Frankly Speaking

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ANOTHER tragedy, still no remedy The bus tragedy last week near Genting Highlands that claimed the lives of 37 passengers — many of them foreigners — has again exposed the poor safety record of public transport services.

Reckless driving and poor maintenance of vehicles have often been identified as the main causes of such tragic accidents, yet not much improvement has been seen over the years in improving the safety of public transport.

The pictures of what is said to be the worst bus accident in the country, in which the driver was killed, are shocking indeed.

When such news is extensively reported, including in the foreign media, it will no doubt jolt the relevant authorities, which will then quickly offer remedies and preventive measures.

But consistent efforts are lacking in ensuring drivers of public vehicles maintain discipline on the roads and are well-rested before a trip, as well as making sure ageing buses and taxies are roadworthy, and if need be, replaced.

It is a sad commentary on the present state of affairs that passengers generally lack confidence in the drivers of, and the safety of public transport vehicles, which often exceed the speed limit, even on steep roads such as those to Genting or Cameron Highlands.

The responsibility will ultimately fall on the Land Public Transport Commission — the regulatory and licensing body —  and the Road Transport Department, to put pressure on public transport operators.

For a start, what kind of questions will they be asking Genting Highlands Transport Sdn Bhd (not part of the Genting group), the operator of the bus involved in the Genting crash?

Takeover not the solution

A recent suggestion by acting Transport Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein Onn, that the government is considering taking over the facilities set up by two private companies to implement the Automated Enforcement System (AES), is baffling.That's because the issue at hand is not the system, but the AES' financial model.

People generally don't like to pay fines, but if they have to, they would prefer that the entire sum goes to the government. That is one of the main reasons why the AES has not gone down well with the public and politicians from both sides of the divide.

Under AES' financial model, the two companies — Beta Tegap Sdn Bhd and ATES Sdn Bhd — install a system, connecting cameras to a command centre that they maintain, and furnish images of speeding vehicles to the Road Transport Department's enforcement team.

In return, the companies get a portion of the fines that are paid.

The AES concept is good, as it would deter speeding on the roads. The images captured by the cameras have been proven to be able to withstand scrutiny, in the event that disputes are taken to court.

However, to make it palatable to the public, the financial model has to be adjusted. That's because the present set-up is in essence simply a supply and maintenance contract. The two companies supply and maintain the cameras and vehicles for enforcement, as well as a 24-hour monitoring system.

So why must it be taken from them? Can the RTD, or any other department that takes over, be able to maintain the system, as well as the two companies?Wouldn't it be more logical for the ministry to negotiate with them and change the contract terms? In return, the two companies can get to maintain the system for the next five years.

Good timing

After months of speculation, LBS Bina Group Bhd finally declared a special dividend of six sen per share during the week of Aug 19-25, to reward its shareholders with the proceeds from asset sales in China.

The company announced that it would adopt a dual dividend policy for the next four years, with a special dividend of six sen per share on top of the usual 30% payout ratio.

LBS Bina will receive HK$1.35 billion (RM575 million) cash and a 16.8% equity stake in Hong Kong-listed Zhuhai Holdings Investment Group Ltd, from the divestment. The transaction had sparked speculation that LBS Bina would pay a special dividend.

In an announcement to Bursa Malaysia, the group said an initial sum of HK$500 million received would be used for working capital and debt repayment, and that the board has yet to decide on how it plans to use the remaining sum.

The top management, led by the controlling shareholder, the Lim family, had kept mum earlier when the press asked about the dividends.

The dual dividend policy is surely good news for shareholders. But the Lim family would have even more reason to smile as their investment vehicle, Intelrich Sdn Bhd, has over the months raised its shareholding to 50.1%, or 207 million shares, as at Aug 19, from 46%, or 190.39 million shares, in December last year. Meanwhile, LBS Bina managing director Datuk Lim Hock San has increased his direct stake in the company to 2.37%, from 1.6% at the end of last year.

So, is this a reminder that when the major shareholder starts buying a company's shares, it is time to play, "follow the leader"?

This story first appeared in The Edge weekly edition of Aug 26-Sept 1, 2013.