Category Archives: Editorial

Of Veterans and Losing Faith



By Fathol Zaman Bukhari

Of veterans and losing faith - editor's desk

If the 2009 Australian eavesdropping episode on its Asean neighbours is anything but deliberate then I stand by my conviction that their dithering is for a reason. Insofar as Malaysia is concerned, I feel it is not for reasons of security per se, but more to do with the prevailing political climate then following the two vociferous Bersih demonstrations clamouring for a free and independent election.

Despite the demand for an unconditional apology from Tony Abbott, the newly-minted Prime Minister of Australia, the response has been lukewarm, to say the least. I wonder why Tony has not brushed aside the Indonesian President’s insistence with a mere, “I wasn’t the Prime Minister then, Kevin Rudd was” reply typical of how politicians in a quandary would have reacted.

Or resort to elegant silence, as a golden rule of thumb for someone in the pits. But in a Western society, of which Australia is one, such behaviour is deemed unethical and will earn the wrath of the nation and the international community.

My rambling is not aimed at placing Australia in the spotlight for its wrongdoings. Far from it, my allusion is merely an opener for a matter of lesser significance than what is ongoing in the Oceanic region. Politics, however, is not the issue here.

I respect the Aussies for one innate quality which we Malaysians find wanting. It has much to do with their attitude towards military veterans, especially their own. Australians, since the Second Boer War (1899 to 1902), have been fighting wars not in their backyards but on foreign soils.

The only time they were forced to do the inevitable was when Japanese planes bombed Darwin and their midget submarines sneaked into Sydney Harbour in an attempt to sink Allied warships at the onset of the Second World War in 1942. Otherwise, Australian troops were in harness for duties abroad all of the time.

An Australian infantry division was in Malaya propping the weak British defensive perimeter before the Japanese invasion in December 1941. They were here again during the Malayan Emergency (1948 to 1960) providing ground and air support for counter-insurgency operations. Their troops were recalled when President Sukarno of Indonesia decided to confront newly formed Malaysia, claiming it to be a British colonial stooge in 1962.

Those who died in these conflicts were being interred in a number of cemeteries located throughout the length and breadth of the country, including Sabah and Sarawak. And remembering their dearly departed has become an obsession with those who had served in the same outfits as the dead and the maimed.

These war-weary veterans and their families make annual pilgrimages to Taiping, Batu Gajah, Terendak, Sandakan, Labuan and Kuching to honour their kinsmen who had made the ultimate sacrifice, not for their country but the country that they had the misfortune to serve. Nothing can be more honourable than to remember these brave soldiers who died in the prime of their youth while fighting a war in a far-flung country whose affiliation they were never certain.

I had the privilege to attend one such service on Sunday, November 24 at the Esplanade in Penang. The Penang Veterans’ Association organised the morning service dedicated to fallen heroes of the Great War (1914 to 1918), Second World War (1939 to 1945), Malayan Emergency (1948 to 1960), Indonesian Confrontation (1962 to 1966) and the Re-Insurgency Period (1968 to 1990).

The association, under the presidency of Major Sivarajan KM Ramathan (Retired), has been doing so without fail for the last 12 years. Quite unexpectedly, I was honoured with the responsibility of laying a wreath on behalf of retired Royal Ranger Regiment officers and men. I was touched by the gesture, which I thought strange considering my abhorrence for officialdom.

Feelings aside, I was somewhat perplexed by the conspicuous absence of serving officers from Headquarters 2nd Infantry Division, which is stationed on the island. The state government and the Police were well represented and so were the High Commissions of Australia and New Zealand and the Nepalese Embassy, including the Thai Consulate-General in Penang.

If these foreign dignitaries could make an appearance I see no reason why the local army commander could not. He could at least send a senior officer to represent the division. After all, wasn’t this an occasion to honour military personnel?

The reason is obvious. It has to do with religious belief. Since the Islamic Revolution of Iran in 1979, which led to the ouster of Shah Pahlavi and his decadent royal entourage by Ayatollah Khomeini, the country has been overwhelmed by religious fervour that is second to none. Today paying homage to a cenotaph is considered taboo as the action would, in the words of the learned clerics, cause one to lose faith in Islam or more succinctly, hilang akidah.

If I were to go strictly by this dictate I would have been a Christian, a Buddhist, a Hindu and a Taoist many times over, as I had stood in reverence to an obelisk, not once but several times in my lifetime. In spite of all this my faith in my religion has never once fluttered.

Malay Muslims should be more circumspect about ceremonies to honour fallen heroes than to submit selflessly to fatwas which are man-made. I rest my case.

One Press Conference Too Many



By Fathol Zaman Bukhari

Press conferenceI may not have been in the media business for long but eight years have enabled me to separate the wheat from the chaff. We started Ipoh Echo in 2005 and, hitherto, much water has passed under the bridge. Time in its infinite dimension provides one with the wisdom to pick and choose, to decide who is right and who is wrong and, above all, to judge someone’s character whether he is genuine or crooked.

Ipoh Echo is a community newspaper, and at this material moment, it is the only community newspaper in the country – warts and all. It is no idle boast but that is the gospel truth. And having survived many uncertainties for over eight years is something to shout about, although some may want to dispute it. But that is of no consequence here.

The habit of some, especially politicians, is slowly but surely making life a little unpleasant for us in the media business. This habit, for some unknown reason, is beginning to spread and now even those in the private and public sectors are being affected.

It has to do with press conferences. Having a press conference to announce this and that has become fashionable. Not a day passes by without me receiving an invitation to a press conference. The occasion can be as insignificant as an annual dinner or a blood-drive campaign. I even received invitation to a conference for an annual general meeting. And believe me, an extraordinary general meeting of an old boys’ club. How ridiculous is that?

Obviously, many out there do not know the meaning of press or media conference. Call for one by all means, after all we cannot stop someone from doing so. But make sure that reporters’ time is not wasted on some insignificant news which does not merit publication, or worse, earn the wrath of the editors. I have sent my reporters on wild goose chases far too often that now I am beginning to become a little wiser.

There were many instances when we were invited to a media conference on a proposed event which would take place the following day. My question is, why must a conference be arranged when we are privy to the event taking place? Is this not a waste? Reporters’ time is better spent on some other worthy cause other than pleasing the organisers and having a free tea break.

An event is newsworthy if something sensational is about to happen or has happened. A newsworthy event goes beyond mundane fire and casualty evacuation drills and site visits by some Tan Sris. I posed this question to one corporate executive recently, as to whether he would read a news piece on fire drill or visit if he comes across one? He answered in the negative. If he does not read it what makes he thinks others would? Or is the shiok sendiri (feel-good) factor the real reason?

I can quote many anecdotal incidents but will refrain from making references, as I believe they were being made without any malice or ill intent. It is the hype surrounding such events that prompted most, if not all, from following this silly trend! Have a heart for the poor reporters who, not only have to brave inclement weather and insufficient parking space to make an appearance, but to have their reports assigned to the bins instead.

Yes, Ipoh Echo is here for a reason – to be the sounding board for Ipohites’ dissatisfaction with the authorities and a notice board for the posting of upcoming and past events. Like everything else, the paper has its limitations, budget being one. If one’s interest is personal glory, then Ipoh Echo is not the place for him or her.

For a community paper to work, the support of the community, in whatever form, is desirous. And calling for a spurious media conference for an event of no significance or news value is definitely not a wise thing.

Come on! Give us a break.


Opportunities Aplenty



By Fathol Zaman Bukhari


Editorial - Opportunities aplentyAssociating Ipoh with pomelos, taugeh and cheap hawker food comes easy, as these products are readily available for visitors and travellers alike. That is, however, the positive side but we have a negative side too, one which has been nagging us for a while now. It is our over-publicised but under-utilised airport. The city’s one time pride and joy is today a pale shadow of what it was in the 1960s right to the 1990s. Blame it on the North-South Expressway for redefining land travel.

Sultan Azlan Shah Airport has undergone several structural and cosmetic changes involving its façade and its image. The latest being the extension of its runway from 1.8 km to 2 km. Although claims of impropriety have surfaced regarding the exact length of the runway, it did not stop airlines from using the airport.

Among the more notable one was AirAsia. The hype surrounding its introductory Ipoh-Johor Bahru flight was one of a kind. The whole city came to a standstill when Tony Fernandes came to town with his team in February 2006. Lesser known airlines came along, some lasting a few months, some weeks and some with hardly anything to show, save for their banners and buntings adorning the airport walls. They came with a bang but left with a whimper. That was the sad truth. Today, the only company that uses the terminal is Firefly, a subsidiary of our flag carrier MAS, operating the lucrative Ipoh-Singapore-Ipoh route daily.

Countless representations were made to the authorities, including the highest office of the state but to no avail. Most Ipohites, including this scribe, have lost hope of ever seeing the city’s airport being transformed into a regional transport hub of standing like Penang’s Bayan Lepas Airport or Alor Star’s Sultan Abdul Halim Airport.

But things are about to change now that a local company has decided to take the plunge. Flying Fox Airways, a joint venture between Ipoh-based Mega Dynasty Sdn Bhd and Indonesia’s third largest carrier, Sriwijaya Air will fly the Ipoh-Medan route beginning November 8. The twice weekly flights will increase in frequency once economies of scale and a credible critical mass are achieved.

Notwithstanding glitches dogging previous attempts at reviving the Ipoh-Medan route, the seriousness shown by the parties involved during the airways’ launching on Friday, October 11 at Impiana Hotel, Ipoh was laudable.

The biggest handicap faced by enterprising individuals and companies in the past was aircraft. Cost is prohibitive and not having a sizeable passenger load to offset operational costs put paid to their lofty dreams. One cannot operate with leased planes, as the price of keeping the planes in flight is impossible with a poor passenger load and hefty overheads.

Will Flying Fox Airways succeed where others failed? This is a million-ringgit question best answered by the operators themselves.

So, what have we to offer people from Medan?

Health tourism is a major consideration as Medanese, due to substandard medical service in their backyard, have turned to the private hospitals of Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Penang to seek affordable treatment for their ailments.

Ipoh’s five private hospitals should optimise this opportunity to the fullest. They should take a leaf from Penang’s Adventist Hospital. The services provided by this Pulau Tikus facility extend beyond healthcare. They include meeting their clients at the airport, making hotel reservations, taking care of family members (sightseeing and shopping), transportation and others. It is a very competitive business and those who walk the extra mile get the customers. It is all about marketing one’s services, not hard selling that many here prefer to do.

Ipoh’s hawker food is a hit with foreigners and Medanese are no exception. Indigenous food (Minang, Sunda, Betawi, Batak, Padang, etc.) in Medan is very good but Chinese cuisine is not. Indian is almost non-existent. Western-type outlets in Medan are better than Ipoh. A food fest, held on a quarterly or half-yearly basis, will be a good start to promote Ipoh’s gastronomical delights.

Education is another major consideration. Ipoh’s three international schools have ample space for children from Northern Sumatra. With the availability of direct flights to Ipoh, Indonesian parents will be tempted to send their children over. Our rates are a lot cheaper than either Singapore or Kuala Lumpur, and this is a fact.

Since the rich Chinese community in Medan is our primary target, winning them over becomes a priority. We should get enough Hokkien-speaking minders to take care of these visitors. A 4-star hotel in Pulau Tikus, Penang employs Hokkien-speaking staff to cater for this specific need, and it is reaping results.

Efforts at promoting Ipoh will go to waste if stakeholders remain overly cautious. The state government has done its part. The inception of Flying Fox Airways is a case in point. So it is up to those in the private sector to up the ante. It will be a sin to allow another golden opportunity slip by unnoticed.

Accounting for Their Actions



By Fathol Zaman Bukhari

2013 Auditor General's reportAt the rate things are going today it will be a matter of time before the inevitable happens. Are we heading for a catastrophe far worse than what is experienced by Greece and Portugal? I don’t wish to be an odious naysayer or an obnoxious armchair critic who harbours ill feelings towards his kinsmen and country. My forte is definitely not foretelling troubles and bleakness and a future devoid of colour. But being a keen observer of my surroundings, my predictions are seldom wrong.

Take the petrol price hike on September 3, as an example. I have harboured thoughts that the prices of RON 95 and diesel would go up once the general elections are over. It took barely five months after the ruling coalition was reinstated in Putrajaya for it to happen. My other fear is the implementation of the long-awaited Goods and Services Tax, which will come our way soon.

The consensus among economists is that businesses would find a way to escape the tax regime while the rich would not be impacted. As in the past, the well-heeled are never affected anyway, as they have the means and the resources to doctor their documents and to grease the palms of those concerned.

Poor enforcement and rampant corruption are two factors that hamper the proper implementation of government policies and directives. For as long as there is a will there is a way. I have many anecdotal examples to back my claim. Poor monitoring and the “tidak apa” attitude of enforcement agencies at border regions, especially at the Thai border, has allowed foreigners to buy our relatively cheap fuel not in litres but in drums.

The sensitivity of Malaysians to a possible price hike is simply incredible. On the evening of Friday, September 27, I was shocked when the petrol station near my house was swamped with motorists eager to fill up. It did not occur to me that rumours were circulating on the social media that the price of RON 95 would be increased by another 10 sen. It took none other than the Deputy Prime Minister himself to quash the rumours by issuing a statement to the contrary. Apparently, news of a possible hike in cigarette prices was also making the rounds. No wonder my favourite mamak shop was similarly swamped that very day.

But these minor excitements are nothing compared to the din created by the 2012 Auditor General’s Report, which was tabled in Parliament on Tuesday, October 2. Here are some glaring examples of wastage and mismanagement committed by federal agencies whose integrity I question:

Topping my list is the more than RM1.33 million worth of assets lost by the police force. Missing items, according to the auditors, included 156 pairs of handcuffs, 44 firearms (pistols and rifles), 29 vehicles, 26 walkie-talkies and 22 radios. The loss is enormous by any definition and, being a former serviceman, I find the reasons given by the Inspector General of Police simplistic and incredible.

One of my platoon commanders, during an operation in the Belum jungles back in the early 1980s, used his M16 assault rifle to shoot fish in a creek. Instead of firing the weapon from above he dipped the barrel in the water and fired. The force of the water caused the barrel to split like a bamboo. He was duly charged and court-martialed. His negligence caused him a forfeiture of seniority and was made to pay for the damaged weapon. Another officer lost his 9mm Brownie pistol while on a train ride to Johore Bahru. He too was court-martialed and suffered a reduction in seniority and was made to pay for the loss.

In both instances, the punishments were swift, as a regimental board of inquiry is required to be convened within 21 days upon the report of a loss or damage of a controlled item(s). That is the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) in the army. I don’t know about the police but I am sure there are SOPs in place. How effective their SOPs are is left to your imagination.

The Home Minister and the IGP have attributed the missing weapons to training – the firearms sank to the bottom of the sea! Seven, according to the IGP, have been recovered making the final number as 37. Thirty seven can equip a complete rifle platoon with some to spare. That is the enormity of the problem. You just cannot dismiss it as something insignificant.

The other on my list is dubious purchases by the Information, Communication and Culture Ministry. Twenty wall clocks at RM3,810 each, three A4-size scanners at RM14,670 each and five A3 scanners at RM103,105 each. The prices are simply unbelievable.

The list of improprieties goes on. My question is why the seemingly lack of action taken against the wrongdoers? Is the AG’s Report a mere eyewash and a distraction? Civil servants have to be more accountable for their actions.

But is accountability possible in an environment where political masters are equally culpable? Your guess is as good as mine.


Has Justice Been Served?



By Fathol Zaman Bukhari


The protracted case of the 13 protesters, who were charged for being involved in an illegal assembly in front of Istana Bukit Chandan, Kuala Kangsar on Friday, February 6, 2009, came to an abrupt end on Friday, September 13 when they were handed a 2-year prison sentence plus a fine of RM5000 each.

The accused were originally charged under Section 145 of the Penal Code which carries a jail term of not exceeding two years or a fine or both upon conviction. They were also charged under Section 27 (4) of the Police Act 1967 and punishable under Section 27 (8) of the same Act.

However, after a lengthy court trial in Kuala Kangsar beginning on August 8, 2009, till October 13, 2010, the 13 were found not guilty of committing a crime under Police Act 1967 and were freed. The prosecution could not prove a prima facie case against the accused. Judgment was passed by the Session Court judge on April 4, 2011. But the same judge ruled that the prosecution had a valid case against the accused under Section 145 of the Penal Code and called upon them to make their defence.

Augustine Anthony and co-counsel, Aminuddin Zulkipli

Augustine Anthony and co-counsel, Aminuddin Zulkipli

That marked the beginning of another lengthy deliberation in the same court of law that eventuated in the surprise judgment passed on Friday, September 13. The spectre of “Friday the 13th” an American horror movie franchise has come to haunt the unlucky 13 and their legal team led by Ipoh-based lawyer Augustine Anthony and his co-counsel, Aminuddin Zulkipli. The sad part was the session court judge’s decision not to allow a stay of execution pending an appeal.

The 13 accused were hastily moved to Tapah prison where they were incarcerated as prisoners dressed in the signature yellow overalls reserved for hardcore criminals. How these seemingly innocent people, all of whom were first-time offenders, were incarcerated, was beyond comprehension. Was any element of compassion shown? Sadly, there was none. One of the accused is a cancer sufferer while another is a housewife.

They had, undoubtedly, committed an offence of being a party to an unlawful assembly during the swearing-in of a new Menteri Besar at the Istana on the fateful day. But in the ensuing mayhem anything could have happened. This was confirmed by both defence and prosecution witnesses during the initial trial. Even police officers, who were called to the witness stand, could not really say what took place on that day. The situation on the ground was so fuzzy and, coupled with the Federal Reserve Unit troopers firing tear gas at the crowd; no one could really ascertain what did or did not take place.

Most of the incidents were based on conjectures resulting in the charge under Section 27 (4) of the Police Act 1967 being summarily dismissed. But, like a court martial proceeding, of which I had been a party, the accused would normally be trapped with an alternative charge should he escape the primary charge. There are many ways to skin a cat.

The ruling by Session Court Judge Norsalha Hamzah on Friday, September 13 was first reported by bloggers and online news portals. The news spread like wildfire and soon many were calling news agencies for updates. Ipoh Echo was no exception. I called Augustine to get the latest. Since it was a weekend he could not do much to resolve the problem.

On Tuesday, September 17 Augustine and Aminuddin successfully filed their case with a certificate of urgency with the Taiping High Court. Justice Datuk Ahmad Nasfy Yassin arbitrated on Thursday, September 19 allowing a stay of execution under Section 311 of the Criminal Procedure Code.

Bail amount of RM3000 to RM4000 by the session court was maintained. The RM5000 fine imposed by the lower court is to be paid in six instalments, upstaging the session court’s ruling that the fine be paid in full.

“The liberty of the 13 accused is paramount and in view of the foregoing, a stay of execution should be granted notwithstanding the circumstances,” said Ahmad Nasfy Yassin.

Some sensibility has finally prevailed and it takes the good judge to make it happen.

Happy Malaysia Day?



By Fathol Zaman Bukhari

Tunku Abdul RahmanCoincidentally, the date of print of this issue of Ipoh Echo falls on the 50th Anniversary of the formation of Malaysia, Monday, September 16, 2013. In order to appreciate the true feeling of this auspicious day it is only appropriate to recall history as it is written not as it is being propagated. Since the passage of time historical facts have been distorted to such an extent that it is no longer easy to separate truth from fiction.

The formation of Malaysia was mooted by the country’s first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman in 1961. It would consist of Malaya, Brunei, Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore, all of which were British colonies. The primary reason was to allow Kuala Lumpur to monitor, control and also combat communist activities, particularly in Singapore where the Chinese population was the largest.

Singapore’s population then was about 3 million while the combined population of Malaya, Brunei, Sabah and Sarawak was about 7 million. To balance out the Chinese majority in Singapore, the merging of the states in Borneo with newly independent Malaya was deemed appropriate.

Singapore Chief Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, supported the proposal. However, his opponents resisted, arguing that this was a ploy by the British to continue its presence in the region. Most political parties in Sarawak were against the merger. Community representatives in Sabah were similarly opposed. Although the Sultan of Brunei backed the idea, the Parti Rakyat Brunei repudiated the merger and this led to the Brunei Rebellion of 1962 which was successfully quelled by the deployment of two Gurkha companies to Seria and one Royal Marine company to Limbang where the hostilities were centred.

Tunku Abdul Rahman explained his proposal at the Commonwealth Prime Ministers Conference in 1961. He finally got the agreement of the British government with a proviso that feedback be obtained from the communities involved.

This led to the formation of the Cobbold Commission. The Commission was tasked to conduct a study in the Borneo territories and to make recommendations. A substantial number of Bruneians were not in favour of a merger. Sabah drew up a list of points, referred to as the 20-point agreement, as a condition for its inclusion while Sarawak prepared a similar memorandum, known as the 18-point agreement.

These memoranda have often been quoted as the basis for discontentment between East and West Malaysians and it persists till today.

A referendum was conducted in Singapore to gauge public opinion; a large number of its population supported the merger provided some autonomous rights be given. Brunei withdrew due to opposition from certain quarters and disagreement over oil royalties and the status of the Sultan in the planned merger.

Upon reviewing the Cobbold Commission’s findings, the British government appointed another commission to draft a constitution for Malaysia. The eventual constitution was essentially the same as the 1957 Malayan Constitution.

After negotiations in July 1963, it was agreed that Malaysia would come into being on August 31, 1963 to coincide with the 7th Independence Day of Malaya. However, the Philippines and Indonesia objected to this development. Indonesia claimed that Malaysia represented a form of “neocolonialism” while the Philippines insisted that Sabah was part of its territory.

The opposition delayed the formation of Malaysia.  A United Nations team was then formed to re-ascertain whether Sabah and Sarawak truly wanted to join the coalition. Malaysia was formally declared on September 16, 1963. Lee Kuan Yew’s insistence on a Malaysian Malaysia led to Singapore’s ouster in August 1965. And the rest is history.

I was in my mid-teens when Malaysia was formed. It was definitely an occasion to celebrate, as the country had just obtained its independence. It was a double whammy, of sorts. However, in a provincial town like Parit Buntar we could only look up to Kuala Lumpur to take the lead.

The country was not yet free of communist insurgents. The Malayan Communist Party was still active, especially in the border regions. With the onset of Konfrontasi with Indonesia, a national call-up was initiated.

I can still recall volunteers marching in the town padang under the watchful eyes of one very serious-looking officer. Major Zainuddin was instrumental in me joining the army, which I did five years later in 1968. Some said it was foolhardy, some said it was premature. But I did what I had to do, romanticism aside. And I had never lived to regret it.

Fifty years down the road I can now appraise the situation more realistically. What have we achieved after half a century of existence? We are still as fractious as we were five decades ago. I still need a permit to enter Sabah and Sarawak and will not be allowed to work there if I choose to. If I am considered a threat, the state authorities can put me on the next plane to Kuala Lumpur. That is the sad truth.

Am I happy on this auspicious day?

You must be kidding.


Remembering Sybil Kathigasu



By Fathol Zaman Bukhari

editorial - Remembering Sybil Kathigasu - 2My interest in Sybil Kathigasu was rekindled when an old acquaintance emailed me to ask whether the road named after the local heroine, somewhere in Fair Park Ipoh, still remains.

His fear is not without reasons, as Ipoh City Council has a habit of changing street and road names at the drop of a hat. Why I use the euphemism is because there is no clear policy on street and road names, although several mayors in the past had categorically stated that only new street and road names would be given names. Renaming of old streets and roads, which are of significance to both residents and citizens, is taboo.

That was the premise but, like all things else, promises are made to be broken. At best, they are made merely to please the few vocal ones who would go to extreme ends to demonstrate their displeasure. For law-abiding people like you and me, a little indiscretion is of no consequence.

So those in the corridors of power will think nothing of a name change even though it means plenty to the poor blokes, who have to change their identity, calling and credit cards. Some have been known to change addresses, as the new street name is in poor taste.

editorial - Remembering Sybil Kathigasu - 1Now back to my lingering interest. Sybil Kathigasu was born Sybil Medan Daly to a Eurasian planter and a Eurasian midwife on September 3, 1899 in Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia. That accounts for her middle name, Medan. She was the fifth child and the only girl. She was trained as a nurse and midwife and spoke Cantonese fluently.

Sybil and her husband, Dr Abdon Clement Kathigasu, operated a clinic at No. 141 Brewster Road (Jalan Sultan Idris Shah) in Ipoh from 1926 until the Japanese invasion of Malaya in December 1941.

Days before Japanese forces occupied Ipoh, the couple moved to Papan. The predominantly Chinese community of Papan was so fond of Dr A.C. Kathigasu and gave him a Hakka nickname, ‘You Loy-De’.

Residing at No. 74, Main Street in Papan, Sybil Kathigasu secretly kept shortwave radio sets and listened to BBC broadcasts. The couple quietly provided medical treatment, much-needed medicines and information to the MPAJA (Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Army) soldiers operating in the Kledang jungles.  Due to treachery they were eventually arrested by the dreaded Kempeitai, the military police arm of the Imperial Japanese Army, in 1943.

Despite being interrogated by her captors, Sybil revealed little or nothing and was incarcerated at the Batu Gajah prison for her defiance. Sybil suffered all kinds of torture while in captivity, including the infamous “water-treatment”. After the end of the Japanese Occupation in August 1945, Kathigasu was flown to Britain to be treated.

Sybil was awarded the George Medal for Gallantry months before she succumbed to her wounds in June, 1948. She was the only known local woman to have won the medal, which was instituted in September 1940 by King George VI. The medal is presented to civilians who perform acts of bravery in, or meriting recognition by, the United Kingdom.

Iban tracker, Awang anak Rawang, was awarded the George Cross in November 1951 for valour while serving as a tracker with the Worcestershire Regiment during the Malayan Emergency (1948 to 1960). The George Cross, incidentally, is the highest gallantry award for civilians and is equal in precedence to the Victoria Cross. The Malaysian equivalent of the Victoria Cross is the Seri Pahlawan Gagah Perkasa or commonly known as SP. Some 28 security personnel have been conferred the award thus far.

If you ask the youths today whether they know either Sybil Kathigasu or Awang anak Rawang, most will reply in the negative. I tried asking my thirty-something son about the duo. He gave a blank stare instead.

Youths of yesteryear were taught history as it was supposed to be taught; school children today are told to memorise names of Malay rulers and their consorts by heart. I wonder what were their contributions that warrant their names be committed to memory?

There is an onerous effort by the authorities to systematically erase historical facts that have relevance to the nation’s past for reasons best known to them.

I believe the reasons are obvious. Sybil Kathigasu’s heroism is being sidetracked purely because she helped the Communist insurgents and thus was considered an anti-hero. As for the Iban tracker, he was in the service of the British Army and not the Malaysian Army.

The colour of one’s skin and the belief he or she professes play a part too. I can’t be far wrong.

What Will Come of Silveritage Galleria?


From the Editor’s Desk

By Fathol Zaman Bukhari

That is the burning question on most Ipohites’ lips. What will come of this once opulent and proud building which was, supposedly, to be the “home” of the silver state’s rich cultural heritage? Built at a cost of almost RM15 million, and officially opened to the public in 1998, Silveritage Galleria, as its name suggests, was earmarked as a likeable exhibition centre to showcase Perak’s arts and culture.

Editor's Desk - What Will Come of Silveritage Galleria

The responsibility to transform this piece of real estate was being entrusted to the State Development Corporation or Perbadanan Kemajuan Negeri Perak. There was much expectation surrounding the newly built complex then, as Ipohites were looking forward to it becoming what it was supposed to be – an exhibition centre of standing.

Equally interesting was the accompanying hype. It would be a one-stop centre of sorts for everything and anything to do with arts and culture. The presence of two general-purpose halls augmented its importance as a choice location to hold social functions such as weddings and seminars, considering the cost factor.

The complex was ideally located on the southern banks of Sungai Pinji close to the city’s airport and at the outskirt of an expanding Ipoh. From the outset everything was near perfect, proximity to city centre and, above all, accessibility with a pleasant design to match.

But like all things else it was only good in theory, as ensuing events would have a telling effect on its viability. The one single factor that caused the complex’s untimely demise, to my mind, is its conversion from an idealistic and under-used cultural showpiece to a nightmarish and ill-conceived bus terminal. Public clamouring for an alternative to the congested Medan Kidd and pussyfooting by the authorities hastened its decline.

At best, the Medan Gopeng Bus Terminal was merely a short-term fix to please the privileged and well-connected few.

When the much-touted Amanjaya Bus Terminal in Meru Jaya was opened in 2012 and became operational the following year, the fate of Silveritage Galleria was sealed. Although designed as an integrated terminal, the Meru Jaya facility, built at a staggering cost of RM140 million, has yet to catch the public’s imagination.

The absence of a proper shuttle service connecting the terminal with outlying areas of the city is the reason why many are reluctant to use it. But with over 30 bus companies already operating at the new terminal, the latest being the Bercham-based YoYo, the much-preferred Ipoh-KLIA-LCCT-Ipoh shuttle bus service, travellers have little choice but to accede.

Sometime in February of last year the Executive Councillor for Tourism, Dato’ Hamidah Osman, visited the galleria in anticipation of its closure and announced plans for a revival. She said that the complex would be turned into a one-stop centre for the sale of products synonymous with Perak such as pomelos, kacang putih and salted fish.

Plans to house the offices of travel and tour agents were also in the offing. The agents could use the empty bays to park their tour buses while in transit. That was the bait but, in all likelihood, it was not tempting enough to inspire our listless tour operators. There were no takers.

Hamidah insisted that the transformation would be effective once the Medan Gopeng bus terminal ceased its operations in mid-2012. It is already August 2013, nothing seems to be happening. Silveritage Galleria is as empty as it has been since the relocation exercise early this year.

The eerie silence that greets night-time passers-by amplifies its destituteness prompting some to call it a haunted facility. The few remaining food traders consider closing down as the only option left.

There is every possibility that this showpiece building belonging to the Perak Development Corporation is fast becoming a white elephant.  The prospects are simply too glaring to dismiss.


A Changing Social Scene


From the Editor’s Desk

By Fathol Zaman Bukhari

Many may not agree with me that Ipoh is experiencing a gradual change in its social landscape. Although the transformation is subtle the change is a welcome sign. This one time sleepy hollow, which has gone into a prolonged hibernation after the demise of the tin industry in the early 1980s, is beginning to come alive. Unfortunately, many are still in denial not wanting to see the positive side of things. The prophets of doom will, as a matter of course, have nothing good to say.

The city’s robust economy is being fuelled mainly by the private sector, a phenomenon which was found wanting a few years ago. Investments by private entities and individuals, mainly home-grown, is a good indication that Ipohites, who left for greener pastures during the tin market slump, have now returned home, not to roost but to do business. This is not only healthy but also good for everyone in Ipoh.

The rippling effect of the economic boom will benefit small-time businessmen like the ubiquitous hawkers and traders that Ipoh is famous for. Food courts and hawker centres are springing up like mushrooms after a downpour. And the existence of a vibrant suburban community in once remote hamlets such as Kampung Tawas, Bercham, Buntong and Kepayang bespeaks a new-found vigour.

Based on the 2010 census, Ipoh, with a land size of 643 sq km, supports a population in excess of 760,000. Not bad for a state capital that boasts the most number of colonial buildings within a small confine. The city that tin built has gone a complete circle. Or has it?

Mayor Dato’ Roshidi Hashim believes it has and attributes the success to the hard-working and diligent city folks which consist of a healthy mix of races and creeds. Thus the notion that the success of a nation rests squarely on the shoulders of its citizens holds true. Therefore, racial polarity and religious bigotry, as being espoused by some in the ruling coalition is an anathema, a no-go. They will be committing political seppuku if the unthinkable happens.

Topping the list of insensitivities is the action of the Sungai Buloh school principal who confined his non-Muslim students to the school’s toilet for their meals during the fasting month of Ramadan.

Intolerance is a quality so endemic in Biro Tata Negara-trained officers these days. Sadly, they form the bulk of the bloated civil service. Such things never happened during my formative years in my hometown of Parit Buntar in the 1950s and 1960s.

Maybe life was not as unpredictable as it is today. We did not have much to look forward to in terms of entertainment, except for the occasional John Wayne movies shown at the town’s only cinema. I grew up when Marilyn Monroe, Sophia Loren, Brigitte Bardot and later, Ursula Andress, were the pin-up girls. We hummed to Elvis Presley’s ‘Jailhouse Rock’ and Cliff Richard’s ‘The Young Ones’. P. Ramlee’s ‘Gelora’ and L. Ramli’s ‘Dara Pujaan’ were our favourite local numbers. Investing hard-to-come-by coins in the jukebox at the town’s bus terminal was the best I could do to honour these crooners.

But that was then, today it is something else. The chasm between Baby Boomers like me and those from Gen X and Gen Y is as wide as the Pacific Ocean. Bridging this generational gap is well-nigh impossible.

Back to Ipoh’s changing social scene. On Friday, July 19, the newly-opened Symphony Suites hosted a talk by world-renowned shoemaker, Datuk Professor Jimmy Choo and Ipoh-born and controversial radio and television presenter, Patrick Teoh. The event was organised by Perak Academy as part of its Perak Lectures series, the 100th since its inception in 1999.

What was most exciting about the meeting of the two ‘giants’ were the liberal exchanges the duo engaged in on the making of Jimmy Choo, a name synonymous with ladies footwear in the volatile fashion world. A Jimmy Choo is worth its weight in gold, literally. A pair can fetch as much as USD10,000 (RM32,000), something beyond the reach of mere mortals like us.

But we take pride in the fact that a humble shoemaker from Penang had made it big in the international arena. And he did it by weaving his magic into the heart of the late Princess Diana, the Princess of Wales. Diana was hooked on Jimmy Choo’s shoes and had several designed by him before her tragic death on August 31, 1997.

Editor's Desk - A changing social scene

Professor Dr Abdul Aziz Bari

The other was the Policy Talk organised by Harold Kong at his restaurant, St Mike’s Bistro opposite the famous FMS Bar. Harold Kong is a chartered accountant by profession. He is one of the many returning Ipohites who, having made his fortune abroad, decided to come home for reasons of expedience. This former St Michael’s Institution student wants to plant his roots here rather than in Australia and Hong Kong where he worked for over two decades.

Harold’s policy talk on Saturday, July 20 was the seventh in the series. The guest speaker was Professor Dr Abdul Aziz Bari formerly of Universiti Islam Antarabangsa Malaysia. Aziz was a law professor at the university and has written several papers on constitutional laws, something unheard of among our local academia. His assertion that a “country with a constitution may not be necessarily constitutional” is a sad reflection of our country. The fact that our Constitution has been amended over 800 times since 1957 confirms the belief that the principle of separation of powers between the Executive, Legislative and the Judiciary in Malaysia is a myth. “That was so until March 2008 when the ruling coalition lost its two-thirds majority in parliament,” said Aziz.

These two events exemplify the many social activities taking place in Ipoh. There are many more, some mundane some exciting. One must have a keen eye for these happenings. Looking up the Announcement column on page 4 of Ipoh Echo is a good start.


“Think Tourism Act Tourism”


From the Editor’s Desk

By Fathol Zaman Bukhari

Ed's Desk - Think Tourism Act TourismThis is the tagline of the recent Tourism Perak – sponsored seminar, or a more pleasant alternative, retreat, held at the Swiss Garden Golf Resort and Spa in Damai Laut, Lumut. The remoteness of the holiday resort, located on an elevated promontory overlooking Pangkor Island, lends credence to it being classified a retreat.

Once inside, guests have little access with the outside world as getting to Sitiawan, the nearest town requires a bumpy ride along a winding road that runs for over 20 kilometres amidst a lush tropical jungle interspersed with oil palm and fast-disappearing rubber trees.

So a respite lasting three days and two nights is a retreat in every sense of the word. However, defining the word “retreat” is of no consequence if the significance of the meeting of tourism players in Perak is lost in transition.

The primary objective of the seminar was to get all those involved in the state tourism industry to sit together, deliberate over pressing issues and come up with some workable solutions to address problems affecting the industry, per se.

“It’s not about reinventing the wheel,” said one rather disinterested participant. He was right. As far as my memory takes me, this must be the umpteenth time I have attended a seminar or forum or retreat on tourism. Therefore, the word holds no special meaning to those who have been exposed to the subject.

“It’s not the form that matters but the substance,” uttered another. His rankling was not without reasons. Obviously, he was riled by the lackadaisical attitude of those entrusted with the implementation of resolutions passed and adopted during past meetings. The nagging question on the minds of the hundred-odd participants who had gathered at the resort’s spacious ballroom that Sunday evening was whether the ostentatious retreat would go the way of previous get-togethers – all talk but no action.

I was a little skeptical but acceded nonetheless. To me it was the infusion of new blood that prompted me to sit out and listen. On the podium was the newly-minted Executive Councillor for Health, Tourism and Culture, Ms Nolee Ashilin Dato’ Mohd Radzi, the assemblywoman for Tualang Sekah.

She is like a breath of fresh air. Coming from a family of politicians and a father who once held the same portfolio under Tan Sri Ramli Ngah Talib, youthful Nolee has the panache, the wherewithal and the desire to see things through. She exhibited her flair by playing some catchy video clips on tourism. It caught the audience’s attention. She knew what she was talking about. We were thrilled.

Being young and blessed with a solid academic grounding, Nolee seems the right candidate for the hot seat. I have no qualms about her credentials. She has an honours degree in accounting and finance from one of the top twenty universities in the United Kingdom, Manchester Metropolitan University. She also holds a master’s degree in business management from Edith Cowen University, Perth, Australia.

The lady is a pedigree, a thoroughbred. But like a rough diamond it requires polishing. Nolee’s willingness to listen to the woes of one very aggrieved tour agent from Pangkor Island provides a likeable preview of things to come. My only hope is she will rise to the occasion as Visit Malaysia Year 2014 is less than six months away. There is plenty to be done and getting things done the right way is no mean task. It requires the support of all, especially the staff of Tourism Perak which she heads.

Although my presence at the seminar was merely to listen and to report I got into the thick of the action, nonetheless. Preserving heritage buildings, antiquated machineries, traditions and cultures was one of the subjects for discussion.

The monstrous tin dredge idling on a man-made lake in Tanjung Tualang and nicknamed TT5 (Tanjung Tualang 5) was the focus of our attention. Neglected and left to rot in the unforgiving tropical sun, TT5 is on the verge of sinking into the murky waters unless works to rehabilitate it are taken. Its touristic potentials, unfortunately, are being overlooked by its stakeholders. If nothing is done this “indomitable legacy of the tin era” will end at the bottom of the lake.

Cross selling TT5 with the lacklustre herbal garden, the over-indulged Kellie’s Castle, the tasty prawn dishes of Tanjung Tualang and the breathtaking vistas of Kinta Nature Park is one way to promote heritage-rich Perak to the world. These iconic features, fortunately, are found along the Simpang Pulai-Batu Gajah-Tanjung Tualang road.

Yang Berhormat Nolee, we have made our intentions known. The ball is now in your court.