MY tie always seems to be twisted!” Transport Minister Anthony Loke Siew Fook jokes as he adjusts his pose for photographs during the interview in his office. That moment, however brief, was reflective of Loke’s determination to fix everything linked to his name – from the little rebel necktie to the entire Transport Ministry.
As the Pakatan Harapan government aims for a leaner, cost-effective administration, it did not take long for the four-term MP to get to work, starting with the Road Safety Department (JKJR) which had filed an extra budget request for its annual Hari Raya safety message.
“I said we have a stingy Finance Minister, so they cannot think of asking extra budget. Instead, they must think out of the box as to how to get this done.
“We went to the Prime Minister and convinced him to be featured, and got Telekom Malaysia Bhd’s in-house production team on board. We got the video done within two weeks, for free,” he says.
The video of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad tackling road safety issues with his witty remarks together with Loke, gathered more than a million views within three days.
It is precisely this creative way of thinking that Loke wants to see among all civil servants.
“Creative ways of making money using existing resources is entirely possible, and it allows us to maximise publicity without spending,” he says.
The Star caught up with the new Minister nearly four weeks into his role, to find out what he’s been up to in charting a new course with transportation.
Q: There have been calls to scrap the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL), will there be an announcement soon?
A: The ECRL is still subject to review with the Economic Affairs Ministry looking into it. There is no final decision as yet, as they are still looking at factors like cost and other implications. As of now, we just have to wait for the review. I’m not sure how long it will take but a decision should be announced soon.
> Some people are calling for the MRT3 to be completed, instead of starting a new national car. Your thoughts on this?
The new national car project will be further communicated by the PM. As far as the ministry is concerned, we are still committed to public transport. I don’t see it as a zero-sum game, in that if there is a national car we will not invest in public transport.
Although the Government has cancelled MRT3 for now, we still want to increase connectivity with the MRT1 and MRT2.
> How can we achieve better interconnectivity with public transport, apart from trains?
We need to invest more on public transport, and the MRT must be integrated with the transit bus system for better service areas near the stations. However, the lack of seamless public transport is not just in the Klang Valley but beyond. The more practical method of improving public transport in these areas will be putting more buses on the road.
I intend to do a total review of our country’s public transport, there are gaps we need to bridge. I come from Seremban, which has many surrounding areas without proper bus system. Mantin falls under Seremban and there is no decent public transport to town.
The nearest KTM station is Batang Benar, which is 10km away.
> On your second day in office, you stopped the practice of allowing NGOs to sell special vehicle plate numbers. Can you estimate the Government’s loss when this practice was still allowed?
It is difficult for me to estimate the leakages. A successful NGO would only have to pay the Government RM1mil to get the plates, but the resale value could be roughly RM20mil per plate, so that itself is a huge loss of revenue to the Government.
> Fuel prices are rising again, will the Government allow fuel surcharges to be imposed by airlines to help foot their fuel bill as done in the past?
Airlines have not come to me with such requests as yet. All such demands will be subject to stringent studies before approval. We must look at the overall interest for the nation, and any decision will be based on consideration of different perspectives, such as economic interest, tourism impact and movement of people. A balance must be struck in everything we do. We want to protect public interest but decisions must be made in national interest too.
> How have your first few weeks as Cabinet minister been? Were you surprised to be given such a challenging role?
I won’t say I expected this role. Pakatan didn’t even expect to form the Federal Government!
It is such a big honour. I spent 15 years as a full-time politician but many senior leaders spent their entire lives as Opposition politicians yet never came close to power. I consider myself the lucky generation – that in my lifetime, and at a young age, I am part of the new Government.
Of course the role is very taxing, and it is a steep learning curve. However, being in the Opposition for a long time, I am used to pushing myself to overcome limitations.
> During peak periods, the baggage problem at the main airports such as KLIA escalates; what improvements are in place?
There are 20 service KPIs that need to be complied with. I will need to push Mavcom to implement them so that if airports fail to reach certain KPIs, certain fines will be imposed on airports or operators. We will push for that more strictly... lots of weaknesses and complaints in baggage system – we must look into the whole thing.
Of course the airport authority must be responsible because they are running the airport and they cannot blame ground handlers. Airports must be held responsible, they must be proactive in preempting problems and issues, not just the baggage system. Another big issue in KLIA is the aerotrain service which breaks down once in a while.
> What more can be done to avoid incidents such as MH370 and MH17?
I admit, it is beyond me to guarantee incidents like this will never happen again. MH370 is still a mystery, but I have promised that we will be transparent on information and reports. Every available data shall be made public soon.
As for lessons from MH17, I believe all airlines have taken more stringent measures to avoid flying over or into conflict zones.
> Should there be more lowcost terminals or more international airports in Malaysia?
I won’t be touching on airports at this point because a lot of interested parties are talking about low-cost terminals. I do want to see how we can improve the current infrastructure though.
Many airports are underutilised, and at least for the next few years, the Government has no means to build new airports unless there are private initiatives.
Much needs to be done in analysing the needs and impact on society, environment and so on.
> Is a three airline environment in Malaysia ideal, or is there room for more industry players?
I don’t think three is a magic number. If an entrepreneur is willing to take risks and start a new airline, it can be done. I do not want to put a cap on entrepreneurship. If anyone wants to take that risk, it’s not the Government’s role to limit them but to facilitate them.
> Should Malaysia Airlines remain a regional player or is it time to relook this model?
Malaysia Airlines used to be a full-fledged global player. It is sad that we have come to this stage, where the airline has had to cut back on a lot of destinations. We want to see it as our flag carrier at the global stage, but that depends on commercial considerations and whether it will be practical at that point of time.
> What do you expect to achieve in your first 100 days?
I want to change public perception on the ministry and its agencies. I want to prove that in 100 days you can change people’s views and we can do certain things differently using cost-effective and unique approaches.
> What would you want your legacy as a minister to be?
For me, I want to address issues relating to the ministry, whether it is inefficiency, competitiveness of ports, or the utilisation of airports and airlines. Most importantly, the public should receive better services in convenient ways.
If I can roll out the monthly pass for public transport in the Klang Valley by year end, that will be a major achievement. It all boils down to cutting spending to increase revenue, which will be piled back into improving transport services. If I can change Malaysians’ quality of life and reduce congestion on roads, I will consider that as having achieved something at the end of my term.
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