People in Klang Valley, particularly Shah Alam and Klang, should take inspiration from Mahathirís praise for the WTO demonstrations at Seattle to mount massive demonstrations of protest against PLUS and the authorities for recurrent floods coupled with massive and prolonged traffic jams

Media Comment
after Hari Raya Open House visit to the Prime Minister
Lim Kit Siang 

(Putra Jaya,  Saturday): The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad made a remarkable concession in his millennium message on December 31, 1999, when he launched another one of his  trademark tirades against "the former colonial masters" for their plans  to "recolonise us" through globalisations and a  borderless world.

Blaming globalisation for the economic crisis which hit Malaysia and other East Asian countries in 1997, Mahathir said:  "They tried and nearly succeeded but we were able to foil  the attempt this time and we were able to revive our country's economy.
"But we are not safe yet. Attempts are still being made. If not for the demonstrations against the WTO (World Trade  Organisation) in Seattle, maybe another part of our border  will have collapsed."
This is  the first time in Mahathirís 19-year tenure as Prime Minister that he had conceded that demonstrations have an important role in national or international civil society - and is particularly significant after the hardline crackdown against  the  Reformasi demonstrations  sparked off by the sacking, selective prosecution and persecution of former Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, which were definitely much tamer and more civil as compared to the Seattle demonstrations.

More than 500 people were arrested in Seattle where thousands of street protestors blocked the roads to shut down the WTO, forcing the abandonment of the opening ceremonies and disrupting the 3rd Ministerial Conference of the WTO on 30 November 1999.

The Seattle WTO Ministerial Conference that was supposed to launch a new Round collapsed, with no new Round, no Seattle Declaration, or even a brief  joint statement to thank the hosts or decide on the follow-up process.

The most basic causes of the Seattle protests were  the non-transparent and undemocratic nature of the WTO system, the blatant manipulation of that system by the major powers, the refusal of many developing countries to continue to be on the receiving end, and  worldwide NGO calls for globalization with a human face with  greater equity  in the  globalization process.

The Seattle demonstrations herald the advent of a global civil society. The  WTO was shut down by thousands of NGO activists worldwide with nothing but determination and unarmed human bodies. The protests helped bring a halt to the Third Round of negotiations between powerful world leaders who wanted to trade in more of the earth's forests, compromise more laws protecting public health, and open up the  public services for sale to corporations. With little help and every hindrance from the corporate media, activists brought this secret new oligarchy, quickly expanding its powers over democracies around the world, into public view.

Mahathir has reason to be grateful for the collapse of the World Trade Organisation meeting in Seattle, as it embodied an increasingly powerful worldwide response to the human costs of an unworkable global regime and signalled the beginning of another era. Power is passing from transnational institutions to national governments and NGOs. At the same time that power is passing to the NGOs, it is flowing back to national governments.

But Mahathir cannot  apply double-standards, supporting NGO activism internationally and the emergence of a global civil society while suppressing local NGO activism and the development of a vibrant  civil society in Malaysia.

Before Mahathir goes overseas for leave, he should direct the Cabinet at its meeting on Wednesday to adopt a new policy position on NGOs where the government fully accepts NGOs as an integral part of the nation-building and development process.

For a start, the people in the  Klang Valley, particularly Shah Alam and Klang, should take inspiration from Mahathirís praise for the WTO demonstrations at Seattle to mount massive demonstrations of protest against PLUS and the authorities for recurrent floods coupled with massive and prolonged traffic jams.

On Wednesday, for the second time in a month, thousands of motorists were caught in a massive traffic jam when all three highways linking Kuala Lumpur and  Klang were cut off by flash floods.

A two-hour downpour that began at 4pm in Shah Alam caused rivers to  burst their banks and stretches of the North Klang Valley Expressway (NKVE),  Federal Highway Route II and the Kesas Highway to be flooded, forcing the concessionaires to close off several stretches of all three major links  between the Federal capital and Klang.

Barely a month ago on  Dec 6, 1999 flash floods cut off the Federal Highway and the NKVE. The blame then was on poor drainage in the  vicinity and this was followed closely by promises of remedial works by  both the Public Works Department and the toll concessionaires involved.

Motorists caught in the big jam on the way back to Kuala Lumpur from Shah Alam after work at 5 p.m. complained that they finally reached home at 11.30 p.m.  What they found galling was that after being caught in the jam for almost seven hours, PLUS "had the cheek" to demand payment of toll at the Klang and Shah Alam toll booths.

As another motorist wrote to the press:

PLUS is  trying to pass the blame to others by claiming that efforts by the company alone would not solve flooding problems and the ensuing traffic gridlocks. This is totally unacceptable.

PLUS and other toll concessionaires should not only waive toll collection each time a highway user is inconvenienced by floods on its roads, but should waive toll collection for three consecutive days whenever such massive and prolonged traffic jams take place as a gesture of remorse and penance for its incompetence and failure to meet its contractual bargain to provide a smooth and comfortable journey to highway users.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman