When I read about Kuching South City being awarded a United Nations-backed “Tourist City Award” recently, I turned green with envy. Why can’t our city, which was once known as the cleanest in the country, attain such international or national recognition?
Kuching was the joint winner in the category – alongside Xining, in Qinghai, China – at the second World Cities Scientific Development Forum held in Chengdu, China. It is also the only Malaysian city accredited the United Nations’ Healthy City status.
It has always been my fervent desire to see Ipoh continue to be maintained and developed as a clean and beautiful city. Ipoh is my “adopted” hometown since I moved here with my family in 1973.
As a journalist, I have seen it grow from a municipal council under the Seenivasagam brothers into a city council. It was then a people-oriented municipal council with two councillors on duty daily to deal with the problems of ratepayers. It also provided efficient health and recreational facilities.
However, after it was upgraded to city status 23 years ago, it began to decline and lost even its image as the cleanest city in the country. Recreational parks (there were then the Taman D.R. Seenivasagam, People’s Park and Children’s Park in the city centre) had also lost their attractions, while thousands of illegal rubbish dumps and clogged drains are all over the city.
This is the reason, not because of being anti-establishment as I have been accused by some, that I have been highlighting the failures of the city council in the last two decades.
Perhaps we should consider dividing Ipoh into north and south, as in the case of Kuching, so that the council could provide efficient service and better amenities to the residents and restore its image and as well as giving Kuching South City a “run for the money”.
Ipoh has grown too big since it was declared a city in May, 1988. It covers 642.57 sq. km. north of the Kinta District, extending from the edge of Bukit Kinta Forest Reserve in the East to the Kledang Saiong Forest Reserve in the West, and from Khantan in the North to Changkat in the South with a population of well above 711,000.
As a result, the Ipoh City Council has to provide services and amenities as well to various towns, such as Tanjung Rambutan, Chemor, Meru, Lahat, Menglembu, Bercham, Gunung Rapat, Manjoi, Pengkalan and a number of villages and new growth areas.
No wonder the Mayor, Dato’ Roshidi Hashim, had conceded that the city’s jurisdiction has grown in size to such an extent that the city could not be expected to be as clean as during the era of the Seenivasagam brothers.
Recently, he also admitted that the drains in the city were poorly maintained as there were insufficient workers. He proposed to out-source the service.
However, since Ipoh attained city status, its manpower has also increased from just a few hundred to about 2,700 employees with much of its maintenance works being carried out by contractors. And yet the city council can still not cope with the workload. It appears the city council has been extended “a bridge too far” to have the capacity to provide efficient services and better amenities to its ratepayers.
Its area is now bigger than Kuala Lumpur, which covers 243 sq. km and has a population of 1.4 million. And even bigger than Kuching South City, Kuching North City and Kuching District put together, which have a combined area of 431.01 sq. km. and a population of 980,000.
With “Visit Perak Year” just around the corner, the city council needs to deal with all its problems fast. It has to carry out beautification projects, clean up the illegal rubbish dumps and clogged and stinking drains.
Otherwise, the city may even lose its top selling point, the delicious hawker food, as tourists will shy away from eating at many of the restaurants and food-courts, which may be considered by them as, dirty.
It is important that the influx of tourists expected during the “Visit Perak Year” have a good impression and a pleasant memory of the city after their visits if we are to consider our tourism efforts to be a success.