By Fathol Zaman Bukhari
The Perak Urban Transformation Centre, fondly known by its abbreviation UTC, is a major landmark in downtown Ipoh. Located at the now defunct Super Kinta shopping complex, the centre is set to make an impact on Perakeans, in general and Ipohites, in particular. The Perak UTC, the third of its kind in the country after Malacca and Kuala Lumpur and the largest of the three, has 53 operational counters dispersed on its two floors. The services provided are being divided into ten clusters ranging from welfare and human development, entrepreneurship, financial and health services, youth development, education and job-seeking.
Some of the much sought after government agencies such as the Immigration Department and the very elusive Ipoh Land Office have counters here. Thus conducting business with these agencies becomes much easier with a vastly improved accessibility.
Before the opening of the centre, Ipohites had to go to Jelapang to renew their international passports. Getting to the land office in Kampung Manjoi is an exercise in futility, as rate-payers have to navigate the intricate roadways of this misshapen village. Understanding the poorly worded signage is another problem in itself. Many would end up in Silibin after making a wrong turn. It is very confusing, especially for first-time visitors. No wonder the Manjoi Land Office is the least patronised public agency in Ipoh. People would rather pay their dues at the post offices or at accredited banks since it is much more convenient.
As is widely reported in the mainstream media, the Perak Urban Transformation Centre and its cousin, the Gopeng Rural Transformation Centre (RTC), are part of Prime Minister Najib’s Blue Ocean initiative aimed at “providing various services for the convenience of the people in the state”. One serves urbanites while the other the rural folks. Besides facilitating dealings with government agencies, the Gopeng RTC also “serves as an integrated service centre encompassing the collection, processing and the distribution of agricultural products.”
Unfortunately, the full potential of both these centres has yet to be realised fully. One reason I find it wanting is the speed with which this idea was pushed. The building of a transformation centre in Ipoh was mooted sometime in mid-2012. It was originally planned to be opened in December 2012 but was delayed to February 15 with the Prime Minister himself doing the honours.
A pre-launch was done on February 1 officiated by Second Finance Minister, Dato’ Seri Ahmad Husni Hanaziah, raising speculations that his presence was more than a social visit.
The original plan was to find some suitable usage for the former Super Kinta shopping complex, once a magnet for shoppers in the Kinta Valley. It lost its lustre when newer state-of-the-art shopping complexes and malls came into existence in the early 1990s.
With the exception of its wet market, the largest in the city, the crumbling complex was turning into an eyesore. It stood out like a sore thumb in the midst of an unforgiving city centre, devoid of charm. The timely makeover, therefore, was a welcome change rather than an anticipated one. In fact, Ipoh City Council was at wits’ end trying to find likeable options for its continued relevance. It was God-sent, in every sense of the word, as there is now a reason for its second lease of life.
However good an idea maybe, it will turn sour if the human factor attached to it does not perform to expectation. I say this with much conviction considering the attitude, ethics and working culture of our civil servants. Being sent from pillar to post is the norm at government offices. The sight of sullen and sulky officers manning the counters is nothing strange. What is more distressing is being singled out for being of a different race other than a Malay.
My niece had the misfortune of being treated as such when she inquired about her misplaced application recently. The lady officer mistook her for a Chinese and gave her the runaround. She had to produce her identity card to prove her ethnicity. I hope those manning the Perak UTC counters are not as bad. From what I have observed they are a likeable bunch of minders. Hopefully, this equation remains.
But in all probability, the excitement of serving in a new environment will soon wear off and they will be back to their old lacklustre ways like before.
One other problem, which may impact the centre’s viability, is parking. Parking space is limited to about 200 lots. And since most are being taken by the staff what is there left for the public?
My other concern is – will the centre survive a post GE 13 apocalypse? I shall leave this to the rakyat to decide.
By Fathol Zaman Bukhari