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Malaysian public transport hurt by ‘one man’s’ fixation with national car, says PM Najib

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s public transport network languished for decades due to “one man’s” obsession with developing a national car, Prime Minister Najib Razak said on Tuesday (Jan 23) in veiled reference to his predecessor-turned-critic Mahathir Mohamad.

Malaysian commuters board the MRT in Kuala Lumpur. Prime Minister Najib Razak says the country's public transport network languished for decades due to “one man’s” obsession with developing a national car. Photo: Malay Mail Online

Malaysian commuters board the MRT in Kuala Lumpur. Prime Minister Najib Razak says the country's public transport network languished for decades due to “one man’s” obsession with developing a national car. Photo: Malay Mail Online

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s public transport network languished for decades due to “one man’s” obsession with developing a national car, Prime Minister Najib Razak said on Tuesday (Jan 23) in veiled reference to his predecessor-turned-critic Mahathir Mohamad.

As a result, this obsession left the country with a public transportation system that was disjointed and disintegrated, said Mr Najib.

“One man’s obsession with the idea of a national car — which is now being turned round under international joint ownership — led to Malaysia lacking an efficient public transport system,” he was quoted as saying by national news agency Bernama.

“This was a serious obstacle to our ambition to achieve high income status and for Kuala Lumpur to be a world class capital. So, we immediately took steps to rectify that and indicated that public transport would be a top priority for the government.”

He added his administration was still working to undo such “legacy issues” in planning and expanded public transportation in Malaysia.

Proton was founded by former prime minister Dr Mahathir in 1983 to steer the South-east Asian nation’s industrialisation plan. The country’s first national car, Proton Saga, rolled out in 1985.

The loss-making company was sold to Chinese car-maker Zhejiang Geely Holding Group last year, amid intense criticism from Dr Mahathir.

Dr Mahathir, who now heads the opposition Pakatan Harapan pact, on Tuesday brushed off Mr Najib's assertion that he neglected public transport because of his 'obsession' with Proton. 

"He should look into the mirror and talk to the mirror. No one understands his logic," Dr Mahathir said at a press conference in Putrajaya.

“The national car project made so much profit that it was able to build Tanjung Malim (plant) with its own money without borrowing any money from the bank or seeking government assistance. It was a profitable venture until the government started fiddling with it. They insisted on all kinds of things," added the former prime minister, who quit as chairman of Proton in 2016 in the wake of his fallout with the Najib administration.

Dr Mahathir also reiterated that Proton’s failure was due to Malaysia’s open automative market.

“We cannot sell our cars to their countries but they can sell any cars to ours,” he said. “There should be some reciprocity.”

Dr Mahathir also appeared to have taken offence to Mr Najib’s recent attacks on his previous economic policies, saying that the country’s economy was in good shape at the end of his premiership in 2003. 

“Things were doing well in this country when I stepped down. This is why I waited and did not step down in 1998 as we were facing a economic crisis," he said.

“I left the country shipshape.”

Dr Mahathir has been a long-time champion of Proton, while Mr Najib has been a proponent of public transportation since taking office in April 2009.

Mr Najib has overseen the launch of the RM21 billion (S$7.04 billion) Klang Valley Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) network and extensions of the country’s existing light rail transit lines.

He is also very supportive of long-term bilateral projects between Singapore and Malaysia, such as the Singapore-Kuala Lumpur High-Speed Rail (HSR) and the Rapid Transit System (RTS) linking Johor Baru and the Republic, and assured last week that the projects would not be affected by political changes.

By contrast, Dr Mahathir had said in January last year the HSR project may not be a done deal if the Opposition takes over Putrajaya, calling out its financial viability as an area that had to be studied. AGENCIES

 

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