By Fathol Zaman Bukhari

ETS – Never Punctual

My wife had to reschedule her appointment at Tuanku Mizan Armed Forces Hospital in Wangsa Maju, Kuala Lumpur, as her lingering viral fever did not seem to subside. After much posturing she was on the Electric Train Service (ETS) train, departing Ipoh Railway station at 8.30am on Monday, July 22. She did not suspect anything untoward to happen as past journeys between Ipoh and Kuala Lumpur had been smooth and uneventful. But unbeknownst to her, her trouble was just about to begin.

Somewhere after Serendah, the train came to a halt to make way for an oncoming train heading up north. After a half-hour delay, the train continued only to stop once again in the middle of nowhere. Passengers were puzzled, as no announcements were forthcoming over the public address system. The train remained stationary on the tracks for almost an hour before it finally moved on. The reason for the delay, apparently, was due to ongoing clearance works caused by a cargo train derailment earlier.

Meanwhile, my son got in touch with his acquaintance, Mohd Rani Hashim, CEO of KTM to complain about the hitch. He requested that the train drop his mother at the Sungei Buloh station so our daughter-in-law could pick her up there. He mentioned about the lack of communication on the train. Mohd Rani apologised and things were set in motion, as requested.

All said and done, the poor woman finally disembarked at the said station and was driven to the hospital in Wangsa Maju, post haste. She reached her destination at 1.45pm. The reception, forewarned of the delay, got her to see the specialist much later than was expected.

Her medical appointment may just be a simple missed opportunity but what about those who have a connecting flight to catch or more pressing matters to attend to?

The problem is not something new as the much-vaunted ETS has several close calls in the past. I recall a friend who was stranded in his coach for over two hours in between Tapah and Batu Gajah without rhyme or reason. The stranded passengers were eventually transferred to Ipoh by buses. There was neither a refund nor a formal apology from the operator, Keretapi Tanah Melayu. Everyone went home with an unpleasant experience to relate to friends and loved ones.

Commuters who use the electric train service frequently have a story to tell, perhaps only me. I made a promise to myself ages ago that until KTM gets it act together I will not jump on a train anywhere in the country. If only those responsible for the management of our trains take a leaf from the Japanese or Australians, things would not have been what they are today.

Why I single out the Japanese and Australians? Well, I have been on their trains and the efficiency is simply superb, especially when it comes to scheduling and communication. Their trains arrive at their destinations on the dot and delays are counted by the seconds not hours like it is here. Passengers are never left in limbo, as every communicable message is transmitted either over the public address system or electronically. That is efficiency for you. That is what First World mentality is about. We, unfortunately, are forever stuck in the Third World mode.

 

Interns Improperly Employed

The employment of interns, in both public and private sectors, was hotly debated recently. Youth and Sports Minister, Syed Saddiq, in a press statement on Wednesday, July 14, argued that students, undergoing industrial training (internship) with the government, should be paid an allowance. The quantum will be decided, inter alia.

The same requirement will be extended to the private sector too. The impression most tend to accept as true is interns do virtually nothing while on industrial training in government agencies other than running errands, making coffee and photocopying documents. In short, they do not do what they are being trained to do.

Ipoh Echo is a favourite destination for students majoring in Journalism and the English Language from institutions such as Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR), Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) and Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM). We even received students from Sultan Idris Education University, Tanjong Malim, and lately from Universiti Putra Malaysia, Serdang.

They come with plenty of expectations wanting to put into practice what they have learned in their universities. The quality, I must admit, ranges from low to mediocre. There are the good ones but, frankly speaking, the bad far outstrips the good. Out of ten, only two make the grade.

When we first started we took as many as we could. The number varies each year depending on the availability of students. However, over the years we have gotten wise and have made selection a prerequisite.

It comes in the form of a simple written and oral test conducted during an interview. By doing so we managed to separate the wheat from the chaff, literally. Only the best is selected to undergo an internship for the designated period of time. This saves us the trouble of having to dismiss them mid-way through industrial training.

Yes, we pay them an allowance ranging in amount between RM300 and RM500. The question I, normally, pose is, why must employers pay when these students are undergoing training and the brief internship period is a continuation of their lecture room studies? Perhaps Minister Saddiq should take this into consideration before making his proposal a law.

The question as to whether the interns are being misemployed while on training is a matter of conjecture. They may be tasked to run errands, make coffee and spend a considerable amount of time at the Xerox machine to photocopy documents. This never happened in Ipoh Echo. Our interns are meaningfully employed. They do what the seasoned reporters do – chasing for news items on a daily basis. They are being supervised by a senior reporter and is answerable to the editor.

Perception has a way of influencing our thinking. The endless complaints about electric train service and how interns are being misemployed have much to do with perception. No one, in the right frame of mind, will say that our train service is on par with Japan Railways Group or V/Line in Victoria, Australia. We have been conditioned to think negatively due to a bad experience.