Oh, what a tangled web we weave …


THE recent debacle surrounding the WWW car registration numbers illustrate that we Malaysians, certainly more than many others that I know of, are quite fascinated, nay obsessed, with numbers.

Indeed, this became terribly obvious to me many, many years ago, when I initially returned home from my studies.

I was driving up the North-South Highway with friends one day when we encountered a massive traffic jam.

As we crawled towards the cause of the jam, a horrific lorry-car accident that left the car horribly mangled and blood on the highway, I noticed motorist after motorist slowing down, not to provide assistance, mind you, but, according to my friends, to get the registration number of the mangled car.

“They are noting down the car number,” said my friend, “so that they can use them for betting at Sports Toto or Magnum.”

Since then, I’ve realised the things many Malaysians will resort to in order to get ‘lucky’ and even purportedly prestigious numbers.

In relation to the recent WWW fiasco, I would, of course, be walking on eggshells if I were to mention anything, cryptic or otherwise, about the purchase of WWW1 for about half a million ringgit.

So I’ll just let that go.

After all, by all accounts, that was a straightforward transaction between a willing seller and a willing bidder who so happens to have the personal wealth to pay for the purchase.

And I’m sure the proceeds from that sale will help the Road Transport Department (JPJ) substantially in the upkeep of our roads.

But I think, for many of us, it’s the winning bid for the number WWW15 that initially raised a few eyebrows.

And, after confusing ‘explanations’ by the parties concerned, it has now resulted in more than eyebrows being raised.

Lest you’ve not been following this quite unfunny sequence of events, it transpired that the winning bid for WWW15, a cool RM24,200, had been put in by the Minister of Health.

Pertinent questions have been raised – such as why the need for an expensive, ‘special’ number plate for an official car, and whose purse the 24k plus is going to come out from, the minister’s or the ministry’s?

In response, for awhile it seemed the honourable minister was cagey with his answers, reportedly stating that he did not know the cost and had left the matter in the hands of his officer.

Now we are being told, by JPJ no less, that, based on a cabinet decision in 2004, government ministers are entitled to a free number plate of their choice.

Assuming that this is true – and we have no reason to assume otherwise – why then did the minister have to make a bid for the number in the first place? A bid of RM24,200, let us not forget.

Surely, all the minister (or his officer) had to do was to inform JPJ of his preferred number, given his entitlement, without having to make a bid?

But he didn’t. He actually made a bid, even according to the statement given by JPJ.

And JPJ now goes even further, with its director-general stating that the minister has three options – “accept the offer for free which is in line with his official status, pay the bidding price, or reject the number plate.”

And this statement certainly has set the cat among the pigeons, with comment after critical comment being posted on the Internet, especially on the main web-based news sites. Virtually all of these comments have concluded that only an idiot would pick any of the latter two options.

Indeed, as one reader/commentator named Ong, puts it: “If ministers are entitled to get the number plate of their choice for free, why the need to submit a bid? Presumably JPJ knows and understands that to make a bid means to offer a certain price. Why would any minister bid for a number plate and then reject it when there is no need to pay any fee?”

Why indeed. Yet another favourite question that has been raised is why are ministers entitled to free number plates of their choice while the Sultans apparently have to put in a bid?

Indeed, what would have happened if this or any other minister had expressed interest in the WWW1 plate? Would their ‘entitlement’ override the bid of the Sultan concerned?

It looks as though it’ll take a little bit more of explaining by the parties concerned before the dust finally settles on this latest controversy.

In the meantime, apart from getting back to carrying out his duties at the Ministry of Health, it might do the minister and the JPJ some good if they got their act together and learned to speak with one voice.

Minus the forked tongues, of course.