(Penang, Thursday): Even before polling day on November 8, the people of Sungai Bakap have demonstrated their ability to influence events not only in their constituency but in the whole country.
There is no doubt that if there is no Sungai Bakap by-election, there would have been no reductions in the motor vehicle, goods and public service vehicle (PSV) driving licences to an increase of RM10 instead of the previous RM30 or RM40 increase. Under the 1998 Budget presented to Parliament by the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, on October 17, the annual motor vehicle driving licence was increased from RM20 to RM50 and the goods and PSV driving licences increased by 400 per cent from RM10 to RM50.
This is the first time that I remember in Malaysian budget history where budgetary proposals to increase fees and charges were withdrawn during the end of the budget debate in Parliament, and this is all attributable to the Sungai Bakap by-election on Saturday.
As I said in Parliament after Anwar had announced the reduction of the driving licence fees, I thanked him on behalf of the people of Sungai Bakap for for the reductions, which would not have come about if not for the Sungai Bakap by-election.
The hefty increases in the motor vehicle, goods and public services vehicle driving licences had all the support of the Cabinet Ministers from the Barisan Nasional component parties, but when there is a by-election like the Sungai Bakap by-election, even Cabinet Ministers who had earlier supported the licence increases are forced to change their stand.
I congratulate the people of Sungai Bakap for they have already tasted the first fruits of what they could achieve not only for themsleves but for all Malaysians if they stand up for their fundamental citizenship rights.
The people of Sungai Bakap, however, must express their disappointment that the government had not heeded the people’s unhappiness at the hefty increases in passport fees, which is completely unjustifiable as there had been a hefty increase immediately after the landslide Barisan Nasional victory in the April 1995 general elections.
As I pointed out during Anwar’s speech when winding up the debate on the 1998 Budget yesterday, the government increased international passport fees from RM60 (32 pages) and RM100 (64 pages) to RM145 and RM265 immediately after the April 1995 general elections as the Barisan Nasional form of "thank you" to the people for giving the Barisan Nasional such a landslide victory and which started the association of BN with "Barang Naik"!
Now, passport fees are further increased from RM145 and RM265 to RM300 and RM600. This means in the 30 months between the 1995 general elections and now, there would be a 500 per cent increase for a 32-page passport from RM60 to RM300 and a 600 per cent increase for a 64-page passport from RM100 to RM600.
Anwar had justified the increase of the various driving licences on the ground that there had been no such increase since 1972. I do not think Anwar had been correctly informed by the Transport Ministry, as I remember that there had been such increases, and as I told Parliament yesterday, I would be checking on this matter.
However, how could the government justify such a phenomenal increase in passport fees from between 500 to 600 per cent in a matter of 30 months unless BN really stands for "Barang Naik"?
I had said during the various DAP by-election ceramahs in Sungai Bakap that the voters of Sungai Bakap has a tryst with history on Nov. 8.
If Gerakan, which is expected to win Sungai Bakap on Saturday, wins the by-election with ease and comfort, then the Sungai Bakap by-election would immediately be forgotten by everybody after Nov. 8.
But if the people of Sungai Bakap are prepared to "write history, create miracle" on Nov. 8, and bring about a political earthquake whether Richter 6 or 7, then the Sungai Bakap by-election will enter the annals of political history and be remembered forever by all Malaysians.
The question is whether the people of Sungai Bakap are content with having achieved the historic footnote of having brought about the first reduction in government budgetary proposal in the past 40 years, or whether they are prepared to rise up to the call of history to send a loud and clear message to the Barisan Nasional government that the people want to see greater government changes over the entire spectrum of nation-building policies, whether political, economic, educational, cultural, environmental or religious.
In other words, the people of Sungai Bakap thank and accept all the development promises made by the Barisan Nasional in the course of the by-election, but want to make the important point that development is the fundamental citizenship right of all Malaysians, and they want their development rights to be taken care of, not just during by-elections, but at all times!