Lessons for Abdullah - double lack of political will and Ministerial accountability root causes for the ever-worsening road carnage 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
by Lim Kit Siang
(Penang, Wednesday): The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi should learn from the expensive lessons of the past as to why the country has failed to end the road carnage on Malaysian roads which have 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.
DAP hopes 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 as illustrated by the following statistics:
Year No. of Accidents Fatalities Injuries
(Source –Road Safety Council)
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 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.
When the Chairman of the Cabinet Committee on Road Safety made the infamous remark five years ago, "We have done what others have been doing around the world. In spite of numerous road safety campaigns the number of accident cases have been increasing. What else can we do, if people want to die?” (Sun 4.2.1998), it was clear that the Cabinet Committee had given up all leadership and had surrendered to the fatalistic belief that there was no way to end the road carnage, when such high traffic fatalities are completely preventable.
With such fatalistic attitude about the high road carnage by the Cabinet Committee on Road Safety, it was no surprise that the national crisis of the road carnage was ignored and national attention was only focused during the national holidays when it should be the daily preoccupation of the government and the people all-the-year-round as the high traffic accident rate and road fatalities are a daily horror in the country!
The media, both printed and electronic, should be reporting about the road carnage crisis every day, and not just during Ops Sikap or Ops Statik during national festivities!
This was why on 27th January 1999, I had proposed that Abdullah, who was then the Deputy Prime Minister, should take over as head of the Cabinet Committee on Road Safety to provide sorely-needed leadership to reverse the alarming rise in road accidents and deaths in the country. My proposal was not acted upon and the rot continued for five long years with great cost to the country in human lives involving tens of thousands of avoidable deaths, hundred of thousands of injuries and disabilities, and economic losses in tens of billions of ringgit!
The 12-day Ops Sikap V had ended with 213 deaths, with an average fatality rate of 17.75 deaths, which is even higher than the previous daily fatalities rate of 16.47 for Ops Sikap III, 14.86 for Ops Sikap I and 11.53 for Ops Sikap II. For the past decade, every Hari Raya had been marked with the national tragedy of some 200 avoidable fatalities and 2,000 preventable injuries and disabilities.
It is a cruel reminder to the Prime Minister that good-hearted statements and appeal to Malaysians to “balik kampong: safely before the holidays started could not be achieved with just good intentions. This equally applies to his other well-intentioned statements, whether for “a clean, incorruptible, modest and beyond suspicion” government or asking the people to tell him the truth.
Abdullah’s proposal for a public forum to discuss the high number of accidents, especially during festive seasons, is a step in the direction but is woefully inadequate to deal with the long-standing crisis of the road carnage not only during holidays but all-the-year-round.
As a first step, is Abdullah prepared to recognize and elevate the road carnage as a national crisis and challenge?
Secondly, Abdullah must be prepared to grapple with all the root causes of the problem of road carnage in Malaysia – including the double lack of political will and Ministerial accountability to end the avoidable road carnage on the roads.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman