By Fathol Zaman Bukhari
I would not call it as an act of desperation, but more appropriately, an inspiration. So what drives the residents of Taman Kaya to literally fence themselves in and turn their once idyllic “taman” into a garrison? Could safety be the consideration or is it the fear of the unknown? Both factors, coupled with a growing sense of despondency, compounded by the fact that the Police are too overstretched and under-manned, prompted the 65 households of Taman Kaya to do the unthinkable – keep strangers out and residents in.
Led by their Residents’ Association President, Augustine Anthony, they pooled their resources and engaged a contractor to build a guardhouse on the main arterial road leading into the housing estate and sealed off all the side roads, including its southern flank, marked by a bushy no-man’s land separating residents’ homes from the adjacent army ammunition dump. The 65 households, plus an additional three from neighbouring Taman Perak, have now assumed an envious station in life – members of a guarded neighbourhood right smack in Ipoh Garden East.
Taman Kaya, incidentally, is not in the best of locations, tactically speaking. It is hemmed in on all sides by houses, an ill-placed ammunition dump and the lumbering North-South Expressway. Its vulnerability is being amplified by the escalating number of break-ins, robberies, snatch thefts and extortions, occurring almost on a daily basis.
“One of the residents was threatened at gun-point recently,” said Augustine. “The audacity of the intruder is simply mind-blowing,” he added. That was the breaking point. “We’ve to do something before someone gets hurt. The authorities seem powerless to act.”
Augustine had led the residents through a number of face-offs with the authorities, especially Ipoh City Council and the Police. When the columbarium issue threatened to escalate into a full-blown battle between City Council and the developer, on one side and the residents, on the other, Augustine garnered enough support to force the council to reconsider its stance. Today what is left of the columbarium is an empty land overgrown with lalang, a stark reminder of an unpopular decision made in haste and in poor taste.
Ipoh Echo highlighted the plight of Taman Kaya residents who demonstrated their displeasure with the Police for their inaction in combating crimes recently. They picketed in the open and carried banners clamouring for police action. “Lawlessness is becoming a way of life for Ipohites and unless we send a clear message to those in authority, we’ll be in for a tough time,” said a forlorn Augustine. He seems determined to do whatever possible to correct the impropriety. “Two wrongs do not make a right,” he exclaimed, alluding to the famous English proverb.
The guard house, boom gate, chain-link fences and collapsible gates cost almost RM6,000. Four men are employed to keep the taman under surveillance 24 hours a day. The guards work in pair on a 12-hour shift. Motorists are provided car stickers to indicate their affiliation with Taman Kaya. On a lighter vein, could the name “Taman Kaya” be the reason why it is so attractive to burglars and the many unsavoury characters on the prowl? But the residents are ordinary folks with simple needs and tastes!
The 68 households pay RM60 each a month to keep their taman protected. “There was the initial resistance. But over time most began to appreciate the long-term benefits, so they acceded,” said Augustine.
The basis of consideration, according to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government’s guidelines, is that 51 per cent of households must agree to be guarded. “We’ve a situation where almost 97 per cent of the households consented,” said the Ipoh-based lawyer. The overwhelming response is indicative of the residents’ desire for a crime-free environment. This is the growing trend in Kuala Lumpur where guarded communities are becoming the in-thing today. Kota Damansara is a fine example. Security companies are cashing-in on the development much to the chagrin of residents. But do people have a choice?
However, a check with Ipoh City Council says otherwise. The mayor insists that Taman Kaya residents have contravened council’s by-laws. “Roads and lanes in housing estates should be accessible to people and vehicles,” said Mayor Dato’ Roshidi Hashim. “Rubbish needs to be collected. In the event of a fire, how are firemen going to douse the flames?” Building a guard house requires a permit, he said. “The residents’ association has 15 days to respond to the council’s letter.” Another face-off is in the offing. It is a ticking time bomb.