6 December 2015
THERE's always frustration and agony suffered by journalists who seek answers and the truth. After days of work, the failure to get responses from the parties involved is often painful. The stalling methods used are outnumbered by those who choose to remain silent and care a hoot for the issue and public perception.
Sometimes, they prefer to seek (sometimes wrongly) the protection of the Official Secrets Act; sometimes the sub judice rule (sometimes wrongly, too) comes into play and on occasions, they claim they have no obligation to release facts and figures. So much for good governance.
Faced with such answers – acceptable or otherwise – the issues fade out of the limelight. On rare occasions, it surfaces like a dormant volcano erupting, which will reignite the attention of journalists and the public.
Six years ago, theSun front-paged a story headlined: You pay – even if you don't use ERL – on the fare structure of the Express Rail Link (ERL) and the subsidy from passengers using the Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
We wrote that a part of the passenger tax we pay when travelling via KLIA is ending up with ERL even if we had used other means of transport. We wrote: "A portion of the airport taxes that departing passengers pay goes to the company – RM2 for domestic passengers and RM6 for international travellers from KLIA as well as the Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT)." (Now klia2).
For good measure, quoting sources we gave some figures: "KLIA handled about 25 million passengers last year and the LCCT about eight million. Half of these figures were departing passengers, which mean ERL would be receiving in the region of RM80 million a year (from airport tax)."
The response from ERL was explosive to say the least. Its (then) chief executive officer, Dr Aminuddin Adnan, replied: "The numbers you quote as being the amount received by the project from airport taxes annually is grossly inaccurate and again without regard to the truth."
He thundered in legalistic lingo: "To state without researching the point that 'You pay even if you don't use the ERL' is highly irresponsible and implies that the project and its sponsors are profiteering at the expense of the Malaysian public. It has put the ERL and its sponsors in an unfavourable light for which we hold you accountable."
Hey, does that mean we got it all wrong? So, where did we go wrong? We shot off a letter to Aminuddin: "(Your) letter, inter-alia claims that the 'article contains highly misleading and inaccurate information'. Could you kindly specify which part or parts of the article you referred to is misleading? You have also claimed that we have provided inaccurate information. Please provide the 'accurate' information which we will be able to disseminate to our readers."
Aminuddin replied but we never got the answers. He wrote: "We would like to reiterate that your figures are inaccurate. However, we are unable to provide details as we are not a public listed company and such information is deemed confidential."
Subsequently, there was an invitation to dine at the J. W. Marriot which was turned down.
Like any right-thinking journalist, we came to this conclusion: There is some form of subsidy but it could be more or less than the RM80 million we quoted? It was then assumed that they were getting subsidies but not as low or high as suggested.
Last week, the apparition – which was buried and entombed away from public view and discussion – was resurrected when it was announced that the price of a journey via ERL from Kuala Lumpur to KLIA or vice-versa would go up by a whopping 57% – from RM35 to RM55.
ERL claimed it still offered the lowest airport rail transfer fare in the world but back-tracked when netizens disputed it. In stepped Deputy Transport Minister Aziz Abdul Kaprawi who said the government was left with no choice but to approve the fare hike as it had been delayed for 14 years.
Speaking like a defender and spokesman man for ERL, Aziz said that ERL, in its bid to offset some of the additional cost, was promoting various packages, offering as much as 40% off.
"There are travel card packages available, very cheap. There are three packages that offer discounts of up to 40% from the new fare," he said, adding that KLIA Express users would also be able to buy these discounted packages via credit card.
We are tempted to make an educated guess very well knowing that it will be disputed. Here are some figures to chew on:
» KLIA recorded 48.9 million passengers last year.
» The main terminal handled 24.9 million passengers.
» The combined eight months' performance by klia2 and four months by LCCT handled 24 million passengers in 2014.
On the assumption that the share of arriving and departing passengers are equal, then it can be assumed that 24.45 million paid passenger taxes.
Let us for one moment assume (in the absence of official figures), that the pro-rated subsidy is RM3 a passenger, it meant that the travelling public "gave" RM73.35 million as "donation" to ERL last year.
Assuming, that over the past 14 years, the subsidy – averaged at about RM40 million a year, it is a whopping sum (readers can do the arithmetic!).
So, Aziz, are these figures correct? We did not pick them from thin air. We used official KLIA statistics to come up with a realistic figure. Are we not as passengers and taxpayers entitled to such information? We are certain that these figures will not compromise the security of the nation. The information is useless to terrorist organisations like Islamic State. After all, the prime minister himself is a proponent of more openness.
Please don't tell us: "You are wrong."
We will say: "Tell us what is right."
Then you will reply: "I can't tell you what is right or where you went wrong but I can tell you were wrong."
So, will it be end of story again? Habis wayang gambar? Or can we say that it is not over until the fat lady sings?
R. Nadeswaran thinks he has finally gotten a lucky break. After six years of stoic silence, he can now expect answers from the ministry or does he need to put the celebration on hold? Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org
Original Source: thesundaily.my