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Why would you eat in a dirty restaurant?

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By Mariam Mokhtar

mariam mokhtarDo Malaysians really care about dirty restaurants or are they more interested in the taste of the food? We complain about dirty restaurants but some of us continue to patronise these places. Perhaps, Malaysians don’t care about hygiene as long as they can eat the food they are used to.

If you sit beside the smelly monsoon drain, which is blocked with rubbish, you don’t think about the drain and your proximity to it. You just want to be served quickly and savour the food.

The dirty rag which the waiter used to wipe a mess on the floor is then used to clean the table, and you think nothing of resting your hands and cutlery on the table. Very few of us request fresh cutlery, if the one we were given are encrusted with bits of hardened food. Others who find lipstick stains on the rim of the glass simply turn it around 180 degrees.

Diners who see a fly hovering over food, may find on closer scrutiny, that the fly has laid eggs – tiny clusters of pearly white lozenges, almost invisible to the naked eye. Have you ever wondered how many times the garnish adorning a dish has been used? You might wonder if the bread has been on parade in the bread basket.

I have seen rats scurrying up the curtain in a restaurant in Ipoh, but the patrons merely laughed at the “playful” rats, and carried on eating. Produce, like vegetables, is stored on the wet floor, next to the toilets but you shrug your shoulders and wait patiently for your meal. We have seen some hawker stalls in which dishwashing involves dunking dishes into a bowl of murky water, before being stacked up for re-use.

If the parts of a restaurant that you can see are dirty, what about the bits you cannot see? As a rough guide to the standards of hygiene, try and check the toilets. If the customer toilets are dirty, just imagine what the kitchens are like, where only members of staff are allowed.

Are government statistics available which tell us how many people fall ill through food poisoning every year, and in which establishments – school or staff canteens, stalls, restaurants or takeaways? How many people were admitted to hospital and how many died?

Out of all the cases of food poisoning, how many people actually file an official complaint? What was the outcome of the complaint? Is an apology sufficient? Should one be paid compensation as well? When does the Health Ministry get involved? Do the health inspectors ever perform surprise checks?

Does the Health Ministry inspect the premises following a complaint and verify that the restaurant kitchen is unhygienic, as was claimed? We know that bacteria are dangerous, but vindictive and spiteful people can spread rumours that are just as poisonous.

On 15 November, Ipohites were shocked to learn that their popular nasi kandar restaurant, Perniagaan Nasi Kandar Ayam Merah, on Jalan Yang Kalsom, famed for its “Nasi Ganja” had its operating licence revoked by the Ipoh City Council.

According to Mayor Roshidi Hashim, the joint raid was “part of a scheduled raid” and the operator “had scored insufficient points” and had been ordered to close for 14 days, by the health authorities. The raid was done at 5pm on Thursday November 14 and the order to shut immediately was issued then.

The allegations which prompted the closure were stated on Facebook by a woman, who called herself Ze Aida. She blogged that a nasi kandar outlet had put faeces in the food.

On Friday November 15, an outraged manager of Perniagaan Nasi Kandar Ayam Merah, Mohd Nihmathullah Syed Mustaffa, convened a press conference and denied the allegations of faeces in the food. His business has been operating since 1955 and he challenged the media and the woman who started the furore to provide evidence instead of making defamatory remarks.

By Saturday November 16, Ze Aida had retracted her allegation and issued a public apology. The authorities had also inspected the premises and had no objections to the store re-opening. On Monday, November 17, the restaurant was back in business to the delight of its customers, who said that they had not believed the allegations.

Why did Ze Aida start malicious rumours and begin three days of hell, for the ‘nasi ganja’ owner?

The manager, Mohd Nihmathullah should demand compensation from the authorities for acting in an unprofessional manner. Ze Aida’s allegation almost ruined his business and the livelihoods of the people he employs. The Health Ministry must learn to investigate allegations and not make knee-jerk reactions.

 

Ipoh’s Reputation Trashed

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By Mariam Mokhtar

Last March, Ipoh Mayor Dato’ Roshidi Hashim, said that the Ipoh City Council (MBI) was hoping to achieve an 80 per cent level of cleanliness in the city by August. It is now November and a public spat is brewing between the residents of Ipoh and MBI, each side is blaming the other and the tussle is most disheartening.

Ipoh is a city which is struggling with its image. Previous nicknames give an insight into its former glory; ‘City of Millionaires … Town That Tin Built … Bougainvillea City’ and presently, ‘The Green, Clean and Developing City’.  Many senior citizens will fondly recall the Ipoh of yore, which they claim is nothing like what it is today.

Rubbish dump in Ipoh

Lately, over-flowing bins, discarded black bin bags, streets littered with refuse, clogged drains, stray dogs rummaging for food and rats are not just an eyesore but a health hazard. No area is spared. Inhabitants of new townships on the outskirts of the city, and the privileged people in the posh residential areas, have grown familiar with the unsightly mess of growing piles of rubbish.

One person may dump a plastic bottle under a tree, or by the road side, and before long the litter assumes a life of its own and grows from a tiny mound to a mountain of muck. Branches from a pruned garden, left by the roadside, will attract more garden waste from elsewhere, until the compost heap stretches along the road.

Uncut grass verges encroach into drains, causing weeds to choke the flow of water, thus increasing the chances of mosquito infestation. Snakes and monitor lizards from unkempt areas have invaded the gardens and homes of readers.

At one time council workers would demand to inspect the gardens of residential homes, and then impose a fine for growing large leaved plants like the crab-clawed heliconias or pitcher plants; these plants had large foliage or flowers which would naturally hold rainwater.

It is frustrating to speak to council officials who refuse to acknowledge that fogging is not as effective as the regular servicing of drains or clearing of rubbish. Piles of rubbish, with empty tins of stagnant water and rotting food which attracts vermin, pose a serious health risk.

Recently, Mayor Roshidi admitted that he was unable to keep the city clean and faulted the residents for the filthy state of the city. He was right to an extent, as residents are partly to be blamed for the state of affair. However, those who pay their assessment rates promptly and are very civic conscious strongly believe they are being short-changed, especially with respect to keeping their city clean.

Irregular rubbish collection will inevitably result in illegal dumping of rubbish. When the city’s rubbish trucks make irregular trips to residential areas, it is not the residents fault. When the rubbish men leave some of the rubbish behind, it is not the fault of the house-owner.

If there are insufficient garbage bins in and around eateries, patrons and food peddlers cannot dispose of their litter properly. If blocked public drains are only cleared after the city council has received repeated calls from irate citizens, the public services cannot be deemed to be efficient.

If small, manageable back-garden bonfires are not permitted, how can people dispose of their garden trimmings? Why doesn’t MBI allocate each home a few large, reusable, heavy-duty garden refuse bags so that each fortnight, garden waste like twigs and grass cuttings can be collected? The council could convert this into compost and sell it back to the public for use in their gardens.

Why doesn’t MBI install more recycling bins in the city centre, and bigger dedicated recycling collection centres in and around Ipoh, for recycling garden waste, discarded furniture, old electrical goods, household waste, used motor oil and old batteries?

Is Ipoh’s rubbish problem because of a shortage of money, an ineffective rubbish programme or incompetent rubbish contractors? Some people wonder if workers are supervised adequately. Are rubbish prone areas adequately monitored? Is enforcement effective?

Are our schoolchildren being taught the importance of cleanliness? Youngsters who are empowered can reach out to their older relatives and educate them. Are there adequate numbers of public education programmes?

Perak Menteri Besar, Dato’ Seri DiRaja Dr Zambry Abd Kadir, wants Perak to be a developed state by 2015. With strict controls and enforcement, developed countries like Japan, Singapore, Switzerland, Germany and Denmark are proud of their recycling efforts and rubbish disposal record.

The problem of rubbish, just like safety, is everyone’s responsibility. Ipohites would like to know how the mayor and his councillors want to resolve the rubbish problem. MBI should consult the public as well as talking to companies which want to secure local government contracts.

Efficient rubbish collection is like baking a cake. You throw in the right ingredients, in the appropriate order and everything will come out alright.

 

Boy Has Lucky Escape

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By Mariam Mokhtar

 

Boy has lucky escape - Mohd Amar Mohd AzizMohd Amar Mohd Aziz, a ten-year-old primary schoolboy from Sekolah Kebangsaan Belanga, in Parit had a lucky escape after being shot by a police sergeant on Monday October 14.

The incident happened around 4.30pm at Kampung Belanja Kiri when the policeman alleged that whilst cleaning his pistol in front of his in-laws’ house, a bullet was negligently discharged from the Walther P99 automatic, and hit Amar who was playing about 50 metres away.

The bullet entered beside Amar’s nose, and stopped at the back of his skull, near the bones at the nape of the neck (the cervical vertebrae). He was “lucky” because the bullet missed his spinal cord and the major blood vessels in the neck, by one centimetre.

Despite his injury, Amar was able to run home and alert members of his family to seek help. They first took him to a clinic in Parit, then the Batu Gajah Hospital where he was transferred to the Ipoh General Hospital. At the paediatric intensive care unit, he waited for specialists to operate and remove the bullet.

Hospital neurosurgeon Dr Cheang Chee Keong said that movement could damage the vital structures that were near the bullet and said that if Amar’s spinal cord had been hit, he could have been paralysed and damage to his voice box would have made him mute.

Hospital director, Dr Raja Lope Ahmad said that members of his medical team were in constant discussion with Amar’s family to advise them on the best option with the least risk.

On the morning of October 20, six days after the shooting incident, a team of six specialists took two hours to remove the bullet lodged in Amar’s neck. His relieved father, Mohd Azizi Abdullah said that on regaining consciousness, his son had asked for a glass of water. He said, “I am so glad that the doctors managed to conduct the operation and that my son is in a stable condition now.”

As a temporary precaution, Amar was placed in a neck brace as his neck bone had cracked from the impact of the bullet. Dr Cheang said that doctors would re-examine his neck after two months to see if further surgery was necessary, to stabilise his neck.

Amar may be on the road to recovery, but attention soon focused on the circumstances leading to the shooting. Initial reports indicate that the police sergeant was cleaning his weapon when it was fired. He was a deputy investigating officer with the Taiping police headquarters and he was on leave.

Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Leong Ah Kow said that the pistol and a magazine with 14 rounds of ammunition, which were seized after the incident, would help investigations, under Section 39 of the Firearms Act 1960. The policeman involved was detained, to assist with enquiries.

Angry citizens have expressed their outrage and concern about the incident and asked if the incident was a case of negligence, reckless abandon or bravado, by the policeman.

One man said, “Why did the policeman not surrender his gun, when he was on leave? Are there no Standard Operating Procedures (SOP)?” Another said, “If the policeman was negligent, then his superiors are also negligent. Both should be charged with dereliction of their duties.”

A former member of the armed forces said, “Safety procedures must be strictly adhered to. Safety is everyone’s responsibility. Investigations should include his superiors, not just the suspect.”

A former policewoman said, “Disciplinary action should be taken against those who neglected their duties in ensuring strict adherence to SOP and the monitoring of firearms movement. This incident gives an insight into the missing firearms highlighted by the Auditor-General’s report.”

One cynic said, “I would not be surprised if there is no further action (NFA) in this case. After all, the Home Minister advocated a policy of “Shoot first, ask questions later”. Someone else said, “If there’s a blame, then there’s a claim.”

The NGO, Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) has recommended that the policeman should be suspended, whilst Dr Kok Chin Leong, the president of the Malaysian Paediatric Association said that a review of existing firearms laws and the enforcement of more stringent protocols and SOPs of firearms are necessary.

The investigation into the shooting is ongoing. Initial news reports claimed that doctors had been informed that the child was hit by a bullet which ricocheted off the ground; however, witnesses allege that the shot had been fired in Amar’s direction. Moreover, a police source said that X-rays were not consistent with a bullet which had been deformed by striking the ground.

Perak police chief Acryl Sani Abdullah Sani said, “We changed our angle of investigation after taking statements from witnesses. The policeman was on leave during the incident and we want to know why he was carrying his weapon when he wasn’t on duty.”

Indicating that the “straight-forward, non-complicated and non-tricky case” would soon be closed, he assured the public that the investigations would be conducted with transparency, and that the deputy public prosecutor’s office would receive their report. He did not want the public to think that policemen were unprofessional and behaving like they were not fully trained.

Birds Foul-Up Clear Vision

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By Mariam Mokhtar

Thinking AllowedMalaysians are aware that the use of CCTVs has taken off in Malaysia. The idea is to reduce our dependency on security guards, because of problems in finding suitable and responsible workers.

According to one industry expert, CCTV operations are cheaper in the long run. They can be operated 24 hours per day, seven days a week.  The CCTVs are not affected by employees calling in sick, staff annual holidays, emergency leave or staff who are absent from their posts for long coffee breaks or extended lunches.

In March 2010, the Ipoh City Council made plans to install an additional 76 CCTVs, to augment the 24 units which had already been approved by the Housing and Local Government Ministry.

Ipoh Mayor Roshidi Hashim said that the installation would enhance security in the rapidly developing Ipoh city and its surroundings. Business centres were being built in areas further from the city centre, like Simpang Pulai, Bercham or Taman Meru, and Roshidi said that CCTVs would help reassure residents, within and outside the city centre, of their safety.

Roshidi said that each CCTV unit was estimated to cost RM3,000 and that funding  for the additional CCTVs would be borne by the taxpayer. The CCTVs would be linked to a control room in the city council and also to the Perak police headquarters.

It is gratifying to note that the rural community is not excluded from the promotion of the use of CCTVs. There is a drive by the Malaysian government, to upgrade 15 community colleges throughout the nation, and the Gerik Community College (GCC) has already received 16 CCTVs. The total upgrade allocation for nationwide colleges cost the government RM50.17 million.

The 2012 Auditor-General’s Report revealed a huge price difference between the price of the CCTVs supplied to GCC and those supplied to a similar college in Masjid Tanah, Malacca. One CCTV unit in Gerik was valued at RM85,500 compared with the Masjid Tanah one, which cost RM10,249. The CCTVs in Masjid Tanah was approximately eight times cheaper than the cameras in Gerik.

The high cost of the CCTV installation in Gerik can be attributed to its rural location and the difficulty of finding experienced contractors, who were willing to undertake work in the countryside. Gerik is more remote than Masjid Tanah.

The Education Ministry has justified the high cost of the CCTVs, by claiming that they had been purchased separately. They said, “The specifications, design, suppliers, locations and method of installation were different. The prices had been reviewed during the tender process as part of the entire project cost.” This sounds very plausible.

Critics of the audit claimed that a CCTV, which had been installed on the second floor of a college, had lacked a zoom function, whilst another CCTV which could rotate 360 degrees had been mounted on a wall, and was unable to make full use of this function.

These critics failed to note that CCTVs are very expensive and are possibly worth more than the fixtures they are secured to, or even the buildings which they are monitoring. CCTVs need careful positioning.

The audit revealed that one camera had stopped recording because its disc was full, but the more serious issue, was the bird droppings covering the CCTVs, which rendered the cameras useless.

Blame had initially been placed on the maintenance of these units, but it is disingenuous for the critics to blame the maintenance crew, especially as it is common knowledge that the Malaysian work culture does not normally include maintenance. It is possible that the need for regular maintenance, was overlooked in the tendering process.

Sources, who wished to remain anonymous, said that it is a generally accepted government policy, that it is better to procure new equipment than to maintain old equipment.

Malaysians prefer to replace items, as soon as they become obsolete, through frequent use or a breakdown in one of the components, although the CCTV which stopped functioning just needs a new disc to resume recording.

Anyone living or working in rural locations knows that it is normal for birds to leave droppings on fixed structures like those situated near the eaves of roofs. The amount deposited is directly proportional to the quantity of birds in the area. In other words, more birds mean more droppings.  More extreme suggestions to rectify the problem include building a cage to house the CCTVs, or a team of sharpshooters to kill the birds before they can perch on the CCTVs.

A report which has yet to be commissioned, will propose that a team of dedicated workers will be required, to clean the CCTVs on a regular basis. This will provide jobs for people living in the local area and thus, attract praise from the community. A strong message is being delivered, that machines need humans to make them function properly.

Cleaning bird droppings from CCTV lenses is a small price to pay in the fight against crime. Unfortunately, the birds are not the only ones fouling up the system.

New Appeal in Farming

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By Mariam Mokhtar

In the rustic charm of Klian Gunung, in Selama, a group of enterprising friends, decided to repay society by contributing their expertise to the community. The desire of engineer-turned-farmer, Mohamad Nawawi Hasbullah (Awie) took on a greater meaning.

New appeal in farming

Expressing a wish to return to his roots, Awie was committed to green farming methods and wanted to preserve the social fabric of rural Perak. He was keen to engage the local community and keep abreast with advances in technological development.

Awie started his farm four years ago and was subsequently joined by four of his friends. They pooled their resources and talents for their joint-venture, the Sungei Rambong Project in Selama.

All the partners lamented the state of the agricultural industry in Malaysia. Jim Lim, the managing director said, “The agricultural industry is neglected and poorly managed. There appears to be an absence of national strategy and low priority accorded by politicians. We import too many products like bananas and pineapples, which Malaysia once produced. The majority of farmers today are over 70 years old.”

The Sungei Rambong Project, an Agro-Aqua industrial scheme, involves the breeding of udang-galah (freshwater prawns) in natural fresh water, using natural foodstuffs. The farm consists of 30 large ponds and smaller agriculture plots. The hatchery, for the udang-galah, is a joint-venture with a fishermen’s cooperative in Sungai Acheh. The most advanced natural breeding technology ensures healthy post-larvae (small pre-baby prawns), with a low mortality rate.

The project is sited in the Klian Gunung area, which is favourable for farming and for prawn breeding. Nestled in the hills with its hot, humid weather, it also has a plentiful supply of natural, running water from the hills.

Lim said, “Our backgrounds are diverse but we hope to develop strategies for young people, and to provide them with skills, training and development. We know there are many disenfranchised youths in Malaysia, including the rural communities, and Awie is keen to help his community. He is an impressive grassroots leader.”

Lim’s enthusiasm shows. “My background is in the social care field, principally in mental health and Child Protection. My company tries to divert young people from crime and help them make better sense and meaning in their life. I work with employment schemes for people with special needs.”

One of the other partners is in Human Resources (HR) and corporate management. As a former HR Director of Petronas, his expertise will be used to devise training and development programmes for employment opportunities within the farming community.

Awie trained as an electrical engineer and spent over seven years in Japan. He realised his desire to return to his roots by involving the local community in farming and associated activities.

The technical driving force is provided by another partner, a scientist in aquaculture and agriculture who is a renowned expert in sustainable green product development.

The final director is experienced in probation, rehabilitation and retraining. He joined after a visit to the farm, which was then in its infancy, during which he was so impressed with the operation that he offered to become an investor.

Traditional male, farm employees are the key workers, and they are supported by nine single mothers, who feed the udang-galah, everyday. The project aims to energise the rural sector by creating jobs in agriculture for youth and disadvantaged people. With emphasis on practical training, the project should generate sustainable employment and produce competitive, sustainable, green farms. Another objective is to reverse the migration of the local youth to urban areas.

Community development would be enriched with the training of farmers, youths and less conventional workers, like single mothers, who would be able to improve their lives and have a sense of belonging.

The single mothers have given encouraging feedback. They are happy to be employed and contribute towards the household income. More importantly, they have a job which offers flexible working hours which mesh with their child-rearing duties.

When asked if the partners were pioneers in green aqua-culture, Lim said, “We are pioneers in the sense that we link agriculture with social and workforce development for both agriculture and community gains. We want to increase and provide sustainable farming skills, using agriculture and aquaculture initiatives for the community. We are building social capital.”

Lim conceded that initially, people were not used to the traditional sustainable and non-chemical, or organic farming. He said, “We found that just talking about what is good about our methods is not good enough, to overcome these objections. We need to show and to demonstrate that the yields and outputs from the ponds are high. This way, many other landowners and small farmers are willing to lease Awie their plots.”

The Sungei Rambong organic udang-galah project appears to make farming appealing and attractive once again. With the introduction of modern, green techniques, it has become more appealing to younger people. The increased interest in green farming technology will benefit the business, the farmers and the community.

Lim’s message for Perakians was, “Perak is blessed with good land for food production and with it, enormous potential for economic growth and potential for future prosperity. Those social gains and raised living standards will see consequential reductions in crime and disharmony.”

 

Is This Possible?

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By Mariam Mokhtar

 

State assemblyAt the first, post-General Election 13, state assembly sitting last month, Menteri Besar Dato’ Seri DiRaja Zambry Abd Kadir, announced that Perak would become a developed state by 2015.

The optimists on the bench nodded in agreement, a number were less sanguine while some expressed their doubts. Can Perak become a developed state by 2015?

We can still recall the confusion when former Malacca Chief Minister, Ali Rustam, declared that Malacca was a developed state a few years ago. Sometime later this declaration was retracted.

Jon Hall of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said, “The OECD did not endorse the Malacca declaration, mainly because we’re not in a position to do so.” Neither the UN nor the OECD has a definition of a developed state.

Hall also remarked that the press conference and proceedings were in Malay and, therefore, he had no way of interpreting it.

Malaccans had assembled at Stadium Hang Jebat, in Krubong Malacca and welcomed Premier Najib’s televised announcement on the evening of October 20, 2010. The occasion turned sour, as the OECD’s statement contradicted Ali Rustam’s pronouncement.

The Malacca state had declared a public holiday, and organised a fireworks display, but the U-turn caused much confusion and disappointment.

The Perak Maju Plan 2015 was launched alongside the Perak Amanjaya Development Plan in 2008. Their objective was to make Perak a developed state by 2015. The two plans were designed to transform three main aspects of development, namely socio-economic, sectoral and physical.

The Amanjaya Plan broadly followed the concepts of the federal government’s Vision 2020 and covered key result areas which included skills, knowledge, youth participation and environmentally-friendly practices.

The plan aimed to raise the five regions, Hulu Perak, Beriah Valley, Manjung, Ulu Bernam and the Kinta Valley, to an equal level of development.

In April 2011, Zambry announced that both the Perak Maju 2015 and Perak Amanjaya development plans had successfully expanded the state’s economy, reduced poverty and crime rates.

The Amanjaya Plan, according to Zambry, had increased average household income from RM2809 per month in 2009 to RM3548 in 2012. Hardcore poverty rate had been reduced from 0.5 per cent in 2009 to 0.2 per cent in 2012.

However, fluctuating Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) flow into Perak is worrying. In 2009, the FDI was RM399.5 million, it increased to RM1.6 billion in 2010, dipped to RM90 million in 2011 then rose again to RM1.5 billion in 2012. The trend may be the same this year.

Perakeans who were asked if Perak could become a developed state by 2015 appeared doubtful. One pessimistic Ipohite said, “Our wages are depressed and with the recent hike in petrol and diesel prices, cost of living is set to rise. What’s the use of being developed when the ringgit is shrinking!”

Notwithstanding the odds, we ought to give Zambry the thumbs-up for his optimism and conviction.

 

The little girl from Menglembu

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By Mariam Mokhtar

 

The little girl from MenglembuNews emerged on 16 August, that a defenceless five-year-old was in critical condition and fighting for her life in intensive care at the Raja Permaisuri Bainun Hospital. The girl, who is suspected to have special needs, was allegedly a victim of child abuse.

Neighbours of the girl’s family declined to talk but one alleged that the victim was often caned severely by her mother. Another unsubstantiated source alleged that the victim was a quiet girl but she would often hurt herself by banging her head against the wall.

Three days after she was admitted, the head of the paediatric department Dr Amar Singh said that the child remained unconscious and had not shown any visible movement. When she was first rushed to hospital, she had to be resuscitated.

The girl’s father said that his daughter had been taken ill with high fever but doctors who examined her subsequently found bruising, cane marks and other scars on her head and body. The obvious signs of abuse prompted them to lodge a police report. Although the medical staff were unable to confirm how the wounds had been inflicted, they knew that the injuries were unlikely to be self-inflicted, because of their severity.

Although the doctors suspected possible internal injuries, they said that scans could only be performed once the victim’s condition had improved.

The day after the report was made, the girl’s parents were arrested at their home in Menglembu, and subsequently remanded in custody for five days. The Ipoh OCPD Asst Comm Sum Chang Keong said that the 39-year-old father and his 30-year-old wife were being investigated under Section 325 of the Penal Code for causing grievous hurt.

The Perak Women Development, Family, Community Welfare and National Integration committee chairman Rusnah Kassim said that the victim’s siblings, who were two and seven-years-old, had no signs of abuse and were being cared for by the Welfare Department.

Rusnah urged parents of special needs children to seek help with medical treatment, and support from groups and welfare homes. She warned parents that abuse of the child was not a form of discipline. She also stressed that neighbours could be more pro-active and alert the authorities if they were to notice or hear signs of child abuse.

In early August, Women, Family and Community Development Minister Rohani Abdul Karim claimed that in 2012, there were 3831 cases of child abuse, a rise of 12 per cent over the previous year. She said that in the first three months of this year, 1023 child abuse cases had been reported and that 669 of the victims were girls.

Rohani said that her ministry had various preventive measures to address the issue of abuse. Short-term measures would involve taking the child into a welfare home or the home of a guardian appointed by the court. Long-term measures would involve the various government agencies like the police, health and education ministries, and the social welfare department working in concert with the community.

Citing problems such as financial worries or work problems as the root cause of abuse, Rohani warned parents not to take out their frustrations on their children but to seek professional help instead.

No sentence that is passed down to the perpetrators of the abuse will undo the damage that has been inflicted on the children, who will have to bear the mental and physical scars for the rest of their lives.

Whenever a case of child abuse is highlighted in the papers, we hope that the particular case will be the last and that lessons will be learnt from the investigations that were conducted, but there are always more cases.

A child is more likely to be abused by a trusted adult, like a parent or a close family member, rather than by a stranger.

Children who are abused usually show unusual behaviour traits. They are highly distressed. Some may show signs of starvation, emaciation and may scavenge for food in bins. Other signs of abuse in the child, are neglect, manifested in an unkempt or dirty appearance. Sometimes, children are forced to lie to those who enquire about their bruising, with the claim that they sustained the injuries in a fall.

Many children are afraid of telling others about their abuse. Some are ashamed. They may be bullied or bribed into keeping the abuse secret. They are afraid that if they were to tell someone of their abuse, they would be responsible for the family unit being split up. Children may harbour fears of being separated from their parent, despite the parent being an abuser.

Some years ago, the Information Minister suggested more programmes to highlight child abuse. Was any feedback received about the success or failure of these programmes?

It was reported that in 2009, the Welfare Department established 139 centres at state and district levels throughout Malaysia, in which high-risk families and their children could receive counselling and child care services. Are these units successfully providing the necessary psychological and motivational support to the needy?

Many Malaysians wrongly believe that child protection is the job of the government or the NGOs. It is not. The protection of the child is mainly the parents responsibility, and to a certain extent, also the community’s responsibility.

Whilst education and community-based programmes on the prevention of child abuse may have helped create some awareness, many individuals are still reluctant to interfere when they suspect that a child is being abused. Most people are reluctant to be called busybodies.

Perhaps, if neighbours or close family members had intervened, their actions may have helped prevent the tragedy that befell the little girl from Menglembu.

Sadly, as Ipoh Echo goes to print, news came that the little girl has succumbed to her injuries. The case has now become one of murder.

 

Sara Amelia Bernard

Beauty, Brains and Courage

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By Mariam Mokhtar

Sara Amelia BernardSara Amelia BernardIpoh is famous for its limestone hills, pomelos, groundnuts and beauties like Amber Chia, Anna Lim and Michelle Yeoh.

When Ipoh-born Sara Amelia Bernard entered the Miss Malaysia World 2013 contest, she hoped to win the coveted Miss Malaysia World 2013 title and represent Malaysia in the Miss World finals, in Bali.

In the sixteen years that have passed since this writer first met her, the pretty four-year old, with doe eyes and porcelain skin, has blossomed into a beautiful young woman.

 Melia, as we used to call her, has had her dreams shattered. Following a controversial intervention by the Federal Territory Islamic Affairs Department (Jawi), she and three other Muslim girls were threatened with a fine and possible jail sentence.

 Their crime? They were deemed to be insulting Muslims by entering the beauty contest and to have committed a sin. The hysteria against these four girls grew, and even after their disqualification, they were barred from attending the final of the Miss Malaysia World contest as invited guests.

 Melia went to primary and secondary schools in Ipoh until she enrolled at Taylor’s College in Sri Hartamas, Kuala Lumpur. She comes from a competitive family which has produced victors. Her father Bernard Radin, is a martial arts champion and has represented Malaysia in Muay Thai, Wushu and Tae Kwon-do. Melia wanted to prove that a girl from Ipoh could be successful like Michelle Yeoh, who gained worldwide success as an actress. She wanted to put Ipoh on the map and in an interview with a Malaysian daily, said that joining a beauty contest was one way to expose true Malaysian beauty to the world.

 “A beauty queen is not merely a pretty face but is intelligent, cultured, well-spoken, kind hearted, warm and friendly. She uses her title to help others and participates in various charities worldwide.

 “In school, I had friends of every race and had the opportunity to learn about their customs and beliefs. I also love the variety of food in Malaysia, my favourites being popiah, banana leaf (rice) and ayam masak merah!

 It was during the audition that Melia met the pageant organiser, Anna Lim who presented her with a copy of her autobiography. On reading it, Melia found that Anna was also from Ipoh and was involved in charitable works. She was impressed that after she retired from competition, Anna had gone to London to study, became a stockbroker and later opened her own interior design company.

 “I dreamed of following in her footsteps… (Anna is a) true example of beauty with brains!”

 Melia said that she was motivated to work with underprivileged children and the less fortunate.

 “I saw it as an opportunity to promote intellectual women as well as participate in various charities worldwide and help the underprivileged.”

Melia knew that as a Muslim, she would not be wearing a bikini in the swimsuit round but said that current competition rules dictate that entrants would have to dress modestly, anyway.

 Ever since this controversy broke, Melia has had to cancel her Facebook account because “trolls” posed messages containing expletives and nasty comments.

 “It really opened your eyes to the number of extremists out there,” she said.

 Melia claimed that both she and 19 year-old Wafa Johanna De Korte, had been ridiculed and criticised as they were the most vocal of the four Muslim participants.

 When asked for her views, Yasmin Yusuff, who represented Malaysia at the 1978 Miss Universe pageant in Acapulco and who successfully launched her career as an actress, singer, radio presenter, event host and businesswoman, said “The pageant could be called ‘Miss Malaysia Non-Malays’”.

 The Pengerang MP Azalina Othman Said said that the four Muslim girls shouldn’t have joined the beauty race in the first place because “…it is a sensitive environment right now especially during the fasting month”.

 Perhaps, Azalina should be reminded that even before the fasting month, Malaysians have been subjected to an extraordinarily sensitive environment, where both non-Malays and Malays must tread on egg-shells for fear of incurring the wrath of the authorities.

  Most people are not aware that a fatwa is just an opinion or guide to how one should lead one’s life as a good Muslim. Only under Shia rule can a fatwa become a law, without first being enacted by parliament.

 Melia is a beauty with brains. She and the other participants were not going to bare their bodies. They were prepared to dress modestly. They were going to compete on an intellectual footing with poise and an inner beauty, with the best that Malaysia and the world has to offer.

 This spat is not about religious values. The girls did not insult Islam or other Muslims. The girls stood up for their individual liberties, and for that we should commend them.

Crime in Ipoh – the perception and the reality

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By Mariam Mokhtar

Crime in IpohAt the last monthly parade held at the police headquarters in Ipoh, the Chief Police Officer (CPO), Mohd Shukri Dahlan claimed that criminals were getting younger (Ipoh Echo July 1) and that 53.1 per cent, or 1681 of the 3166 cases reported between January and May 2013, had been solved.

This writer asked various Ipohites for their views on the remarks made by the Perak CPO. The contributors declined to be named, but one common theme emerged; people are worried about their safety, with their fears being heightened by the reports of criminal activities which appear in the national newspapers, on a daily basis.

Recently, we have been alarmed by news of crimes perpetrated by secret-societies, shootings, abductions, attacks on old people and the theft of drain covers which compromises people’s safety.

We are also disappointed that making a police report is just as stressful as the crime itself.

Mohd Shukri said that the snatch-thieves and drug traffickers were getting younger and were mostly teenagers or young adults. He urged both parents and members of the community to play their role in preventing these sorts of crimes.

What was the study that was conducted and what was the average age of the criminals then? What is the average age of the perpetrators now? Why are they getting younger?

The CPO described the various strategies adopted by the police to reduce the crime rate and said that they were designed to enable the rakyat to live safely. He mentioned programmes such as the Police Omnipresence Programme (POP) which included “High Profile Policing” (HPP), “Walk, Stop and Talk” (WST) and “Feet on the Street” (FOS).

Although the CPO was right to engage the help of parents and the community to help reduce crime, he is probably aware of the limitations placed on the public. He claimed that 53.1 per cent of cases had been solved, but this writer would like to know how this percentage, or crime index, was calculated. A more thorough breakdown of the statistics is needed.

Of the 3166 cases reported, what percentage could be categorised as violent or serious crime? Of the 1681 crimes which were solved, how many were from this category of ‘violent crime’? How many of the solved crimes were minor offences like littering or parking issues?

How many out of the 3,166 cases involved firearms, machetes or parangs? How many cases were classified as murder, rape, assault, sexual crimes or violence against women, children or the elderly? How many were domestic violence crimes? How many involved anti-social behaviour? How many were drug offences?

Did this total figure include cases such as littering, pick-pocketing or shoplifting? How many cases were of fraud or cheating? Did it include minor traffic offenses like double parking, going through a red light, driving without a seat belt, obstruction, overtaking on a double white line, failure to pay parking fines, driving a vehicle which is unroadworthy, or driving without a licence or insurance? How many of these cases were break-ins and of these, how many were on commercial premises or residential homes? Was anyone injured or killed?

It would be interesting for Ipohites to know the percentage of crimes which were solved with the help of the public. How successful was the public in assisting the police? Did they phone the confidential phone lines or was there enough media publicity for witnesses to come forward willingly?

Mohd Shukri may have mentioned the POP strategy, but many people are clueless as to what terms like HPP, WST and FOS actually mean. In which areas are these programmes available and how could they contribute to a reduction in crime? If there is no publicity about these plans, perhaps the police could do more to highlight them. Does POP involve routine checks on drivers to check for valid driving licences, or stop-searches on young men for weapons such as parangs?

Could the CPO say if CCTV played any role in the fight against crime and how much of the footage from CCTV was effective in solving crime?

Of the crimes committed, how many were done by repeat offenders? Is there a plan to rehabilitate former criminals and drug users, to integrate into society and are these successful? Are there seasonal trends for specific crimes? Is there racial profiling for certain crimes? With the economic downturn, has crime increased and if so, by how much?

There is a rise of gang culture in our schools and many teachers and parents are keen for the police and the various government departments to reach out to our youth. Are there adequate sporting facilities in schools and housing estates?

The reality of crime which the public has experienced differs from what the authorities would like us to believe. If public confidence is to be restored, there has to be more transparency and increased cooperation between the police, the community leaders and the public.

The Malaysian public is sometimes its own worst enemy. They want major improvements with minimal effort. If the police are to do their job properly and efficiently, the rakyat must engage with the police. The police have the manpower and the resources, but they and the criminal justice agencies, need to listen to the voice of the rakyat.

Not everyone can afford to live in a gated community and pay security guards to do the job of the police to protect their property and families. Moreover, if the police do not enforce the laws, people may form vigilante groups and this may soon lead to anarchy.

Mat Rempit Menace in Ipoh

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By Mariam Mokthar

Illegal street racing….dare-devil stunts on the highway….bikers harassing other road users and bikers without valid driving licences, insurance or road-tax.

The report by an online newspaper FreeMalaysiaToday, that a man had been critically injured confirms our worst fears about the Mat Rempit menace.

The injured man, 28-year-old technician, Pathmaraj Balakrishnan, works at Finishar Corporation, and was in a Perodua Myvi with two other friends Yogan Kasinathan and Selva Raju Subbiah at 3am on June 9. They were in a traffic jam caused by 200 Mat Rempits and were waiting at the traffic lights opposite the Pantai Hospital, along Jalan Raja Dihilir, when the attack occurred.

Around 30 bikers had broken off from the main group and climbed on top of the Perodua, before jumping on the roof, demanding that the occupants step out of the car.

Yogan said, “When we refused, they started to smash the windscreen and pulled us out. We tried to flee on foot to save ourselves, however, Pathmaraj was unfortunate as he was caught and they beat him up.”

One of Pathmaraj’s family members who requested anonymity said, “Police told us that the Mat Rempits are sometimes on drugs and it is difficult to nab the culprits.”

The Mat Rempit menace is a growing problem, but an end to their illegal racing and intimidation of other road users, does not seem to be near. Many are also alleged to be addicted to drugs.

In 2008, the Kedah Government had proposed the building of a special circuit for the Rempits, to reduce road accidents and also to provide job opportunities for the many unemployed Mat Rempits.

In April 2009, the then Inspector-General of Police Musa Hassan accused the Mat Rempit of becoming violent and brazen instead of just being a public nuisance. He said, “We have to come down hard on the Mat Rempit who have started to become involved in robberies, snatch thefts and are even attacking innocent road users and we also need to use harsh tactics to catch the Mat Rempit that try to run away from roadblocks.”

In June 2009, the Terengganu state government offered to sponsor Mat Rempits for international motorcycle grand prix events. The then Mentri Besar said, “We are willing to render other assistance to those who are interested in becoming professional racers besides sponsoring them for the grand prix circuit.”

At the same time, the Malacca state government also announced that it would offer RM6000 loans to those Mat Rempit who were interested in obtaining their micro-light aircraft pilot licence. The then Chief Minister said, “I hope the Mat Rempit will take up the offer and learn how to fly an aircraft instead of racing illegally on the roads and getting themselves killed.”

At a “Ride-It-Right” campaign at Bukit Aman in 2010, the then Inspector-General of Police, Ismail Omar announced that he would work with other agencies to harness the skills of Mat Rempits so that they could be used lawfully. He said that it was an opportunity to scout for riding talent and to educate the Mat Rempits so that they could contribute to the community. He wondered if they could represent the country in professional motorcycle racing and suggested the possibility of setting up a riding academy for Mat Rempits.

The previous month, Ismail had demanded a more serious approach in dealing with Mat Rempits, whom he said were getting more aggressive and bolder: “I have directed all police contingents to give serious attention to tackling the matter. Now, policemen are confronted with violence by a group of people who do not respect the law.”

At the 55th Merdeka Day celebration in August last year, the then Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said that Mat Rempits could be used to help fight crime. He said, “Just because rempit has a negative connotation does not mean that we have to neglect them. It will continue to have negative connotation if we do not engage them.”

He declined to give the methods for enlisting the cooperation of Mat Rempits in fighting crime but said, “But with us guiding them, I believe it can become a reality.”

Hishammuddin denied that crime is rising and said, “The issue on the crime index has reached a stage where there are people who don’t want to listen to rationale, so, whatever we say will be twisted and rejected.”

Some Mat Rempits, who have been caught, were found to be only 15 years old. Children need to have boundaries as well as firmness and discipline, both at home and in school. Parents must provide adequate guidance and attention. Some parents do not even know the whereabouts of their children, who stay out until the early hours of the morning.

If the community needs to provide recreational places such as sporting facilities for young adults, then perhaps the new Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin could engage his counterpart in the Housing and Local Government Ministry to provide suitable premises in the community housing areas of cities, towns and villages. Khairy once remarked that Mat Rempits could be rebranded Mat Cemerlang (Mat SuperHero).

The ministers and the police force should talk to the victims and families of the people who were killed or injured in Mat Rempit attacks and accidents, before making flippant remarks or proposing daft ideas to reform the Mat Rempits.

More time, energy and resources from the national and state budgets should be dedicated to tackle the Mat Rempit menace, because none of the measures proposed have appeared to succeed.

We don’t need new laws or creative ways to reform the Mat Rempits. The current laws just need to be enforced, consistently, and not sporadically.