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Malaysian works department accused of double standards after swift action following minister's pothole mishap

KUALA LUMPUR – Malaysia’s Public Works Department (PWD) is facing an online backlash for alleged double standards following its response to a pothole accident involving a Malaysian Cabinet minister on Sunday (Dec 27).

Hours after Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin shared on Twitter how he fell after encountering an uneven patch of road while riding his bicycle in Banting, Selangor, the federal agency swiftly apologised to Mr Khairy on Twitter.

The department fixed the patch of road within 24 hours of the accident.

But the PWD’s response, for many, stood in stark contrast to the department and the local authorities’ response to the country’s poor road quality, an issue that has plagued regular Malaysians for years.

Various Malaysians started sharing ordeals of individuals who had met with far more serious accidents involving potholes in the past.

In a Facebook post, Parti Sosialis Malaysia leader S. Arutchelvan recounted how a security guard named Nadarajan, had to fight for his life after a motorbike accident caused by a pothole in Kajang, a major Klang Valley suburb in 2014. The long recovery period after he regained consciousness ultimately cost him his job.

Mr Arutchelvan said that Mr Nadarajan failed to receive any compensation from Malaysia’s social security organisation after multiple appeals, including one to the Malaysian High Court.

“Till today, nobody apologised,” he wrote.

Serious accidents and deaths due to potholes and road defects have been reported multiple times in Malaysia.

On Nov 6, a Malaysian Air Force officer rode his motorbike into a pothole filled with rainwater in the capital Kuala Lumpur. The 28-year-old died after losing control of his bike and falling onto the path of an oncoming lorry.

A study published in 2014 tabulating the cause of road deaths in Malaysia said that 11.25 per cent of all road deaths in the country were caused by road defects. Potholes account for about 11 per cent of road defect-related deaths in the country.

For the past 11 years, a group of Malaysians, especially motorbike riders, have been self-organising a group called Ikatan Sillaturahim Brotherhood, who patch up road defects at night at their own expense. Many of the group’s founders were riders who had lost friends and family to road defects left unattended by local authorities.

In June this year, a member of the Brotherhood in Klang, Selangor, attracted attention after placing a tombstone in a big pothole in a bid to get the authorities to finally act. Within 12 hours, the pothole was fixed.

Mr Khairy himself had asked the PWD not to pay attention to the pothole issue only because the incident involved a minister.

PWD director-general Mohamad Zulkefly Sulaiman on Tuesday said that it was taking netizens’ comments regarding the department’s responsiveness “seriously”.

“Any suggestion or criticism that is constructive. God willing, we will receive them with an open heart,” Datuk Mohamad Zulkelfy said, while also listing 11 channels that the public can use to register complaints with the department.

The pothole incident came days after the government was again criticised for double standards in enforcing coronavirus regulation enforcement.

A glove factory in Klang was issued a RM1,000 (S$330) fine after a Christmas Eve raid by the authorities found that it was not complying with multiple Covid-19 regulations, including poor living conditions for its workers.

Petaling Jaya lawmaker Maria Chin Abdullah branded the fine as a “slap on the wrist” – pointing to the case where a 72-year-old woman was previously jailed for a day and fined RM8,000 for breaking a home quarantine order.

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