MALAYSIANS, like most Asians, have a fascination for exclusive number plates, either for "lucky" or "fancy" numbers and also for the fact that personalised number plates is still a pipe-dream.
So, its no surprise that many spend thousands, even millions of ringgits, for what they consider a special number. For example, the BMW series from Selangor, which is also the name of a popular German marque.
The Road Transport Department (RTD) recently revealed the names of successful bidders but blanked out five who were just listed as members of the government administration and with no winning bids disclosed.
But RTD director-general Datuk Ismail Ahmad denied the department had given five exclusive car registration number plates for free, saying it was to protect the VIPs from negative perception.
Why the double standards? Why were others named, with a newspaper report pointing out than a crime watch activist had splurged RM340,000 for two BMW numbers.
But not the VIPs, whom the RTD director-general revealed comprised Cabinet ministers, judges and members of the royalty.
“This is what we have practised. It is not about transparency. It is our SOP and we have no bad intention in keeping this information a secret.
"We want to avoid speculation and doubts. As long as one has the money and used the proper channel to get the numbers, they can have it, whoever they are,” said Ismail.
Why is it Ismail's job to dispel speculation or doubts for those who bid for these numbers? Shouldn't it be those concerned to explain, if necessary, their wealth and fortune that allows them to buy the registration plates BMW 1, BMW 2, BMW 7, BMW 9 and BMW 10.
If anything, Ismail is fuelling further doubt to the identity and origin of wealth of these VIPs who enjoy privacy denied to others. And how much money did the RTD get from the five numbers sold to these anonymous bidders?
Malaysia must not be a country of double standards and Ismail or any other civil servant cannot use such excuses to protect those who deal with the government.
This is a government that promises transparency and good governance, so anything less than that raises more speculation and doubts. Especially when others were named as successful bidders and their names revealed.
There must be one standard for all. As it is, does the government allow these members of the administration to keep their free registration plates after they retired? Why? Isn't that a loss of revenue?
Revenue is all the more important at a time when Putrajaya is talking about cutting costs by rationalising subsidies so that it can take care of the bottom 40% of the population.
Ismail has to do his duty to Malaysia by revealing who won the bids for these numbers and how much was collected. Anything less than that will not dispel doubts about winning bidders but raise even more speculation.
A government must not only be clean but seen to be clean. Why is there a need to hide these bidders and the sums they paid while others are exposed?
After all, this country is not like George Orwell's Animal Farm, where “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
This is Malaysia, we are all equal. Ismail can reinforce that by revealing all bidders of any vehicle registration numbers sold by the department. There is no good reason to do otherwise.