Even the woman in the spotlight, Datuk Seri Rafidah Aziz, had a hard time responding to the issue during her summing-up speech yesterday. At certain points, the delegates even heckled and jeered at her.
Now that the Umno general assembly is over, the leadership has to put into place a system that ensures that only genuine car importers are given APs.
The practice of selling APs to others has to stop as it is sheer abuse. And it will be sad if no action is taken after all the hue and cry. Malaysians should not be allowed to have the impression that everything is back to normal after the assembly.
The criteria of distributing the APs obviously need to be reviewed as a cursory look at the list of names has revealed plenty of flaws, not to mention things that have been detrimental to national interest. For example, who monitors the recipients of APs once these are issued?
The list of 67,158 APs for 2005, comprising 17,526 open APs and 49,632 franchise APs, was monopolised by a handful of businessmen, now dubbed the Kings of APs. Worse, the figures did not even include the allocations of previous years and it looks like it will remain that way.
Prior to the directive by Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, Malaysians were given the excuse that we will not be able to see the list of names because it has never been the practice of the Cabinet to do so. The AP list was treated like a document with an Official Secrets Act stamp on it.
But last week, the Prime Minister ordered the names to be released. In line with his call for transparency, good governance and credibility, Abdullah should now order that the mess be cleaned up.
There will be powerful political and business forces that would obstruct his drive to make Malaysia clean but he has the support of Malaysians who believe in what he is doing.
What was lacking at the Umno general assembly was input from delegates on how the national car policy, which is expected to come out soon, should take shape.
The delegates were understandably engrossed with the names of recipients but it would have been better if they had done their homework and debated intelligently whether Malaysia will remain a mere assembler of automobiles instead of manufacturing them.
National cars mean more than just affixing a Proton or Naza emblem on our cars – it involves pioneering research and development which is cost-intensive.
The AP issue is merely part of the car policy. Abdullah also has to look at the question of what constitutes a national car and which company is entitled to the various tax rebates and incentives, which have become a source of discontent between Proton, Perodua, Naza and Inokom.
Enough time has been lost. Proton is already 20 years but we still do not have a national car policy. From reports of declining Proton sales to Korean-made cars passed off as national cars, Malaysians have watched with serious concern the state of our local car industry.
Malaysians do not want the national car to fail as billions have been spent and the government is justified, in the wake of the AP uproar, to examine whether the APs meant to help bumiputra entrepreneurs have ended up hurting Proton and benefiting only a few Malay businessmen.
Proton, on the other hand, needs to find out why it has not been able to take on the aggressive sales tactics of Toyota and Hyundai, among others, which have reduced Proton's domestic market share sharply.
But more important, we need to pool our resources in the automobile industry to consolidate ourselves to face foreign competition with car tariffs coming to an end by 2008 under the Asean Free Trade Agreement instead of bickering among ourselves.
The important thing to remember is that nothing will work, even if there is a comprehensive blueprint or a set of criteria, if there are people in authority who abuse the system and, worse, are allowed to get away with it.