By Fathol Zaman Bukhari
It was one of those days when you least expect the inevitable to happen but it happens. I was invited along with other bureau chiefs to a briefing on town planning by the mayor at the city council main annexe recently. I thought it would start and end, like other briefings before this. It never occurred to me that this time around it would be different.
Seldom do meetings in Malaysia start or end at the appointed time. We were told to be seated in Dewan Azlan Shah on the 10th floor at 10.00 a.m. sharp (so said the faxed and text messages). After much waiting and fussing, the briefing eventually began when the mayor walked in at 10.30 a.m. No one complained. Malaysian time, mah!
I felt a soft tap on my shoulders. It was Shahrizal, the harried public relations officer to the mayor. He is a gem of a person, always tactful and respectful, notwithstanding the responsibilities he shoulders. “Boss, Rosli Dahamin is not coming can you say a few words on behalf of the media?” he asked. I was taken aback. Talking from the podium was the last thing on my mind but when push comes to shove, what choice do I have? I nodded in agreement. Being the most senior newsman, in age and stature, I was the obvious choice. Shahrizal ushered me to the main table and had me seated beside the mayor, Dato’ Roshidi Hashim.
The briefing was conducted by the Town Planning Division Chief, Encik Zulqarnain Mohamad who has been with the council for over two decades. Zulqarnain has a very pleasant personality and is more appropriate for Shahrizal’s post rather than as the council’s planning chief. But that is not the issue.
The crux of the briefing centred on the development of the city, in conformity with Ipoh Structural Plan 2020, which is in the final stage of rectification. The Plan espouses an equitable spread in developing the 643 sq km city. Five sectors are recommended, namely Simpang Pulai, Station 18, Tambun, Meru Raya and Ampangan. This is to facilitate decentralisation and to avoid the pitfalls of Kuala Lumpur, Petaling Jaya and Penang. All seemed good on paper but the lingering problem that will continue to dog Ipohites is the absence of a viable public transport system to service the designated areas. Zulqarnain gave a simplistic answer. “The Plan will be fully realised in 2020, so time is not an issue.” I guess none in the hall that day had an answer.
When the briefing was over I took the opportunity to ask the mayor a few pressing questions. One was on the clamping of cars whose owners had one compound too many. Clamping is on-going he said but the extent is limited due to time and space. He would prefer errant owners to own up rather than the council resorting to such measures. The other was traffic congestion in Greentown Business Centre, Kinta City and the city centre. There are ample parking spaces, he exclaimed. The fault lies with motorists who prefer to double and sometimes triple park for their own convenience. “It’s an attitude problem,” he said. I could not agree more.
On the development of Old Town he had this to say, “Efforts to convince the property owners to spruce up their properties have been taken but there doesn’t seem to be any response. I am prepared to discuss terms if only they’re prepared to come to the table.” Strange, I thought, it was the other way around – the council refusing to give in to the demands of the owners. There is still room to resolve the problem, amicably.
It is no mean task to manage a city larger in size than (the original) Singapore Island. Ipoh’s population has breached the 720,000 mark and is growing. With a working staff of over 2,000, Roshidi’s responsibility to make the council tick like a well-oiled clock is daunting.
His term as mayor ends in June. “There is no indication yet of an extension,” he said. “I’ve bought a piece of land in Ampangan and plan to settle here for good,” enthused the Merbok-born civil servant. I empathise with this soft-spoken yet affable Kedahan.