Tag Archives: Fathol Zaman Bukhari

Will They Ever Learn?

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editor deskBy Fathol Zaman Bukhari

No one wants to be on the receiving end of physical abuse, more so if the victim is a loved one. The number of battered women and kids are on a steady rise in the country. On June 2, a three-year-old boy’s body was exhumed from a makeshift grave at the foot of Gunung Brinchang in Cameron Highlands. The cause of death was abuse inflicted by the boyfriend of the mother, ironically a policewoman who has gone AWOL (Absent Without Leave).

This is not an isolated case but one of the many that have received wide coverage in the media. I am sure there are many that have gone unreported largely because the victims, out of fear and shame, have deliberately kept their troubles to themselves to protect the perpetrators. They could be close relatives, a father or brother or an uncle whom they prefer to “protect”.

However, since the passing of the Domestic Violence Act in 1994, and implemented in 1996, cases of abuses by spouses, parents and relatives are beginning to receive the attention they truly deserve. Although it is a welcome change, things are not as rosy as they are supposed to be.

The biggest hurdle and the ones putting up all the obstacles, are the police. I don’t mean the force as a whole but those who man the front desk at the not so glorious ‘balai polis’ (police station) that dot the countryside. The quintessential ‘balai polis’ has become an important part of our system as they serve a purpose, especially at this moment in time. With crime rate spiralling out of control the sight of this conspicuous blue-white building in the neighbourhood is a welcome relief. But sight is one thing, reality is another.

The fact that the Domestic Violence Act was only passed in 1994 and implemented in 1996, after tireless campaigning by women’s groups beginning in the early 1980s, says plenty about the whole matter. Apathy is the reason behind the charade and I say this with much conviction.

I had the misfortune of following one aggrieved woman who wanted to take a temporary protection order against her abusive husband not so long ago. The procedure requires the victim, if she is wounded, to report to the nearest government hospital where a one-stop-crisis centre to cater for such exigencies is in operation. There is one at the Ipoh General Hospital.

After being attended to by a medical doctor she will be told to make an initial report to the police personnel on duty at the crisis centre. That is where her problem begins. She will then be directed to an Investigating Officer (IO) at the district police station who is responsible to investigate and validate the case.

On that fateful day the IO in question was away on a course and his relief, a lady officer, was nowhere to be found. After many enquiries she was finally traced, and that only happened many hours later. Meanwhile, the woman and a representative from a local women’s group had to while away their time doing nothing. I stayed on to watch the fun.

When the officer finally arrived she took some time to settle. She gave all sorts of excuses for the delay and had the audacity to say that her computer was kaput when the rest in the office were working. When I pointed this out to her, she grudgingly took her time to take down the woman’s particulars and her complaints. While hammering at the keyboard she told the woman to settle things with her husband. “You go back home and try to make up lah,” she said.

Go back and patch things up? She must be mad. The poor woman was at her wits end and anything more would simply be suicidal. And this police officer, a woman herself, was telling the victim to go home and make up? What a shame. I was disgusted.

Once a police report has been filed the victim needs to go to the local welfare department (Jabatan Kebajikan Masyarakat) to initiate proceedings for a temporary court order. The restraining order is only issued by a magistrate upon receipt of the department’s request. Enforcing the order is the duty of the police.

The procedures are simple but front-liners, especially police personnel manning the front desk at the ubiquitous balai polis, are neither sympathetic nor empathetic. Their grasp of the laws on violence against women is shallow, to say the least. They need to be taught and be more sensitive to changes made for the good of the general public.

This does not bode well for the Prime Minister’s much-publicised Government Transformation Programme where fighting crime is one of the National Key Results Areas under the programme. To the policemen at the balai, however, it is business as usual. Will they ever learn?

Well Done TNB

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By Fathol Zaman Bukhari

editorial deskIt is not too comforting to know that the humblest thing is often being relegated to some empty recesses of our mind. We seldom give basic necessities such as water and electricity much attention unless they affect your routine and lives.

Perception is a strong tool that nullifies your thoughts however discerning one may be. I don’t wish to sound philosophical but what I am trying to proffer is how we have taken things for granted simply because of the assumption that they don’t necessarily work in our favour.

Take the service provided by our monopolistic power supplier, Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB) whose predecessor was the less gargantuan National Electricity Board of yesteryear. Nobody would give a hoot if told that there is more to TNB other than its bold lettering emblazoned on electric poles and on the doors of sub-stations in your neighbourhood.

Like many others I have come to regard TNB as an insatiable government-linked company whose only interest is to squeeze as much from the long-suffering public. Reports of hidden charges under some very innocuous headings in the monthly bill are rife. There have been instances when the public have stopped short of taking to the streets to protest against these inconsistencies.

The lopsided agreement in favour of the 11 Independent Power Producers (IPPs) in the country is a case in point. It is a well-known fact that these entities are being heavily subsidised by the government to a tune of about RM2 billion annually.

Support of these IPPs, to put it bluntly, is at the expense of PETRONAS, Tenaga Nasional Berhad and Malaysian consumers. One of the entities has a Return on Investment (ROI) of almost 48 per cent when a ROI of 12 per cent is considered justifiable. The inequity is staggering, to say the least. But that is not what I am about to highlight in this editorial of mine.

It was one of those hazy weekends when you have little to do but to remain glued to the television watching some rough and tumble games coming to life on the giant LED screen. I was no exception. The object of my interest that fateful day was a final between two top-notch rugby clubs Down Under.

It was almost 7pm. The sky was heavily overcast punctuated by lightning and thunder. One lightning flash came crashing from the sky and exploded in front of my house. The TV screen and the lights went off. The next-door neighbour’s house, however, was not affected and so were the rest in the vicinity.

My damage control drills came into effect. I never thought of calling TNB for assistance. The first person that came to mind was the contractor who fixed the electric fittings in my house. I called him and he was in front of my gate almost an hour later.

The lightning bolt had spiked two of the three external fuses on my 3-phase electrical board. Only one was functioning. He had them replaced and supply was restored soon after. Before he left he told me that TNB is equipped for such an emergency. The number to call is TNB Careline 15454.

It did not bother me much until I received my bill. The amount was well below my anticipated figure. I decided to call the number to check. A recorded voice on the other end answered. After the onerous, “Press 1 for Bahasa Malaysia, Press 2 for English” followed by another number for default reporting, I was directed to an operator who answered in crisp and clear English. I told her of my problem. She said someone would return my call soon. Sure enough someone did call. It was the local TNB response team.

True to form, the van with the team stopped by my house an hour after I made the call to TNB Careline. The damaged electric meter with the wrong reading was duly replaced.

I was stumped. Honestly, I did not expect such a miracle to happen, not in this trying moment. I thought the national power supplier would take a lifetime to react. How wrong could I have been?

So the next time something goes wrong with your power supply, don’t hesitate to call 15454. You can even text a message or send an email. That is customer service for you. I feel Ipoh City Council should learn a thing or two from TNB.

 

Forging a Formidable Team

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By Fathol Zaman Bukhari

The formal results of the 13th General Election have been announced by the Election Commission and in spite of the many irregularities, perceived or otherwise, most Malaysians have come to accept their fate. Have they gone their old complacent ways? I doubt it. Election petitions on 29 seemingly controversial seats are being filed and the courts have six months to arbitrate on the cases and make their judgments known.

EXCO PERAK

This and the upcoming electoral boundary delineation exercise will be the two most watched, most reported and most talked about post GE 13 events. They will be discussed, dissected and deliberated at coffee shops, at social clubs, at bus stops, on buses, on trains and in toilets. Malaysians’ favourite pastime of late has been about the general election and its impact on the populace.

The blame game never seems to cease. Depending on which side of the political divide one is inclined to, the propensity to apportion blame on a particular community has become increasingly apparent. Having analysed the results, in my own imperfect way, I won’t be wrong in assuming that there is a rural-urban split in voting pattern. The more IT-savvy and exposed urbanites prefer a change while the vastly impoverished and poorly-informed rural population wants no part of it, preferring status quo instead. The disparity is most evident in Sarawak and Sabah where accessibility to the interiors is restricted by distance and remoteness.

The healing process may take months or not at all. Prime Minister Najib wants reconciliation as a way out but events unfolding in the weeks following Election Day on May 5 have proven otherwise. Statements by the newly-minted Home Minister and the newly-promoted Inspector General of Police are less than inspiring. They ought to know that intimidation will not cow the diehards who have a cause to fight for.

At a dinner for media representatives hosted by Dato’ Seri DiRaja Zambry Abd Kadir recently, the Menteri Besar declared that he wanted to minimise the blows by avoiding confrontation. “My party supporters have urged that we organise rallies like what the opposition is doing. But that’s not the right thing to do,” he reasoned. Believing that a confrontational approach would only aggravate things, the MB has vouched for a cooling period. “Hopefully, level heads will eventually prevail.” Perakeans are peace-loving people and I am certain they will not resort to violence to demonstrate their displeasure.

The sentiment on the ground is one of optimism. Most have come to terms with the outcome of the election and are prepared to move on. The opposition coalition may have their reasons but they cannot deny the people’s right to continue with their lives. The reality on the ground is something else. The same old problems that have been haunting the people are back. Dirty back lanes, uncollected rubbish, traffic jams and double parking are some that Ipohites face on a daily basis.

Complaints of poor service at the Urban Transformation Centre (UTC), Najib’s centerpiece, have now surfaced. My prediction was right. It will be a matter of time before the ugly side of the Malaysian Civil Service rears its ugly head. It is widely reported that the Immigration Department counter at UTC does not operate fully on weekends. “There are times when it is closed for no apparent reason,” complained one irate lady. Could this be the beginning of the end? I don’t wish to speculate but suffice to say that tackling these never-ending problems should be a priority.

Nine new executive councillors have been appointed. They received their letters of appointment from the Regent, Raja Dr Nazrin Shah at Istana Iskandariah, Kuala Kangsar on Saturday, May 18.  Of the nine, three are former appointees while the remaining six are new. Those holding the portfolios of local council, economic developments, women affairs, education and tourism will be hard pressed to show results, as their continued term in office is contingent upon their performance.

The Menteri Besar has warned that their appointment was not a form of reward for their selfless service to the party but a responsibility they have to shoulder. “A committee will be formed to oversee their performance in accordance with the Aku Janji (pledge) made by the party before the elections,” said Zambry to the media.

Zambry’s assurance is timely given the current state of affairs. Perak’s highly urban setting requires a very committed executive councillor who can motivate the state’s 15 local council presidents to perform beyond the norms. We need only to look at the deficiencies within Ipoh City Council which are simply too glaring. “Things are not getting any better,” said one senior citizen.

With a fresh mandate to administer the state for another five years it is the fervent hope of every Perakean that the ruling coalition, under the able stewardship of Dato’ Seri DiRaja Zambry Abd Kadir, will rise to the occasion.

Has he forged a formidable team to bring Perak to another level? Only time will tell.

A Foregone Conclusion

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By Fathol Zaman Bukhari

A Foregone Conclusion

I had underestimated the resolve of Ipohites to make their presence felt during polling day on Sunday, May 5. Believing that we would be among the early birds, my wife, son and I were pleasantly surprised by the huge number of people massing around SJK (C) Bercham, the designated polling station for those living in areas around Bercham. There were a total of 16 streams or saluran. The voters were assigned their streams based on their age and localities. My wife and I were in one and my son in another.

It was well organised and Election Commission (EC) officials were readily available to guide voters to their streams and to provide the much needed information, especially for first-timers, the disabled and the infirmed. A few were seen on wheelchairs with their minders providing the push.

Although we were at the school by 9am the number of people milling around the various counters was huge. Apparently, some were there as early as 6am in the morning, well before opening time at 8am.

Being grouped among the oldies, we completed our responsibility an hour later. My son, however, finished much faster. He was by our side in less than 20 minutes and proudly showed his left index figure, which was dabbed in indelible ink, an indicator of his conclusion with GE13. He had returned from Melbourne to fulfil his obligation as a registered voter after failing to do so in the March 2008 general election.

The pervading atmosphere was very much carnival-like. Although Bercham is a Chinese-dominated area, a number of Malays and Indians were there too. What was so special about the occasion was the manner in which the whole episode was conducted. There was no hustling, no shouting and no prompting. The people knew what was expected of them and they went about their business of casting their votes in a very orderly manner.

Their coming out in droves, with their kids and parents in tow, was a good enough indication that democracy was alive and kicking, in spite of some chilling prophesies that the opposite would happen.

We were thrilled that our objective of proving that Malaysians, by and large, are responsible people who abhor violence and are peace-loving, was achieved with little fuss.

Upon completion I lingered for a while to see if any foreign-looking voters were around. We were warned to be on the look out as the threat of pengundi hantu (phantom voters) was real. News of an influx of Bangladeshis, Myanmese, Nepalese and Indonesians, purposely flown in by chartered flights from Sabah and Sarawak, was making the headlines in the social media. These phantom voters were there for a reason – to dilute the number of votes going to the opposition coalition, Pakatan Rakyat (PR).

I saw none. I guess Bercham, being an opposition stronghold, having these hantus was of no consequence. They must have been assigned to constituencies where the difference between winning and losing was marginal. This could be the reason why the results for the state seats of Manjoi, Lubok Merbau, Pasir Panjang and Tapah are being challenged and a court petition is pending.

The results were, however, a foregone conclusion. Barisan Nasional (BN) won Perak with a slim three-seat majority. Pakatan Rakyat got 625,710 votes or 54.79 per cent of the ballots while BN received 506,947 votes or 44.3 percent of the ballots but managed to form the state government. Had the American presidential election system been adopted, PR would have won hands down. Delineation of polling boundaries or more succinctly, gerrymandering, an evil long outlawed in many matured democracies in the West is the primary cause for this disparity.

The last delineation exercise was conducted in 2002 and adopted by Parliament in 2003. According to the federal constitution, there must be an interval of not less than eight years between two delineation exercises. A two-thirds majority support in Parliament and the state assemblies are required to approve the new constituency boundaries. This is, however, not possible presently as BN has lost its two-thirds majority. But the EC can make its own adjustments, as the laws provide for such an exigency.

The swearing-in ceremony of Dato’ Seri DiRaja Zambry Abd Kadir as the 12th Menteri Besar of Perak on Wednesday May 7, was marred by the absence of the 28 Opposition state assemblymen. Will this be the trend for future sittings of the state legislative assembly?

There is much distrust in the air. Credibility of the ruling coalition has gone down the drain. Is it proper to apportion blame on one community for the setbacks? Must Chinese be punished for making a choice? Is reconciliation possible under such circumstances? I have no answers.

The road ahead is littered with obstacles which only the righteous can navigate.

Making Your Vote Count

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By Fathol Zaman Bukhari

We are into the final stretch of the race and whoever breasts the tape first wins. That happens in a 100-metre dash where a fraction of a second makes a difference, for it separates the winner from the loser. In this blue-ribbon event, physique alone is not the determinant. On a bad day even the best sprinter on the field will lose.

Editorial desk But what if that someone is being aided by performance-enhancement drugs that are outlawed in the sporting world? The fall from grace of seven-time Tour de France champion, Lance Armstrong is a case in point. The internationally acclaimed cyclist had admitted to taking drugs to improve his cycling prowess. And it took the international cycling fraternity awhile to condemn his actions.

Why do I allude to such an example in amplifying our upcoming 13th General Election? The answer is simple. Here we have opponents from two distinct camps (or three if we take into consideration the Independents) vying for control of the federal and state governments. And they are all using all the ‘enhancements’ they have access to, for a win at the polls.

All 222 parliamentary and 505 state seats are up for grabs. Incidentally, for reasons best known to all, the number of Independent candidates in the upcoming general election is the largest ever in the nation’s electoral history. At the close of Nomination Day on April 20 some 270 have registered themselves as Independent candidates. Out of this number, 79 are contesting for parliamentary seats while the remaining 191 are targeting state seats.

Interestingly, 61 or 22 per cent of these Independents are former UMNO members who have been expelled from the party. And that includes the former Wanita UMNO Deputy President, Kamilia Ibrahim who is contesting in the Kuala Kangsar parliamentary seat.

editorial desk 1Although party leaders have vehemently denied any discontentment within the party’s fold, the number speaks for itself. This phenomenon, however, is not confined to UMNO alone, it has also affected the Barisan Nasional coalition parties, to a lesser degree, and the Opposition Pakatan  Rakyat, as evidenced by the three-corner fight for the Jelapang state seat closer home.

The advantage of incumbency, coupled with a “limitless” supply of funds and a pro-establishment mainstream media, will make the task of dislodging Barisan Nasional from its perch difficult. But then again anything can happen, as in the game of football the ball is round not square.

In terms of preparedness I would say both sides are well prepared. It is the extent that really matters. On Pakatan Rakyat’s side the most vocal and prepared to my mind are PAS and DAP. This is not to discount PKR’s resolve in making an impression but its visibility is somewhat diminished. The Perak PAS youth wing and its liaison division, led by their respective leaders, went on the offensive from the word go. In fact, both have been active since last year organising ceramah and media conferences to highlight BN’s improprieties.

Accusations and counter-accusations are the staples of these organised gatherings. Whether this methodology will have an impact on voters’ choice is debatable. Opposition ceramah, however, draws the crowd. This is attributable to the one-sided views gleaned from the government-owned newspapers and television networks, Astro included. Online and social media have become the medium of choice for the Opposition to propagate their views. Those wishing to hear unbiased news have resorted to the alternative media instead. I find certain news items in the national dailies lopsided, exaggerated and also demeaning.

Manifestos were never the ‘in’ thing in previous elections. Somehow the trend has been bucked in GE 13, as proponents on both sides of the political divide try to outdo one another in coming up with the catchiest manifestos. It does not matter that they are a repeat of earlier promises so long as they are “original”, as one party stalwart insisted.

Both sides promise the rakyat plenty and high on the list is making life more pleasant for all. Makes me wonder what the incumbent government have been doing for the past 56 years? Why make all these promises when you have had over five decades to fulfil them?

Even BN candidate for the state seat of Pasir Pinji, Dato’ Thong Fah Chong has his own manifesto. Making cheap public transport available for his constituents is high on his agenda.

So what is in stock for Perakeans come Election Day on May 5? Do we wish to make a stand and make change a reality? Najib has said that there is no need for change as the party can change from within. Are these platitudes enough to convince us? I leave it to your better judgment to decide what is best.

If GE 13 is to be the mother of all elections let us join the fray and make every vote counts. I am all ready for the big day. What about you?

It’s Finally Here

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By Fathol Zaman Bukhari

The long wait is finally over when the Prime Minister announced the dissolution of Parliament on Wednesday, April 3. The guessing game went on for over a year as many Malaysians had expected the dissolution to take place in March 2012. In the process one state government was automatically dissolved after having outlived its tenure. Had not the April 3 announcement been made, a few more state governments, including that of Perak, would have acquired similar distinction. The legitimacy of the Negeri Sembilan’s state legislature ended on March 28, the first ever in the nation’s recorded history.

IT_S FINALLY HEREThe much-awaited announcement was made at 11.32am on Wednesday, April 3, two days after April Fools’ Day. It was carried live by national television and, in default, by satellite television and telecasted worldwide.

In making the announcement the Prime Minister gave his commitment to respect and preserve the democratic process and the choice made by the people. He went further by saying that “any transition of power would be conducted in a peaceful and orderly manner in tandem with democratic principles, the politics of transformation and national interest.”

Najib’s assurance is definitely something cheery to hear, as rumours are abound that a difficult transition would ensue if the inevitable happens.

The Perak State Assembly was dissolved the same day after Menteri Besar Dato’ Seri DiRaja Dr Zambry Abd Kadir had sought the consent of the acting Sultan. On the auspicious day the state assemblies of Perlis, Malacca and Sabah were similarly dissolved.

Exactly a week after the dissolution, the Election Commission, on Wednesday, April 10, announced the dates for nomination, campaigning and polling. Malaysians will exercise their rights to vote on Sunday, May 5 while those seeking a new term in office will announce their candidacy on Saturday, April 20. Campaigning period will last for 15 days, the longest since the first parliamentary and state elections in 1959.

Eyes will of course be focused on Perak. Speculations are rife, considering the publicity the state had garnered since the “ouster” of the Nizar-led Pakatan Rakyat government on February 6, 2009.

I have been approached several times to give my prediction. As in any given case the strength of incumbency holds sway. The odds are obviously on the Opposition in making an impact on voters’ choice. But like they say, anything can happen. Najib’s dithering has its advantages. It provided Opposition parties with ample time to exercise their skills in convincing the electorate. And they did it in many ways – both subtle and not so subtle. Of the three major parties making the informal Pakatan Rakyat coalition PAS is most vocal. Its youth wing has been in overdrive mode since early last year.

The party’s Strategic and Issues Committee has made several complaints, the latest being the Election Commission’s choice of April 20 as Nomination Day for candidates vying in the 13th general election. “It’s a day after the Sultan of Perak’s 85th birthday on April 19. We expressed regrets over the insensitivity of the Commission in fixing dates for GE13. We request that the Commission seeks the Sultan’s forgiveness in appointing April 20 as Nomination Day.” That was the gist of its letter to the media. I expect complaints of every nature to come my way as the deadline for the upcoming election approaches. Even the seemingly dubious sale of the Perak House in Penang is not spared. More dirty linen will be out in the open soon. One needs to keep an ear to the ground to hear the rumblings.

Party nomination is a closely watched affair, especially the naming of candidates contesting in high-profile parliamentary and state seats. Imran Abdul Hamid, a former naval officer, will contest in the Lumut parliamentary constituency. Imran is nominated on a PAS ticket. Perak Menteri Besar Dato’ Seri DiRaja Dr Zambry Abd Kadir is coy about Imran contesting in his backyard. “This is a democratic process and anyone can stand for election,” he remarked.

The jostling for seats has long begun and no party is spared this phenomenon. Although Zambry has several times declared that everything is hunky dory within the Perak Barisan Nasional fold, the conflicting announcements by MIC leaders about the Sungai Siput parliamentary seat is just the tip of the iceberg. Whether the infamous frogs would be reassigned their seats is a foregone conclusion. If winnable candidates, as espoused by Najib and Zambry, be the criterion, fielding these “frogies” will be one regrettable mistake no one is prepared to commit.

There are four sets of voters, although my Oracle said three. One is the first-time voters, those within the 21 to 25 age gap. These youngsters are IT savvy and will vote for change, as they have nothing to lose or fear. Next is the 30 to 45 age group, those with a career to pursue and a family to feed. They will prefer that the current status quo be maintained. Then comes the retirees and pensioners, some with sentimental attachments to the Old Order, some without. They will vote according to their whims and urging. The fourth is the fence sitters. This group of people are the most difficult. Whoever manages to convince them will win the race.

I am with the third group and my mind is made up. What about you?

Of Heroes and Villains

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By Fathol Zaman Bukhari

The Lahad Datu incursion by a band of armed men claiming to be soldiers of the displaced Sulu Sultanate caught the whole nation by surprise. The standoff began when Agbimuddin Kiram, one of the claimants to the Sulu Sultanate, landed with at least 101 of his followers in the village of Tanduo in Lahad Datu District on February 11. They had arrived from the nearby islands in Southern Philippines by boats like their forefathers had done before them.

Of Heroes and Villains

Kiram’s singular intention was clear. He wanted to exert his claim over Sabah, which he and a couple of his relatives have been pursuing, without much success, since the formation of Malaysia in September 1963.

Incidentally, the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu receive a RM5300 cheque yearly from the Malaysian Embassy in Manila. The money is considered as cessation payment pursuant to the 1878 Agreement between the British and the Sulu Sultanate. The heirs, however, term the payment as “rent” and, therefore, have every right to ask for an increase or an abrogation of the agreement in its entirety.

It has been almost seven weeks now and the standoff between remnants of Kiram’s followers and the Malaysian security forces has not diminished in size and significance. Conflicting reports coming from the troubled spots in Lahad Datu had armchair analysts making all sorts of comments, some discreet and some very malicious.

I do not wish to add on to the exchanges although I find some of the comments completely off-tangent. Talks of a political conspiracy and of Anwar Ibrahim having a hand in the conflict are simply incredulous. The lengths some would go to ruffle feathers of those on both sides of the political divide is mind-boggling. They would do anything for a “fistful of dollars (ringgits)”.

Nothing beats experience, they say. Being someone who had served in this part of the country, not as a paper-pushing desk clerk at some nondescript government office in the Sabah heartland, but as a rifle-toting soldier on the shores of Kudat, the island of Bangi and Tawau in the late 1960s to early 1970s, I speak with a measure of accuracy and authority.

Let me start by saying that the borders of Sabah, especially the parts that face Southern Philippines, are very porous. People living in these border regions, like others in a similar situation, criss-cross each other’s territory as they please.

When I was stationed in Kudat and Dogoton on Bangi Island my primary task was to prevent the smuggling of contraband goods from the Philippines from reaching Sabah shores. My other responsibility was to secure the areas where we were stationed.

The task of securing was achievable but not smuggling. It was like a delicate balancing act. The islanders simply rode by in their motorised kumpits without so much as stopping to be checked. I gave up and  the Marine Police took on the job. How successful they had been I never got to ask.

The intruders, now termed as terrorists, are being hunted down. And at the time of reporting, some five battalions, army and Police, are in the vicinity to keep tabs on what remains of the “Royal Security Forces of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo”. Casualties and losses stand at 62 dead, 11 injured and 79 captured on the side of the terrorists while security forces suffered 11 dead and 16 injured. As in the case of land battles, the worst off are the people caught in between. Six civilians were killed.

Incentives to boost security forces’ morale were announced, post haste. And the one which many ex-soldiers like me cried foul was salary adjustments for both Officers and Other Ranks.  Army corporals and sergeants will enjoy an increment in their pay scale from Grades 17 and 18 to Grades 22 and 23, respectively. Officers of the ranks of captain to colonel will now be placed in Grades 42 to 52 bands. This is a hefty jump from the previous. I should have remained but that is another issue.

Opposition leader Tian Chua of Parti Keadilan Rakyat has been hounded for making a callous remark. He said those killed in Lahad Datu as “mati katak” (died in vain). This term may sound offensive to some but when we were fighting the communists at the height of the Second Emergency (1975 to 1989) so many of us “mati katak”. I can quote many incidents where soldiers and police personnel were killed without a fight, mostly in ambushes.

The winding Klian Intan-Keroh (Pengkalan Hulu) Road had witnessed many deadly ambushes sprung by the terrorists. In early 1975 a Police Field Force section on its way to collect rations in Keroh was fired upon. The entire section was wiped out. The same year a platoon of soldiers was caught in another ambush in Lapang Nenereng. Eight lives were lost. My soldier bled to death on top of a hill deep in the Gubir jungles of Kedah. He stepped on a booby trap. The poor chap could not be evacuated, as it was nighttime and the helicopter could not land.

These brave men “mati katak” but no one protested or made police reports on our behalf. Neither did we get a pay revision for our troubles. What luck!

Disaster Waiting to Happen

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By Fathol Zaman Bukhari

It came as no surprise when Taman Kledang Permai, Taman Arked and part of the Menglembu Light Industrial area were inundated by muddy water. Residents living in these affected areas got a rude shock when they woke up early on the morning of Friday, March 1 to see water gushing into their houses. It happened so fast that most could only escape with their lives and the clothes on their backs. Their belongings, and the precious little they owned, had to be abandoned. The flooding and the ensuing mudslide were caused by heavy rain that fell for two continuous days.

The root cause can be easily traced to the massive development currently taking place at the foothills and on slopes of the Kledang Range. Since Taman Kledang Permai, Taman Arked and the Menglembu Light Industrial area are adjacent to the project site, disaster was, literally, waiting to happen, and it happened.

Editor's DeskThe site covers an area of about 24 ha. It is being developed as a multi-million ringgit project known locally as the SEGi Enclave. According to iProperty.com, a leading property website in the country, SEGi Enclave is described as, “Ipoh’s first integrated university college township. The enclave consists of shop-offices, apartments, gated and guarded high-end condos and luxury semi-dees and bungalows”.

Prices of houses and condos, claims the website, range between RM250,000 to RM1.5 million. The SEGi University College campus will be located here. Once completed it will rival the UTAR Campus in Kampar in size. The property is being developed by Ipoh-based Energiser Properties Sdn Bhd.

Mudslides and landslides are not something new in Malaysia. Lives lost caused by landslides taking down apartment blocks and houses have happened before and will continue to happen. Some say it is an act of God. I beg to differ. God has nothing to do with these man-made disasters. They all have one common trait – greed. It is greed of the human kind, plain and simple.

Editor's DeskThe Highland Towers tragedy of 1993 is still fresh in our minds. It took place on December 11, 1993 at Taman Hillview, Ulu Klang, Selangor. The collapse of Block One of the apartments took the lives of 48 innocent people. Residents from two other blocks had to be evacuated for safety reasons. A lengthy legal battle ensued with no conclusive results in sight.

Nine years after the incident in November 2002, a bungalow belonging to former Armed Forces Chief, General (Rtd) Tan Sri Ismail Omar collapsed due to a landslide. His house was located metres away from the ill-fated towers. Ismail lost his wife.

The fate of Highland Towers is sealed for good. Today the three towers are in complete disarray, stripped of contents and dignity in its entirety, the towers are left to rot in the unforgiving tropical sun.

The primary cause of the Highland Towers collapse was structural failure. The development of Bukit Antarabangsa, a housing project on the hilltop behind the Towers in 1991 was the catalyst. The hill was cleared of trees and undergrowth thus exposing the soil to erosion that eventuated in the landslide.

Fortunately, the mudslide at the foothills of the Kledang Range on Friday, March 1 did not result in any death. However, over a thousand residents had the fright of their lives. Death must have stared them in the eyes, but due to quick thinking a major tragedy was averted. This goes to show Ipohites’ resilience, per se, but to what extent? I believe something of the equivalent of the Highland Towers tragedy would have a numbing impact on our conscience.

Mayor Roshidi Hashim was miffed by the attitude of those responsible for developing the project. Ipoh City Council’s warnings had gone unheeded. “It’s difficult to make people understand the severity of their actions,” he remarked.

The Council had come under severe criticism for allowing the project to continue although danger signs were already visible and complaints made. A warning, apparently, was issued to the developer in November 2012 for failing to comply with the Council’s regulations. Why was the warning ignored is anybody’s guess.

“The Council’s role as a facilitator has not been taken seriously,” said a dejected Roshidi.

The developer has undertaken the responsibility of clearing the mess, a plus point by all means. A report on the incident will be presented to the state government by Ipoh City Council. It should be ready by March 18, hopefully.

Transforming Attitude and Ethics

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By  Fathol Zaman Bukhari

The Perak Urban Transformation Centre, fondly known by its abbreviation UTC, is a major landmark in downtown Ipoh. Located at the now defunct Super Kinta shopping complex, the centre is set to make an impact on Perakeans, in general and Ipohites, in particular. The Perak UTC, the third of its kind in the country after Malacca and Kuala Lumpur and the largest of the three, has 53 operational counters dispersed on its two floors. The services provided are being divided into ten clusters ranging from welfare and human development, entrepreneurship, financial and health services, youth development, education and job-seeking.

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Some of the much sought after government agencies such as the Immigration Department and the very elusive Ipoh Land Office have counters here. Thus conducting business with these agencies becomes much easier with a vastly improved accessibility.

Before the opening of the centre, Ipohites had to go to Jelapang to renew their international passports. Getting to the land office in Kampung Manjoi is an exercise in futility, as rate-payers have to navigate the intricate roadways of this misshapen village. Understanding the poorly worded signage is another problem in itself. Many would end up in Silibin after making a wrong turn. It is very confusing, especially for first-time visitors. No wonder the Manjoi Land Office is the least patronised public agency in Ipoh. People would rather pay their dues at the post offices or at accredited banks since it is much more convenient.

As is widely reported in the mainstream media, the Perak Urban Transformation Centre and its cousin, the Gopeng Rural Transformation Centre (RTC), are part of Prime Minister Najib’s Blue Ocean initiative aimed at “providing various services for the convenience of the people in the state”. One serves urbanites while the other the rural folks. Besides facilitating dealings with government agencies, the Gopeng RTC also “serves as an integrated service centre encompassing the collection, processing and the distribution of agricultural products.”

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Unfortunately, the full potential of both these centres has yet to be realised fully. One reason I find it wanting is the speed with which this idea was pushed. The building of a transformation centre in Ipoh was mooted sometime in mid-2012. It was originally planned to be opened in December 2012 but was delayed to February 15 with the Prime Minister himself doing the honours.

A pre-launch was done on February 1 officiated by Second Finance Minister, Dato’ Seri Ahmad Husni Hanaziah, raising speculations that his presence was more than a social visit.

The original plan was to find some suitable usage for the former Super Kinta shopping complex, once a magnet for shoppers in the Kinta Valley. It lost its lustre when newer state-of-the-art shopping complexes and malls came into existence in the early 1990s.

With the exception of its wet market, the largest in the city, the crumbling complex was turning into an eyesore. It stood out like a sore thumb in the midst of an unforgiving city centre, devoid of charm. The timely makeover, therefore, was a welcome change rather than an anticipated one. In fact, Ipoh City Council was at wits’ end trying to find likeable options for its continued relevance. It was God-sent, in every sense of the word, as there is now a reason for its second lease of life.

However good an idea maybe, it will turn sour if the human factor attached to it does not perform to expectation. I say this with much conviction considering the attitude, ethics and working culture of our civil servants. Being sent from pillar to post is the norm at government offices. The sight of sullen and sulky officers manning the counters is nothing strange. What is more distressing is being singled out for being of a different race other than a Malay.

My niece had the misfortune of being treated as such when she inquired about her misplaced application recently. The lady officer mistook her for a Chinese and gave her the runaround. She had to produce her identity card to prove her ethnicity. I hope those manning the Perak UTC counters are not as bad. From what I have observed they are a likeable bunch of minders. Hopefully, this equation remains.

But in all probability, the excitement of serving in a new environment will soon wear off and they will be back to their old lacklustre ways like before.

One other problem, which may impact the centre’s viability, is parking. Parking space is limited to about 200 lots. And since most are being taken by the staff what is there left for the public?

My other concern is – will the centre survive a post GE 13 apocalypse? I shall leave this to the rakyat to decide.

Press Freedom – A Myth or Reality?

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By Fathol Zaman Bukhari

Ipoh Echo editorialThe right to freedom of expression is enshrined under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To mark this significant development in the advancement of human rights, the UN has declared May 3 as World Press Freedom Day. The date, incidentally, coincides with the anniversary of the Declaration of Windhoek, a statement on free press principles put together by African journalists in 1991. Not bad for a town rebuilt by a German army major, Curt Von Francois, in 1890 and now the capital city of the Republic of Namibia.

Considering the tumultuous history of this African nation from being a German colony and later annexed by Great Britain through its proxy, South Africa, the origin of the World Press Freedom Day, therefore, holds a special meaning to those who preach and practise press freedom.

However, like any other UN-declared days, I feel that the World Press Freedom Day on May 3 will come to pass without so much fanfare, as Malaysians brace themselves for the outcome of the elusive GE 13, most likely to be called on March 30. As attention will be focused on mending the wounds created by pre-election media hypes by both sides of the political divide, the significance of the day will definitely be lost in transition. Most Malaysians are suffering from a serious bout of election fatigue caused by too much posturing and politicking by an over-cautious Prime Minister too unsure of himself.

Notwithstanding this, the World Press Freedom Index 2013 by Paris-based ‘Reporters Without Borders’ (Reporters Sans Frontières) or RWB, has ranked Malaysia at number 145 out of 179 countries under its review. This is the lowest ranking the country has ever recorded since the French NGO started its listing in 2002. We dropped 23 spots compared to the 2011 Index. The best Malaysia ever recorded was in 2006 when it was positioned at number 92.

The fact that countries like Bangladesh, Libya, Kyrgyzstan, Thailand, Indonesia and Brunei are better off than us says plenty about Najib’s insistence that “Malaysia is the best democracy in the world”. And if that is not bad enough, Myanmar, once an international outcast, is fast catching up with Malaysia.

As far as our leaders are concerned, so long as Singapore (ranked 149) is below us, that is perfectly fine for them. This is something similar to the  rivalry between the Rangers and the Askar Melayu (Malay Regiment) in the army. And being a pure-bred Ranger officer, I subscribe to the notion that it is perfectly okay to lose a game to any other team but not to the Askar Melayu. This is a poor reflection of our leaders’ mentality and a sad day for Malaysians, per se.

As journalists we have a major responsibility to perform, and perform well we must if we wish to see a better ranking in the years ahead. However, it is easier said than done, considering the circumstances we are in.

There are 10 fundamental principles known as the “Ten Commandments” that define good journalism. I shall dwell on five, which are related to what those in the mainstream media, including yours, truly are culpable:

Telling the truth. Not something easy, as most journalists and reporters know which side their bread is buttered. Being salaried staff, their obligation is towards their paymasters, especially advertisers and media owners, and not the rakyat. I say this for myself too.

The need for verification. This is time consuming, thus journalists take the easy way out by writing what his or her gut-feeling says. Truth is, therefore, compromised.

Unbiased reporting. Again easier said than done, especially in the Malaysian context. If the reporter is covering an event involving a senior politician, it is difficult for him/her to report honestly on what he/she sees and hears. The tendency to sensationalise, and to please, is so overwhelming.

Make the significant interesting and relevant. Over here the news that is significant and relevant is often hidden between the lines. Therefore, it is difficult for the layman to comprehend unless he understands the hidden meaning. Most, unfortunately, do not.

A forum for public criticism. This seldom happens as our journalists are apt to practise self-censorship. When news is so stereotyped and biased towards the ruling party what is there to criticise? The forum has been “self-censored” for good.

Having taken cognisance of the above, press freedom in Malaysia is so screwed up that it will take a while before a semblance of sensibility is achieved. To get the now unassailable score of 1 to 10 on RWB’s press freedom scale, our leaders have to literally open up the country for a media-frenzy fest. Laws that inhibit press freedom have to be abolished in order to free mindsets so frozen in time and to overcome self-created fears.

In the meantime, we have to put up with whatever the local news media serves up. Do we have a choice? Press freedom in Malaysia, in all honesty, is a myth or more succinctly, a joke. Period.

Fathol Zaman Bukhari