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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

HARESH SAYS: For the sake of badminton, let's move forward

As published in Malay Mail today.



Haresh Says
By Haresh Deol

THERE are claims of blurred lines and officials unsure who they report too. More importantly, they are unclear where badminton is heading.

The BA of Malaysia (BAM) is one of the strongest sports associations in the country but it is no stranger to internal ‘issues’.

Conversations with those within give a broad picture of how BAM is being run. There are the bitter few. There are also the diplomatic ones.

One thing for sure, badminton has remained stagnant for far too long. In the international arena, only Lee Chong Wei remains the crowd puller. But his future now lies in the hands of an international panel who will judge him on April 11.

He is fighting a doping scandal after testing positive for a banned substance — dexamethasone — at last year’s World Championship in Copenhagen.

The officials are frustrated and are willing to vent but on condition of anonymity.

“Many are taking potshots about individuals but no one is talking about badminton. We have remained stagnant for far too long and our standards are slowly but surely sliding,” said an observer.

“The meetings are draggy. The slide show presentations are impressive and everything looks nice on paper but sadly there is hardly any time to discuss pressing matters and policy issues,” said another insider.

So what exactly are their grouses?

For starters, officials are clueless of their roles. One man who readily admitted so was BAM vice president Teoh Teng Chor. The Kedah BA president is BAM’s “chief assessor”.

“I really don’t know,” were his first words when asked about his role.

“I attended one meeting. The president (Tengku Tan Sri Mahaleel Tengku Ariff) named me the chief assessor and that’s it. I’ve not attended any meetings as an assessor.

“With Morten Frost around, I believe there is no need for a chief assessor,” he said, referring to the Dane who was recently appointed technical director.

Another vice president, Datuk Sayed Abu Bakar Abdullah, was unable to provide the full name of his role.

“Some regional thing, that was what I was told verbally,” he said.

“Yes, I am unsure. So are the others. Badminton is not on the right track. The only way forward is to clear the air so everyone understands their roles better.”

“We must look at the grassroots. They are our future, even if it means waiting for 10 years,” he added.

Aren’t this matters addressed during meetings, I asked many others.

Their silence said it all.

An office bearer said many had given up voicing their views as they would be automatically shot down or seen as critics.

“If my views are not taken into consideration, then it is best to keep quiet,” he said.

“There are council members who are disgruntled. They are unhappy with the way things are being run. But they keep mum. Everyone is trying to be polite. But let’s wait after Lee’s hearing,” he added.

Two programmes — the Talent Management Group and Service Support Group — were introduced in 2013. The ‘new’ structure was a five-year strategic plan which saw the return of former internationals Tan Aik Mong and Razif Sidek to the national stable. They did not last.

Two years on, Malaysian badminton is at an all-time low. The string of resignations and the poor representation at the All-England championships earlier this month say it all. None of the younger talents are capable of filling the shoes of the seniors.

This is made even worse with claims of continued interference from the higher ups. Frost, a man who has decades of experience and was attached to BAM from 1997 to 2000, apparently received an email from a top official telling him how to do his job.

Perhaps there is no harm in giving pointers, as some politely said. I did not bother asking Frost about the ‘email’ and we instead chatted about his four years in Cape Town, South Africa over lunch earlier this week.

There is also the perception BAM deputy president Datuk Seri Norza Zakaria is the face of BAM. Norza addresses the press more than anyone.

“Let’s put it this way, different people have different characters. I believe Tengku Mahaleel is rather shy when dealing with the press,” said Perlis BA president Datuk Wan Nordin Che Murat, who is also BAM vice president.

Wan Nordin, who was with his Perlis BA exco members on Monday night, said leaders had their own style.

“It is good I am with my exco so they too can hear this conversation,” he said, clearly having trust issues with pressmen.

“Maybe the reporters are confused about the structure but for us it is clear.

If people have issues and claim to be disgruntled, then it is subjective.

“Perhaps some of the council members are so used to the previous way of doing things that they are not comfortable with slide presentations.”

Clearly, this is a case of ego preceding badminton — a group of officials who just cannot see eye to eye with their colleagues.

Badminton has enjoyed terrific funding. Earlier this month, BAM signed a six-year RM60 million sponsorship deal with Victor as its new equipment partner.  Banking giant Maybank is its other multi-million ringgit sponsor as is the Sports Ministry — through the National Sports Institute and the National Sports Council.

In sports, money will never be enough, as I said during a talk show on BFM last Wednesday. Investment is risky. Not all young talents will be stars and to mould another Chong Wei could take decades.

Sadly, one thing money cannot buy is humility. It is time for all parties to work together in the name of badminton.

Seeking the resignation of a leader would be an easy way out, but it will not solve the decline.

Leaders too ought to realise no man is an island.

Badminton is a national sport. You may turn your backs and walk away, but please do not leave the sport in the doldrums. It took years to build reputable shuttlers. Let’s not see such work go down the drain in the name of ego and personal sentiments.

HARESH is executive editor of Malay Mail. He can be reached at haresh@mmail.com.my or on Twitter @hareshdeol

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Should we include naturalised players in the national football team?

Here are two views about the subject. One is by veteran sports journalist Tony Mariadass while the other is by Malay Mail sports editor Graig Nunis. What are your views?

Search in our own backyard

By Tony Mariadass
(March 23, 2015)

IT is unimaginable national football coach Dollah Salleh — having come from an era of talented home grown players — is keen on naturalised players. 

During Dollah’s time, he had Johor teammates such as goalkeepers Salleh Noor and Hassan Miskam and midfielders Khalid Shahdan, Nasir Yusof and Sazali Naseer alongside him in the national team. He also had for company players like Zainal Abidin Hassan, Salim Mahmud, Serbegeth Singh, K. Gunalan, See Kim Seng, Chow Siew Yai, Lee Kin Hong, S. Silvarajoo, K. Ravichandran, Ahmad Yusof, Azizol Abu Haniffah, S. Balachandran, A. Anbalagan, P. Somasundram and P. Ravindran to name a few. 

For him to say the current players do not have the right mentality, are not matured, lack physique and do not play quality football only goes to show state FAs and their coaches have failed to groom quality players. Malaysian football did not go bad overnight. It is a culmination of many factors starting with the neglect of development. It is a surprise FA of Malaysia (FAM) has not hauled up Dollah for his statement which tantamounts to saying Malaysia lack talent. 

Previous national coaches, B.  Satiananthan and Datuk K. Rajagopal, were subject to scrutiny for suggesting Malaysian football has deteriorated or does not have good strikers. One of the main reasons for our decline is the influx of foreign players in the M-league. The first 10 years since their arrival in 1989 saw the standard of the national team take a nose-dive. 

The 1989 SEA Games gold medal in Kuala Lumpur was the last major success until the 2010 AFF Cup victory. The closest Malaysia came to winning a title that time was in 1996 when they finished runners-up to Thailand in the Tiger Cup in Singapore. The best showing was when the Under-23 team emerged as champions in the Under-23 Independence Cup in Bangladesh in 1997. Only when there was a freeze on foreign players did the national team show progress and win regional tournaments.

Now the foreigners are back with an increase to four this year. The rot is going to set in further. How are the local lads going to get their exposure and prove their worth to Dollah? We scream we do not have strikers but this is because the top strikers in the League are all foreigners. Now we have the National Football Development Programme (NFDP) in place and instead of working to make it a success, everyone wants a shortcut. To find talented players to be naturalised is going to be a big task because the better players would already be playing for their respective countries.

Are we going to settle for second best or rely on club-level players to wear our national colours? Dollah explained it was easier to naturalise a foreign player with Malaysian roots. Are there many Malaysians residing overseas?  We are unlike the Filipinos, Chinese or Vietnamese, who have immigrated to all corners of the world. Even if we have Malaysians with foreign roots, what are the chances they are good footballers? Dollah will have more success finding calibre players if he would only take the trouble to comb Sabah, Sarawak, Kelantan, Pahang and even Selangor who are huge states with many remote districts yet to be explored. 

Where are the scouts who are supposed to be on the lookout for young talented players? As long as we continue to rely on chance for players to drop in on our doorsteps, we are going to face a dearth of talented players. Malaysia is a multi-racial country, in fact an international nation, where we can find players from different ethnic groups with their own special qualities. 

If we can only combine players from all these ethnic groups, we will not only have a truly Malaysian team, but an “international” team. We just need to be open about our selection system and fair when picking the final team. 

So Dollah, start looking at every nook and cranny in Malaysia, engage state coaches, even ex-internationals to be your eyes and ears and cast their nets wide and far in the respective states. Dollah, you were a great player and your legacy lives on. 

Now leave behind a legacy as a coach by developing new local heroes! 

----------



It’s not black or white

By Graig Nunis
(March 24, 2015)

THE first thoughts that came to mind upon hearing Black or White Prison was … what the hell? A Michael Jackson-Johnny Cash mash up? How could they ruin the great man's memory?

Jackson may have been the so-called King of Pop but he also stole all his signature dance moves from older stars such as Fred Astaire, James Brown and especially Bob Fosse.

Fosse, a renowned dancer, choreographer, actor and director (he won the Oscar for directing Liza Minnelli in 1972’s Cabaret) was a success on Broadway and Hollywood but not being a mainstream star, flew under the radar.

He was also follically-challenged from young and took to wearing hats to hide his receding hairline and gloves as he didn’t like the way his hands looked. He then incorporated the hats and gloves into his choreography – which Jackson later copied (you can view their similarities on YouTube: youtu.be/w-qUMzMVzdw).

This doesn’t make Jackson any less talented. He was the one who could mimic several of his predecessors’ dance moves and package them into an act which included several decent songs.

Cash also “borrowed” – to use a polite term – heavily from 1953’s Crescent City Blues when he “wrote” Folsom Prison Blues two years later.

It was to be one of Cash’s biggest hits and from that initial “help” he would go on to become one of the greatest singer-songwriters the world has known.

Music fans also know how often songs and tunes are “rearranged” or sampled for a new act while rocks fans went ga-ga over Deep Purple’s Smoke on the water, especially its opening chords – which were stolen from Astrud Gilberto’s Maria Quiet

This goes to show that no matter how big or popular you are, you can always use some help.

It is the same in sports. Sometimes we need help a little outside help to move up.

Japan who are among the best footballing nations in Asia, had assistance from naturalised players like Wagner Lopes, Daishiro Yoshimura, George Yonashiro, Ruy Ramos and Alex (Alessandro Santos) to spark their revolution in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Perhaps they would have eventually reached their current standards without the quintet – they had a solid development programme in place and the conviction to stick to their guns (Malaysia after all, tried to copy their blueprint) – but we won’t know now.

Three days ago, former world champions Italy included two naturalised players – Argentine Franco Vazquez and Brazilian Martins Eders – in their 26-man squad to face Bulgaria in a Euro 2016 qualifier in Sofia on Saturday and a friendly against England three days later.

The Italians have a history of using naturalised players with the inclusion of oriundi or South Americans with Italian stock in their 1934 World Cup winning squad.

Spain World Cup winners in 2010 opted for a Brazilian-born striker in Diego Costa for last year’s tournament (although the move failed as they went home after the group stage).

France and Holland have long utilised their ties with their migrant community and even ransacked their colonial lands for talented players.

Germany who swept all before them in Brazil had Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose who were born in Poland but moved to Germany at a young age in their squad while a decade earlier they had the likes of Fredi Bobic (Slovenia), Paolo Rink (Brazil), Sean Dundee (South Africa) and Kevin Kuranyi (Brazil) among a handful of naturalised players in their line-ups.

It took Germany 10 years to rise again and they did by embracing change.

As Joachim Loew said after the World Cup final: “After 2000 and 2004, we were pretty much down as a nation. Sticking with our traditional German virtues was no longer enough – because all countries had them. We had to invest more in education and develop players to make them technically better.

“Unless we changed, we would not go forward. We had to become better on the pitch. We created Centres of Excellence. They brought the results we have seen and we are grateful to the clubs who did that.”

Which brings us to Malaysia.

When Dollah Salleh suggested last week he was opened to naturalise players there was a lot of hue and cry – mostly from old-timers who had served the country well.

No disrespect to them but times have changed and is it any wonder those who were for the idea were the ones currently plying their trade in the M-League.

Having naturalised players could help Malaysia in the short-term but only if the right players – not any Tomaz, Dickson or Hari – were chosen.

Preferably said players should have some sort of connection to Malaysia like Junior Eldstal and Brendan Gan.

If not, we have to weigh the options before opting to naturalise a player.

What we should not do is follow Qatar and buy foreign talent.

As mentioned, this is a short-term solution until the National Football Development Programme (NFDP) bears fruits (hopefully).

It took Germany 10 years to complete their Phoenix-like rise and it would take just as long for NFDP to start churning out the stars of tomorrow. 

In the meantime, if the giants of the game can swallow their pride and accept naturalised players, why can’t Malaysia?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

RoS probes MAB following complaints

As published in Sunday Mail today


By Vanessa Ee-Lyn Gomes 
PETALING JAYA – The Registrar of Societies (RoS) has launched an investigation into the Malaysian Association for the Blind (MAB) following complaints from its members. 
 
RoS director-general Mohamad Razin Abdullah would not disclose the specifics but said they were made one to two weeks ago. 
 
He said the investigations, which had just commenced, could take from a few weeks to a maximum of six months depending on the severity of the issues. 
 
“We would need to take statements from witnesses, check the accounts of the association as well as other documentation. All this will be done in accordance with the Societies Act 1966 as well as the association’s constitution,” he said.
 
Based on the findings, he said the appropriate action would be taken.
 
“If there is a abuse or misconduct, we will refer to their annual report, which is supposed to be submitted to RoS annually.
 
“Matters such as how they conducted their annual general meeting as well as their financial reports, which are supposed to be in the annual report, will be looked into. If we find something does not add up, then we will audit their accounts.
 
“But first and foremost, any complaints received that is related to the Societies Act and the association’s constitution will be done and investigated before anything else.”
 
On Wednesday, about 100 people from the visually impaired community held a protest at MAB’s office in Brickfields. They had demanded the resignation of four of its top officials — its president Tan Sri Tengku Azlan Abu Bakar, deputy president Prof Datuk Dr Veera Ramani, vice president Datuk S. Kulasegaran and chief executive officer Datuk S. Ganesan. 
 
The group also wanted to know the status of Taman Harapan in Temerloh and the privatisation of Tun Hussein Onn National Eye Hospital. 
 
Several MAB council members also sit on the hospital’s board. According to the hospital website, Dr Veera is the hospital director and consultant ophthalmologist. 
 
Malay Mail had reported last November that the hospital administrator had entered two cross-merchandising agreements with two companies without the approval of the hospital board. It was revealed that the hospital had to spend close to RM20.5 million in buying products from the companies over four to five years.
 
The problems in MAB was also highlighted in Parliament by Masjid Tanah MP Datuk Mas Ermieyati Samsudin. 
She asked what Deputy Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Azizah Mohd Dun was doing to monitor the situation and how the protest could have happened. 
 
Azizah said monitoring was done through MAB’s reports, which is requested by the ministry before any allocations for subsequent years are approved.
 
“We will ask them and also report on their audited accounts so before we approve any new provisions to them, they must conform to the conditions we have imposed on the grant application,” she said.
 
“Now that we have information on the issue, we will monitor what happens and I urge if there are any other information similar to this to be conveyed to the Social Welfare Department in the respective regions and constituencies.”

Saturday, March 21, 2015

BEING FRANK: Things can only get bitter

Being Frank by Frankie D'Cruz, as published in Malay Mail today.



AIMING for goal, the Land Public Transport Commission has hit the crossbar. The sudden and sharp increase in public transport fares is so out of touch, it’s untrue about the impact of government austerity measures on consumers.

In probably the most depressing story of the week, the commission (SPAD) unleashed a triple whammy on the same day by sanctioning steep increases in budget taxi, express bus and commuter train fares.

One thing’s for sure: The people get overrun and this sort of price hike frenzy will help no one.

In what other society would such wide scale failure be tolerated? Failure - because Malaysian policy makers seem to have lost touch with the man on the street.

Consider the whole issue that is becoming increasingly radioactive: The fare increases come before and after the implementation of the poorly explained goods and services tax (GST) on April 1.

It wasn’t sensible of SPAD to announce the sharp hikes at a time when consumers were grappling with the promise of the moon on a stick with regard to the confusing GST.

Clearly, the increases represent a regulatory failure by SPAD to review fares every two years at least with focus on small and manageable increments.

Why did they ignore a gradual increase to balance consumer and business interests? Why are they now scaring off the public instead of promoting public transport?

Why haven’t the various problems raised by taxi passengers, including haggling over the fare and unmetered rides been sternly addressed by SPAD? Could such deceit by the cabbies be due to the hopeless economic incentives provided by the existing fare structure?

Did they consider the timing and scale of fare increases would cause people to shy away from public transport and instead opt for alternative services such as Uber?

To be sure, this is a mission failure for SPAD that has shown no fairness as a regulatory agency and ignored those whom public transport providers depend on.

This is a gold-star grievance that entitles consumers to full victimhood status, given the expose by Malay Mail today on unscrupulous businesses cashing in on GST – a contemptuous behaviour that is too ingrained and cannot be altered overnight.

Dealing with such profiteering arrogance would be a daily aggravation for consumers without whom businesses are nothing.

I could fill this column every week with stories of vindictive taxi drivers, insane bus drivers, crippling price increases, rogue businesses and grasping bureaucrats who appear to take a perverse pleasure in persecuting the very people they are paid to serve.

But then, we know it’s all about collective brain freeze. The harsh reality is plain: You and I are going down. The scope of the problem is overwhelming and diffused across a wide and densely crowded area.

When we dismiss their logic as idiotic, we are treated like children caught in a lie, grilled on every minor point of our argument and deemed hecklers.

Listen: You have sucked our financial oxygen out of the air and stuck a dagger into our hearts. I say: “Come, walk in our shoes.”

Frankie is editor emeritus of Malay Mail. He can be reached at frankie@mmail.com.my or on Twitter @dcruzfrankie

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Blind community protests against MAB

As published in Malay Mail today.



By Priya Kulasagaran
mmnews@mmail.com.my

KUALA LUMPUR — Shouts of “Selamatkan MAB” (Save MAB) were heard at the Malaysian Association for the Blind (MAB) office at Brickfields yesterday as about 100 people from the visually impaired community gathered to voice their grouses against the association.

Calling themselves Solidariti Orang Buta Untuk Selamatkan MAB, the group demanded four MAB top officials — its president Tan Sri Tengku Azlan Sultan Abu Bakar, deputy president Prof Datuk Dr Veera Ramani, vice-president Datuk S. Kulasegaran and chief executive officer Datuk S. Ganesan — to step down as they called for transparency and better representation within the body.

None of the MAB council members were seen at the rally.

Group leader Hasidi Hassan said MAB was “straying from its roots”. Hasidi, who is also MAB vice-president, said the group wanted to know the status of Taman Harapan in Temerloh and the privatisation of Tun Hussein Onn National Eye Hospital. They also took issue with Ganesan’s pay and perks and claimed a building he owned in Rawang was rented out to MAB at a higher market price. They also want better services and support for the visually impaired in terms of training and rehabilitation.

“They (MAB) seem more interested in making money than looking after the community. Only 10 per cent of the association’s members are visually impaired and we recently learnt approval of applications by the blind to be part of MAB has been frozen,” he said.

He said the group would wait for MAB to address its demands before lodging a complaint with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission.

Visually impaired MAB member Siti Khadijah Abu Bakar said members were clueless over alleged irregularities within the eye hospital.

“I tried tabling a motion about this at the MAB council meeting last November but we have not received a proper answer.

“Instead, there was an internal investigation by MAB members. How is this fair?

“We may be blind, but we are not stupid. We just want a transparent explanation,” she said.

Several MAB council members also sit on the hospital’s board. According to the hospital website, Dr Veera is the hospital director and consultant ophthalmologist.

Malay Mail, had in its front page article “Blinded hospital stumbles over questionable deals” last Nov 22, exposed the hospital administrator had entered two cross-merchandising agreements with Alcon Laboratories (M) Sdn Bhd and Carl Zeiss Sdn Bhd without the knowledge or the approval of the hospital board. The report also revealed the eye hospital was bound to spend close to RM20.5 million in buying products from the two companies over four to five years in return for six machines and software provided by the companies.

On Jan 12, a five-member committee instructed a leading administrator of the hospital to relinquish the post while another official was re-designated to another department.

Kulasegaran headed the committee while the others were his brother MAB treasurer Santhirasegaran, retired judge Datuk Syed Ahmad Idid Syed Abdullah Idid, MAB council member Datin Yun Mustafa @ Yun Lee Abdullah and Ganesan.

Ganesan, however, said the allegations by the group were “baseless and untrue”.

“I’m really upset by this. We have been trying our best to serve the visually impaired but this (act) is derailing us.

“We only get around RM350,000 annually from the government, everything else is funds from donors amounting to about RM700,000 a year.

“We have to raise money to fund our programmes for the blind.”

He said the issue regarding the eye hospital was not discussed at the MAB board meeting because it involved another entity.

Ganesan said MAB was preparing documents to counter the allegations.

“We will make them public in a week or two,” he said.

Thank you - once again

I am truly humbled. Thank you.

As published in Malay Mail today.




PETALING JAYA — Malay Mail added another feather to its cap when executive editor Haresh Deol won the Best Commentary award at the Sportswriters Association of Malaysia (SAM)-100PLUS Awards at PJ Hilton yesterday.

Haresh’s commentary on former world No. 1 shuttler Datuk Lee Chong Wei’s doping saga “Is this the end of Lee Chong Wei?” published on Nov 12 last year won the hearts of the juries. He took home RM3,000 and a trophy.

Lee’s hearing has been scheduled for April 11.

This is Haresh’s fourth SAM award. Haresh, who started as a sports journalist with Malay Mail 15 years ago, won the 2011 Best Special Report award and was named Sportswriter of the Year. He also won the SAM Best Report award for 2012.

Together with roving news editor Pearl Lee, they won the Malaysian Press Institute-Petronas Best News Report Award last year.

Malay Mail sports journalist Vijhay Vick was nominated for two awards — Best Commentary (“Wake up, FAM”; Dec 21) and Special Report (“Ball at your feet, FAM”; Nov 1).
Former Malay Mail journalist Rizal Hashim was named 2014 Sportswriter of the Year. He received RM7,000.

Rizal, who is digital magazine Arena editor, won the main prize for his piece “Skuad Aristokrat” which focused on Pahang’s football history and its successes last season. He also won the Special Report award for the article and picked up RM3,000.

Squash queen Datuk Nicol David was named SAM’s Athlete of the Year for winning her eighth world title and leading the women’s squash team to a historic second place at the World Championships.

SAM ROLL OF HONOUR

Best Report (print):
Ikhsan Firdaus (Kosmo) — Sukar mencari penganti Lee Chong Wei
Best Report (electronic):
Hasnida Hanim Ahmad Kamil and Suhaili Sulaiman (TV3) —Protest Wartawan di Incheon
Best Commentary (print):
Haresh Deol (Malay Mail) — Is this the end of Chong Wei?
Best Commentary (electronic):
Ku Mohd Lufti Ku Yahya and Japeridin Sampol (RTM) — Melayang di udara
Special Report:
Rizal Hashim (Arena Digital) — Skuad Aristokrat
Best Photo:
Hizami Roslan (Asiana.my)
Sportswriter of the Year:
Rizal Hashim (Arena Digital) — Skuad Aristokrat
Best Athlete:
Nicol David (squash)
Best Young Athlete:
Muizzuddin Abdul Ghafar (Go-kart)

ENDS

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

HARESH SAYS: Cabbies are the nation’s ambassadors

Haresh Says, as published in Malay Mail today.
 
HARESH SAYS
by Haresh Deol

THE subject of taxis always hits a soft spot.
 
I am after all a taxi driver’s son. Although dad, whom I fondly referred to as papa-ji, did some real estate in the past, I’ve always preferred introducing him as a well-read taxi man.
 
With either a Reader’s Digest, Time magazine or a Malay Mail on the dashboard, he read whenever he had the chance. And it is through his fascination with reading that he was able to interact with people from all walks of life — from students to businessmen — easily. 
 
He was an individual permit holder and owned a black and yellow Nissan Sunny 130Y for more than a decade before changing to a red and white Ford Laser followed by his last taxi, a red and white Proton Iswara.
 
He would leave the house at 6.45am — the same time he sent me to school — and would often return just before midnight. He made sure he ate lunch at home. That’s an hour’s worth of quality time, if I made it back from school in time.
 
Taxi fares weren’t much back then. But  so were the prices of goods. To put it into context, we survived. Ordering pizza was a luxury, usually restricted when there was something to celebrate, but otherwise both he and mum would save enough to spend weekends together or we had enough to enjoy a short vacation to Taiping.
 
One thing about dad, he was a stickler when it came to cleanliness. Having spent a good number of years in the military, discipline was important. He ensured the bedsheets were neatly spread and that shirts were pressed without a single crease.
 
Yes, his cars were squeaky clean. Not a single speck of dirt. Everything was in working order. If it wasn’t, he would get it fixed immediately. That was his obsession. If he was still around to see how I have maintained my vehicles, he would surely slap me on the head.
 
But not everyone is like dad.
 
I got onto a cab from KL Sentral last week. My destination: Redberry City in Petaling Jaya. Based on the coupon system, I was to pay RM16 for a 15-minute drive. But it assured me of a cab.
Once you get your coupon, it is pretty much free for all. You head out to the main entrance and just board any of the waiting cabs there. No one is really monitoring. As long as you have a ticket, you’re good to go.
 
I saw a vacant cab and quickly got into it. An elderly man sat in the driver’s seat. Based on his details displayed on the dashboard just above the glove compartment, he was two years older than dad.
 
“Born in 1947, but only started driving taxi a few years ago,” said the driver, Pakcik Ali.
 
“Before this I was doing some stuff here and there,” he said, without wanting to get into details.
 
I respected the fact he did not want to dwell into his past.
 
“So how’s the taxi business?” I asked. That is a common question I ask each time I sit in any cab. It’s my way of catching up with the industry.
 
“Boleh lah,” he said. “But it will be better if the authorities raised taxi fares.”
I raised my eyebrows. This coming from a man who couldn’t even maintain his cab properly. The car was rattling as worn-out stickers decorated most of the vehicle’s interior. Thankfully, the car’s air-conditioning was in working order. It would have been a sauna given the 39°C afternoon heat.
 
“So what if the taxi’s air-conditioning unit is not working? As long as you reach your destination safely right?” he asked, seeking my approval.
 
I just smiled.
 
He was baffled why many tend to jump if taxi drivers demand higher fares when mostly tourists use their services. 
 
“How often do you take a cab? I bet it’s not everyday or every month, right? At least you office people get pay increments and bonuses. What about us? Everything else goes up but for the fares.
 
“Tyres, parts ... they are not cheap anymore. And with the Goods and Services Tax (GST) starting on April 1, we will be paying more to maintain our vehicles.”
 
Perhaps Pakcik Ali has a point.
 
Everyone seems to be using GST as an excuse to raise the prices of goods. 
 
And the authorities are now listening to the pleas of the drivers as they are set to announce new taxi rates as highlighted by Malay Mail yesterday. It will be a 40 per cent increase for budget taxis in the Klang Valley, Johor Baru and Penang.  
 
But the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) must ensure that passengers get every sen’s worth. They must come down hard on rogue taxi drivers, those who refuse passengers and can’t seem to keep their cars clean or properly maintained.
 
They must make sure taxi drivers are dressed smartly, in their white shirts and dark pants. Some of them hang their white shirts in the car, only to wear them if they see a SPAD officer on his rounds.
The last time taxi fares were revised was in 2009. Most may question the timing, but the taxi drivers are happy. Those calibrating the meters, however, will be laughing the most as they would make a quick killing thanks to the new fare structure.
 
We must not forget that taxi drivers are the nation’s ambassadors. They have plenty to tell. They must be well-read and well-informed.
 
Taxi drivers must realise their importance on our roads, and they should not take their drebar (driver) duties lightly.

HARESH is executive editor of Malay Mail. He can be reached at haresh@mmail.com.my or on Twitter @HareshDeol