KUALA LUMPUR - A controversial new traffic-camera system to nab speedsters is threatening to become a political liability for the ruling Barisan Nasional.
The nationwide Automated Enforcement System (AES) started operating on Sept22, as one answer to Malaysia's soaring accident rate.
But motorists say the cameras are located in areas where speeding is either rare or impossible, and there are no clear signs. Meanwhile, the opposition says the project was improperly awarded to two private companies linked to the ruling Barisan Nasional government.
Traffic accidents on Malaysian roads rose from 363,319 in 2007 to 449,040 last year, according to the Malaysian Department of Road Safety. Last year, 6,877 people were killed in half a million road accidents, costing the government RM9billion (S$3.6billion) in ambulance, clean-up, investigation and other costs.
So far, the Transport Ministry has set up 14 AES cameras on accident-prone stretches in Putrajaya, Selangor, Perak and Kuala Lumpur. A total of 831 will be deployed around the country.
Unlike conventional speed traps, AES cameras' locations are fixed and marked with signs. Speeding tickets are mailed within two weeks to the offender's residence and can be challenged only in court.
By mailing summonses directly to offenders, the government hopes to reduce opportunities to bribe the traffic police.
But some motorists say several AES spots do not have adequate signs. Others say they were unjustly given traffic summonses while driving at the legal speed.
"It feels like the AES is to torment us road users, not to educate us," said Ms Hayati Haris on Facebook.
In four states controlled by the opposition - Penang, Selangor, Kedah and Kelantan - leaders say they want to defer the system pending review.
The system is managed by Beta Tegap and ATES, local partners of traffic systems providers Redflex Traffic System of Australia and JenOptik Robot of Germany respectively.
Each company is expected to spend RM350million a year to maintain the system. They will take RM16 of the RM300 that motorists pay per summons.
"This commercialisation and privatisation of summonses is not in the public interest and done solely for the private profiteering of BN crony companies," said Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng in a statement yesterday.
Mr Chang Lih Kang, a senior leader in Parti Keadilan Rakyat, said in a statement yesterday that one of the AES contractors was tied to a senior Johor Umno politician.
Datuk Seri Kong Cho Ha, Minister for Transport, defended the project, saying that it has already reduced traffic violations by 60per cent in the areas implemented.
But with public dissatisfaction mounting, several Barisan Nasional leaders have also called for the project to be reviewed.
The controversy is erupting a few months after a cattle-farming scandal that forced Umno's top woman leader to resign from her ministerial post, and just as the Barisan Nasional heads into a crucial general election, which must be called by April28 next year.
Given the current political heat against the traffic camera project, the government may decide to hold off implementation. "Anything that can disturb the people's pocket will not be implemented too soon," said Dr James Chin, a political analyst at Malaysia's Monash University
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