KUALA LUMPUR: Abolishing the private sector monopoly on the issuance of licences to taxi drivers would not hurt Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak politically.
Umno leaders said Najib's statement resonates with thousands of taxi drivers who have waited long for such a move. Higher Education Deputy Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah said there had been plans to offer licences directly to taxi drivers "for a long time".
"There were many problems with the private sector offering licences," he said.
"The choice for the PM is very simple," Saifuddin said.
"He either listens to the grievances of taxi drivers, who number in the thousands, or the few owners of companies."
"This was supposed to have been done, a long time ago," said Kota Belud MP Abdul Rahman Dahlan.
"I do not agree that licences should be given to conglomerates who then provide them to taxi drivers."
He said the need for the private sector to issue licences to taxi drivers was obsolete.
"I understand why they (the government) wanted to give permits to companies because cabbies were not spending money to keep their taxis in good condition and they were rude to customers," he said.
"But now, public transport is better. We have better bus and train systems, so taxi drivers are fully aware they are not protected."
Abdul Rahman also quashed the possibility that such a decision would hurt Najib politically, as the government did not sign a deal with the private companies to issue licences indefinitely.
"These companies would have made money over the years and would have found ways to expand their businesses," he said.
"It (the monopoly) should not in any way influence the PM's decision on the livelihoods of taxi drivers," he added.
Wanita Umno deputy chief Datuk Kamalia Ibrahim lauded the move, saying it would result in more political favour than negative fervour.
"I know under the present realities of politics, Umno members are positive to change. No more feudal politics," she said in an SMS.
Former Home Affairs Minister and Land Public Transport Commission chairman Tan Sri Syed Hamid Albar said the end of the monopoly will provide an opportunity for taxi drivers who are still paying loans for their vehicles.
"They can start a new business so that they will not sell their licence," he said.