Are most of Ipoh City Council’s failures to enforce various regulations due to political constraints, or are they excuses conveniently used by its councillors, officers and workers?
To answer this question, one just has to look at the “no action” taken on certain problems in the city. What one will be told usually is that no action can be taken due to political constraints: either the persons connected with the problems are strong supporters of political parties or the fear that any action could cause a backlash.
In fact, an enforcement officer even admitted that he was told by his superior that the operator of a certain food outlet in the city was a “party’s man” and that they have to restrain from taking any action. Take for instance the much talked about eateries constructed on the pavement along busy Jalan Dato’ Oon Jaafar. The question on the lips of many residents is how the food stalls could be built on the pavement and yet no action taken for years. Are pavements constructed for the safety of pedestrians or for such stalls? Pedestrians walking along the street need to come down to the road risking life and limb. Another location is in front of the former Odean Theatre, where night food stalls operate. It is considered unhygienic and unsuitable, but there is no move to relocate them.
Why the double standard? While some are allowed to operate on the pavements even along busy streets, others are immediately summoned and their stalls demolished not just on pavements, but even along roadsides. Relocation of street hawkers and food stalls, demo-lishing illegal structures, even ensuring every household has a rubbish bin are some of the many issues in the city considered as “political risks.”
It is so because some political leaders have this notion that offending those guilty of breaching the regulations could cost them their support as well as their votes. This has resulted in certain influential people getting away with anything. The decision to “close an eye” often comes from the top. Even the mayor, they will argue, cannot undertake these tough measures because of political constraints.
Taking this cue, many officials entrusted with enforcing regulations are reluctant to act unless they receive a directive. “How can we take action when my superior said that no action is to be taken,” commented an official.
This inaction is giving opposition party leaders the opportunity to cash in on these “political constraints” by threatening to organise protests and demonstrations should any unfair action involve their supporters.
About two decades ago, there was a move to clear all street stalls in the city and relocate them indoors for the sake of cleanliness and hygiene. As a result, a number of food-courts were set up in strategic areas in the city. The street hawkers, who had been doing good business in a certain location, began to move into shop-houses in the same vicinity, while others moved into nearby food-courts. Those who could afford to take over whole premises, established their own restaurants. Among them are the popular “Nga Choy Kai” (chicken taugeh or bean sprouts) operators in the new town sector.
Hawkers Now Defiant
For a few years the city looked progressive and clean; then the street hawkers began to slowly move back to the unhealthy environment in the streets, especially at night, and some of the food-courts began to lose their purpose. Generally most of these hawkers question why they should abide by the regulations, while others can get away by breaching them. Those “with right connections” or those in certain locations are being spared and appear to be untouchable. So, they moved out to the streets in defiance of the authorities.
Such a lack of action is not good for the city. Instead of moving forward as a healthy and progressive city, it is stepping backwards. The progress of the city must not be marred by such ‘political constraints’. Ipoh City Council needs to wake up and carry out its responsibility “without fear or favour.” And the rakyat have a right to be served regardless of which political party is in power.