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MGG: Smart Cards to Make Life Difficult For All
By M.G.G. Pillai

28/9/2001 5:54 am Fri

Those who thought that having a Touch 'nGo card would make using the privatised highways painless and carefree paid about RM200 to have it. With a credit card or an authorisation to their bank, they would never have to queue to topup their cards, it would be increased automatically when it fell below a cut-off point. They could go through the special lanes at toll booths, and not have to stop and personally top up the limit every time it dries. The convenience made several hundred thousand sign up. This is called, not surprisingly, "Auto Reload". But it is important in Bolehland that one should not be too successful. The highly computerised company at the cutting edge of technology finds this all a terrible administrative problem. It cannot cope with its success. So, it must shut Auto Reload down.

Touch nGo writes a letter to all holders of the card on 1 September 2001 to admit it is damned by its success and by extension, even if it does not spell it out so starkly, its own gross incompetence, that Auto Reload is suspended from 1 October 2001. Another reason it does not mention: the idea that the normal Malaysian can get a serve without hassle is too galling for a privatised entity to take that it must ensure he is inconvenienced as much as he possible could. There are so many ways out of this simple problem: Let the driver use the card for whatever distance for the balance in his card but tell him he cannot use it again without topping up. But that means providing a service. Touch 'nGo is not about to do that.

Why is Auto Reload suspended? Surinder Grewal, the Chief Operating Officer of Touch nGo, says in the circular: "Over the years, you may be aware of some problems with the Auto Reload facility ... However with the tremendous growth of the Auto Reload facility card base and the high volume of auto reloads daily, we find that we are unable to efficiently handle the process of debiting your account with your Financial Institution. Therefore we have no choice but to diable the Auto Reload facility effective 1 October 2001."

In other words, the convenience for which many motorists paid the huge unrefundable money upfront (a conservative estimate is about RM60 million) is taken away without by your leave. Mind you, "your card can still be used to pay for your toll, LRT, bus and parking fares after the above date. The ONLY difference is that you have to "top-up" your balance manually at any sales/reload counter ith cash." And if you don't accept this change, you lose the RM200 you paid up front. Touch 'nGo is not about to return you that money. The convenience you thought Touch 'nGo provides is taken away and you now have to queue at toll booths if you forget to "top up" in its few selected places or you live too far from them. So, if your card runs out of cash at the booth, you have to park your car at the area where no place for parking is provided, queue up and laboriously have it upgraded manually. The advantage you gained in having the card is taken away and if you are rushing to a meeting, well, Touch 'nGo does not care. The price of progress in Bolehland after all is pressures like these.

This is one low-level example for the mess we now face in this unthinking rush into electronic cards to control our lives. We all know of the smart schools. The minister's wife had the contract, she could not deliver it on time, the minister moved to another, the new minister had no interest in it, and the scheme collapsed spectacularly. This lurch into an electronic world is done fitfully, more for the money the cronies, courtiers and siblings would make than for the practical use it can be put to. So, the de facto minister for law tells us the RM20 million computerisation of the courts is dead because the consultant did not what it entailed. We have an inbuilt desire to make sure projects fail be appointing thoroughly unqualified fellows and companies to do it.

Computerisation in Bolehland is for some people to make money, not to ensure that what is promised is delivered. The latest computerisation fiasco -- and I can promise it even before it starts -- is this first-in-the-world smart card the government wants to make all Malaysians to have: it would contain the person's life history on a card, and every thing the government needs to know to keep him in electronic slavery. The Prime Minister is gung ho about it. The deputy prime minister, as the home minister, is ecstatic that the country has at last a system which the police can use with impunity to track those they consider dissidents. But would it fly? I doubt it. But some lorry driver or insurance agent turned computer conman would get the contract and collect his new million-ringgit Mercedes, new wife and house with the initial payment. But then when the insurance agent gets to privatise sewage, lorry driver to build dams, chauffeurs steel plants, why not a satay seller provide expert service on computerisation of the courts?

This smart card would go the way of the driving licence, the identity card, the computerised cameras at road junctions to snap photos of offending motorists. These instruments of eventual torture for the resident are implemented for no reason than that they represent "progress" and some interested party close to the Establishment to make money. Our light rapid system is designed to lose money: the original concessionaires proved it. We have three imcompatible systems which would become more expensive with the passing years. The citizen would pay for all this. If he is put to great disservice and pressure, then so much the better. For at the base of it all is this desire in the government to inconvenience the citizen as much as he could be. Touch 'nGo Auto Reload is but the latest. The Smart Idiot is here to stay.

M.G.G. Pillai

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