiction,” he said.

New airports

There are airports that are currently undergoing expansion, that are yet to be completed such as the Kota Baru airport and the MOT is also looking at some of the newer projects, like Penang and Subang airport.

As for the Kedah Aerotropolis which includes the building of the Kulim International Airport, Loke explained that it only had been given principal approvals.

“A major component of the project is to have a cargo airport where the plan is that the entire area became an industrial area that the cargo airport is supposed to be the catalyst for the entire industrial area.

“The airport is to serve the entire area, that is the concept of the project.

“The concept of the project of course went through discussions presented to the National Physical Planning Council (NPPC) and so on, there were principle approvals given — for that concept.

“But in order for an airport to be built one important licence they have to apply for is an aerodrome licence.

“They have not applied for that licence, so there is no question of us rejecting the application when there is no application yet for the aerodrome licence,” he said.

Loke also said that what had been presented to the Federal Government through the NPPC, and to MOT was just the concept of the project.

Working together with BN

Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Harapan are now under one roof and Loke said there is no big difference in terms of managing the ministry, but of course the approach, has to be slightly modified.

“My predecessor was my opponent, he (Wee) was my successor in 2020 and now he is also my predecessor because he was in the middle of my two terms (as minister).

“So this kind of situation is complicated in the sense that he was my opponent, but right now we are in the same government, so obviously any changes that I have to make or some of the things I have to reverse were his decisions and have to be dealt with through a more diplomatic manner.

“I don’t have any problems with him and I can say that we are on friendly terms, we talk to each other, quite regularly in Parliament. So sometimes whatever feedback or criticisms he makes, I take them positively, so in a unity government, you just need to be a bit matured,” Loke said.

Digitising JPJ

Among other things, Loke said MOT is working very hard on digitising the Road Transport Department (JPJ).

“Hopefully on a long-term impact... eventually digitalise ourselves through our own platforms then you don’t need to depend on external parties.

“But I’m not saying that we are discouraging service providers or closing the door for other parties to provide services on behalf of the government.

“We are not taking that approach right now, we are saying that we want to digitise and hope that the services rendered by our departments can be faster and seamless so that people don’t have to go to counters to do simple transactions,” he added.

The MOT recently introduced the MyJPJ mobile application that allowed digital renewal and displays of vehicle road tax and driving licences.

Speaking about immediate fixes, Loke said he is now focused on perfecting the basics before moving on to bigger goals.

“I don’t think any country can claim that they have a full complete perfect system — at any one point.

“There is always room for improvement, there is no such thing as ‘wish one day it’s perfect’.

“So right now, we are focusing on ensuring that the basic requirements are being met and that is to ensure that our services are being rendered according to the expectations of the public," he said.

The efficiency of public buses

Looking at it plainly, Loke said it may make sense to buy more buses to improve public bus services — to cut long waiting time and congestion on board.

However, he said there is no point in adding buses if there is no proper maintenance on the ground.

“It’s not that the government did not buy buses, but after we bought ... the buses operate for one or two years ... it breaks down due to no proper maintenance.

“Over time, after spending a lot of money it’s just not functioning properly.

“So one thing we’re looking at now, is how to change in terms of procurement strategy — should we move towards a lease model, instead of buying it outright,” he said.

Loke was referring to creating a new policy on whether or not it will be better in terms of long-term strategy where there will be no more worries of maintenance and spare parts unavailability.