The concept of a public park in the eyes and minds of Malaysians seems slightly clouded. There is this mistaken belief that business and healthy pursuits co-existed harmoniously in parks. Nowhere is this notion so evident than at Ipoh’s iconic Taman Rekreasi Sultan Abdul Aziz aka Polo Ground. Over here health buffs jostle for space with itinerant hawkers on wheels making it a sight to behold. Perhaps it is a Malaysian way of life where hawking is ingrained in our culture. Or could it be simple economics, as one reader puts it, “where there’s demand there’s supply.”
The problems posed by hawkers, vandals and noise polluters prompted another reader to implore succinctly to return the park to its former grandeur, one which is “free from hawkers, vandals, vermin, noise pollution and traffic”.
These are real problems which require solutions not knee-jerk reactions. In 2007, the unsightly vista caught the attention of HRH Sultan Azlan Shah who jogs in the park regularly. City Council’s enforcement division swooped down on the illegal traders and overnight they were all gone. It was a huge relief to the residents living nearby.
The eviction exercise, however, was a mere slap on the wrist, all bark no bite, so more hawkers joined the fray. They returned with bigger vans and larger tables. Since it was taboo to do business in the morning they swarmed the grounds when the sun set. Circumventing the law seemed a better option than confronting city council head-on. It became a cat and mouse game between enforcers and hawkers much to the chagrin of park users and residents alike. This went on for awhile. Today, with little or no enforcement, these “pesky” hawkers flaunt the law with impunity.
Is there a solution to the problem? Three legislations namely, the Local Government Act 1976, the Town and Country Planning Act 1976 and the Street Drainage and Building Act 1974, dictate how a local council should be managed. Malaysia, being a signatory of the United Nations Rio Declaration on Environment and Development in 1992, has attempted (but failed) to adopt and implement a programme for sustainable development at local council level. This is referred to as Local Agenda 21 (LA 21). The three legislations, LA 21 and MBI-sanctioned by-laws, are sufficient to make amends for the gross injustice that has wrought havoc on visitors and residents living near the Polo Ground.
Apathy and Tidak-Apa
So why is MBI not responding to demands by Ipohites? Reasons are aplenty. Apathy tops the list. Next is our favourite Malaysian malaise, tidak-apa attitude and finally, a feeling of déjà vu. Why bother, the problem does not affect me and further more, no one is complaining. And one other excuse so freely expressed, “depa pun nak cari makan” (they too want to eat). These are the reasons why we have to put up with a sight which have become commonplace at almost all public parks in the country.
So what options are left for the hard-pressed and much maligned visitors and residents of Polo Ground? How can they get the authorities to act? And how must they go about getting the authorities to act?
One possible way is to form an action committee consisting of all residents living near Polo Ground. List all the complaints you have and go on a signature campaign. Even the health buffs can do their part by forming an ad hoc committee. Get Peter Choong, the councillor for Zone 14, to act. Let him do your bidding, for after all that is his responsibility.
Ipoh City Watch (ICW) a non-governmental organisation formed in November 2002 dedicated to improving the quality of life of Ipohites can be of help. Although the NGO does not take issues on an individual basis it can provide the much needed guidance in preparing a case. Lawyer Augustine Anthony is the current president of ICW.
Another possible option, and a practical one too, is to make direct representation to Mayor Dato’ Roshidi Hashim himself or to his boss, State Executive Councillor for Local Governments, Dato’ Dr Mah Hang Soon. Dato’ Mah has been attributed for resolving many outstanding issues concerning citizens’ rights and needs. In fact, on reading one reader’s complaint about the loud music emanating from the park on weekends, Mah informed Ipoh Echo that the problem would be tackled immediately. The mayor’s turun padang programme is his commitment towards making Ipoh a liveable city. Roshidi’s “turning vision into reality” promise is still fresh in our heads.
A lasting solution is not impossible. City Council should take cognisance of Ipohites’ growing concern. A public park should operate like park, a quiet place to relax and to exercise. Don’t turn this 27-acre green lung into a ‘pasar malam‘ or a site for jamboree-like gatherings. For the record, Polo Ground was gazetted a park in 2005.
We are already into the second decade of the new millennium. Let’s move on.