Taking taxi-drivers for a ride

By Mariam Mokhtar

Despite what ordinary Malaysians may feel of taxi-drivers, the government believes that cabbies have an important contribution to make towards society. Taxi-drivers will now be known as “tourism ambassadors” for the nation, and at the same time, informers for the MACC.

Last September, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Mohamed Nazri Aziz said that the government’s fight against corruption would mean the recruitment of taxi-drivers as mini-ambassadors and informers on behalf of the MACC.

Six months later, Tourism minister Dr Ng Yen Yen announced that she too, would be appointing 4,000 taxi-drivers in the Klang Valley as the nation’s “tourism ambassadors”, in recognition of their services.

In mid-March, Yen Yen would create “tourism ambassadors” from non-smoking taxi-drivers in command of basic communication skills, whose vehicles are in good condition. Her initiative is supposedly to raise awareness of taxi-drivers in the necessity of providing an excellent service.

The government is very creative in its fight against corruption. Last year, Nazri announced the MACC initiative which would secure the services of taxi-drivers as mini-ambassadors and informers on behalf of the MACC.

He believed that taxi-drivers should be rewarded when they supply information that would secure arrests and convictions.

Nazri said: “The government is committed to battling corruption through its transformation plan by establishing a National Key Results Area for corruption and reducing corruption via increased enforcement and prevention, while improving the people’s perception of the government’s and public service’s integrity.”

‘Ideal informers’

Nazri said that 30,000 taxi-drivers nationwide would become the MACC’s informers, in a campaign that would be spearheaded by 200 taxi-drivers from the Klang Valley.

Nazri opined that cab drivers made ideal informers because of the information they picked up during conversations with their clients.

“They can be our whistleblower and can play the role as deliverer of information to MACC. We expect them to play a crucial rôle. I believe that after this, MACC will brief NGOs and government agencies and may even train them because we are serious in enlisting their help to fight graft.”

MACC’s chief commissioner Abu Kassim Mohamed gave his support to Nazri: “Taxi-drivers will be MACC’s eyes and ears in reporting corruption. They pick up a lot of information from passengers’ conversations, or might even witness corrupt transactions in their taxis.”

And so, together with Yen Yen’s directive, 100 taxi-drivers would be recruited for the pilot project of “tourism ambassador” this March.

“After they have been selected by our appointed judges, the taxi-drivers will undergo a one-day awareness course organised by the ministry where we will explain to them their role as tourism ambassadors.”

Daft schemes

She cited complaints from the public and tourists about taxi-drivers and she singled out the cabbies’ attitude and the refusal to use the meter as key points of public discontent.

Both Yen Yen and Nazri forget that when people are in the taxi, conversations should remain private. Can these ministers not respect that?

What if the taxi driver was to misinterpret the meaning of what was said? What if a statement was taken out of context? What if the taxi driver bore a personal grudge against his fare-paying passengers and made a malicious complaint?

When Nazri said that the cabbies would be the eyes and ears of the MACC, does he not feel it morally wrong to engage people to spy on others in this manner?

It would be interesting to find out how often high-powered industrialists or politicians take cabs in their everyday lives? They are chauffer driven everywhere. Perhaps, the drivers of these limousines should be engaged as spies for the MACC. Most people are aware that politicians, especially Cabinet ministers are some of the most corrupt in the nation.

Malaysians must wonder when Yen Yen last took a taxi.

One elderly lady who depends on taxi-drivers to ferry her and her disabled son around said, “I have no choice. Public transport is bad and so taxis are a necessity. Everytime we have a hospital appointment, I never know if the taxi driver will take us anywhere or allow the wheelchair in the boot.”

Another person said, “If the tourists were to meet some of the taxi-drivers I have to put up with, Yen Yen might think twice about appointing them as tourism ambassadors.”

One expatriate who is married to a Malaysian said, “The last time I took a taxi with my wife, the taxi driver was giving me knowing looks. He was thinking I had just picked up a prostitute and had the audacity to ask “You want good f***ee-f***ee”?”

A Malaysian from Kuala Lumpur, who lives overseas said, “Taxi-drivers claim they take short-cuts. In reality they are trying to charge you a higher fare via a longer route. One time, I was dumped by the roadside just for insisting the meter be used.”

For most of us, the experience of being with taxi-drivers is similar to being with politicians. Both act like they are above the law.

Yen Yen, Nazri and the MACC are wasting taxpayers’ money on daft schemes. If they want taxi-drivers to provide good service, just ensure that minimum standards are adhered to and that strict enforcement is carried out. Penalties must be severe to prove a deterrent.

Why encourage shoddy practices? Why give taxi-drivers false hope and praise by making them tourism ambassadors? Why also take the public for a ride?

Mariam Mokhtar is a FMT columnist.

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