This week, one of the topics to be debated in parliament will be the public transport system especially the government’s plans to inject $1.1bn into the bus system.
In its 2011 General Election Manifesto the WP wrote: Instead of public transport being provided by profit-oriented companies, all public transport including the MRT & public buses servicing major routes should be brought under a National Transport Corporation, a public body, to ensure a smooth integration of the overall national transport network and to avoid unnecessary duplication of services and overheads incurred by multiple operators.
In simple English, the WP manifesto called for the nationalisation of the MRT and bus systems.
But, I’ve been reliably told, that the WP will not be calling for the nationalisation of the public transport system in the debate on public transport this week. It will keep silent on its manifesto call.
If my source (a WP member in gd standing) is correct, and I hope he is wrong, one can only wonder if the WP has forgotten its manifesto call on the nationalisation of public transport (see somewhere here) or changed its mind on public transport nationalisation? And then one can wonder why the forgetfulness or change, when the facts and public mood seem to favour nationalisation.
Granted, at the time, there was very little mainstream (to be expected) or new media (more surprising this) attention, and very little public interest (not surprising, given the lack of awareness on this call) on this issue. But things are different now.
There have been several major failures of the MRT system, resulting in chaos, and public anger.
With $1.1bn of tax-payers’ money going into the bus system (two-thirds or 67% of it, $733m, going into ComfortDelgro where the state has a shareholding that is “peanuts”*), there are many voices wondering why private shareholders should benefit from a public good?
Example: Since housing and transport are both necessities of life, and public transport is the only choice of the lower-income group, it is not unjustifiable to commit resources to keep the cost of public transport low … government spending on public transport is a form of income redistribution …
The key concern in the S$1.1-billion package to purchase and operate buses is not that it subsidises public transport per se but whether public funds could benefit a small group of shareholders, to whom bus companies are ultimately accountable.
This is what the Government will need to account to taxpayers.
Even BT, part of the nation-building, constructive media had this to say, The public transport model has come under scrutiny ever since a $1.1 billion package was announced by the government to supplement the existing privately run bus fleet with 550 buses.
How has the government responded?
The minister responsible for throwing $1.1bn at the problem can only
parrot repeat what his predecessors used to say, Our current model leaves the operations of trains and buses to commercial entities as we believe the long term public interest is best served this way. The profit incentive drives the operators towards higher efficiency and productivity, which keeps costs as low as possible . . . Otherwise, if the system is inefficiently run, the public will ultimately pay for the higher operating costs, either through higher fares, or greater government subsidies.
He should be asked in parliament this week why despite the “higher efficency and productivity” (“which keeps costs as low as possible”) of the private companies, commuters keep paying more and more while getting worse and worse service, so much so that the government has to subsidise the companies to improve bus service quality. The minister’s The profit incentive drives the operators towards higher efficiency and productivity, which keeps costs as low as possible, can and should be challenged.
So the WP has plenty of ammunition to rubbish the government’s public transport policy And remind the government and the voters that it called for nationalisation last year. But it seems it will not call for nationalisation.
Parliament is the best place to debate the issue and the WP should not let this opportunity be missed especially as it called for nationalisation in its election manifesto. If it does not raise this issue, S’poreans must hope that PAP newbie FT MP, Puthucheary (“No NS for me”) will raise the issue. He had suggested in the last session of parliament that nationalisation might be a gd option.
There should be a more selfish, self-serving reason for the WP to use this opportunity to call for nationalisation. If the WP doesn’t believe in its own manifesto or keeps quiet when it changes its mind on a manifesto issue, why should, we, the voters believe in the WP?
The PAP pointed out earlier this year (rightly) that the WP’s benchmark for ministers’ salaries had changed from the poor (in said manifesto) to a civil service senior grade (Gerald Giam in parliament). The WP could not rebut the PAP charge.
The voters who voted for the WP believed its call for the need of a co-driver, to keep the PAP honest and competent. If voters cannot believe in the PAP and the WP, what should the voters do? Vote SDP?
The WP might want to be reminded that in countries with first-world parliaments, the election manifesto is a very important document, not something to be chucked away after a general election. If the WP does not call for nationalisation of the public transport system in parliament this week, it should remove the link on the front page of its website to its manifesto.
*Using back-of-the envelope calculations and figures in annual reports, since it was listed SMRT (over a decade ago) has paid $562.79m in dividends to Temasek (which owns 74%), and ComfortDelgro has paid the S’pore Labour Foundation (a statutory board affiliated to the NTUC which has 12%) dividends of roughly $150.46m since 2003 (Comfort and Delgro merged in 2003, and SLF had a stake in Comfort). The amount that ended up with the government was $713.25m, with SMRT contributing 79%. But ComfortDelgro is the main beneficiary of the $1.1bn bus plan, given that, at present, SBS Transit (a listed co 75% owned by ComfortDelgro) provides most of the buses. ComfortDelgro is getting $733m or 67% of the $1.1bn package.