By Fathol Zaman Bukhari
I was somewhat amused when Dr Richard Ng, President of Ipoh City Watch whatsapped (texted) me, early one morning last month, asking whether an online news portal report that Ipoh has been declared as one the cleanest towns in the country was true. I replied, matter-of-factly, that the claim could merely be a “syiok sendiri” or a self-gratifying attempt at making good an elusive dream.
Granted that Ipoh was once dubbed the cleanest town in the country but that was eons ago when things were much simpler and an opposition party, the People’s Progress Party, under the Seenivasagam brothers, was in the driving seat. That was the time in the country’s history when politics was less complicated and the hegemonic tendency of the ruling coalition was not too pronounced.
The 1960s, however, was a challenging time for then Malaya. To compound it further was Indonesia’s confrontation against the formation of Malaysia in 1963. This forced the federal government to suspend local council elections in 1965 vide the Emergency (Suspension of Local Government Elections) Regulations 1965. Since then, local governments in Malaysia have not been elected but appointed and this has affected how the lowest level in the system of government in Malaysia is managed.
The gleaming period of the Seenivasagam brothers came to an abrupt end and so was Ipoh’s envious title of the cleanest town in the country. The transformation from good to bad was not overnight but over an extended period of time when lethargy and complacency, caused by too much politicking, set in.
Ipoh in the 1970s and onwards was a different kettle of fish. The municipal council, consisting of a senior civil servant as its nominal head and council members, appointed by the state government, adopted an entirely different approach in managing the town. Although the laws allow the council to collect revenues through taxation, they do not specify how the monies are to be spent.
The council’s expenditures, to this date, are never announced publicly in spite of much hue and cry. The only revelation is done at the monthly full-board meeting, which is opened to the public but is shunned, at best. Only the essentials are leaked out to the media and questions are seldom entertained at the press conference that follows.
Now back to the online news portal’s unsubstantiated claim of Ipoh being one of the cleanest towns in the country. What was the basis? No reference was made to any credible source other than re-stating an earlier statement by Mayor Dato’ Zambri Man that Ipoh City Council was committed in its efforts at keeping the city clean.
“From January to September, 8154.12km of monsoon drain, 3898 illegal dumpsites and 137,328 tons of domestic waste had been cleared. The council had organised 239 gotong royongs, 37 of which were targeted at mosquito eradication. It had issued 610 compounds valued at RM84,200 to litterbugs.” The mayor’s statement was most probably made during one of the council’s full-board meetings, which was privy to all news agencies.
So this was not earth-shattering news to soothe the frayed nerves of die-hards like yours truly. Suffice to say that the claim is purely to make certain individuals within the ruling circle happy. It’s like telling your spouse she looks pretty when in fact she is not – a platitude by any definition.
Ipoh still has a long way to go before it can be termed as “clean”. There is more to it than what meets the eye. Reminds me of the time when Khir Toyo, the disgraced former Menteri Besar of Selangor, proudly announced that Selangor had achieved developed-nation status based on some insignificant financial computations, which was beyond his comprehension. We are no better.
Let’s allude to this famous saying, “One sparrow does not a summer make”. Cleanliness is not measured by the length of drain or the tonnage of waste cleared. It is a relative term that transcends speculation and idealism.