When the then Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamed Tajol Rosli Ghazali officiated what was to be a multi-million-ringgit Ipoh city riverfront beautification project with fanfare and wide publicity on January 27, 2004, there was joy amongst the residents of the city.
It was generally felt that at last, the embankments of Sungai Kinta, which bisects the city into New Town and Old Town sectors, would be a new focal point.
Now seven years later, the project has not materialised. It has become yet another much talked about project in Perak that has fallen off the track.
Under the proposal, Sungai Kinta was set to become a tourist spot with the introduction of water-related activities by the state government. The state chairman for tourism, Dato’ Hamidah Othman, had earlier tried to revive the project, but now no-one seems to talk about it.
She said that for a start, they might offer kayaking along the river for tourists and city folk. According to her, a river cruise would also be offered by a private group of companies, which was undertaking a RM200m development project along the 1.2km stretch of the river.
“The cruise will start from Taman D.R. Seenivasagam to the Kinta Riverfront,” she said, adding that more activities would be introduced from time to time.
She said efforts to make Sungai Kinta “an engine of growth” for tourism activities was in line with the state’s ambition in making the industry the second biggest income earner for Perak.
The question is, can such water-related activities be developed as a tourist attraction on the narrow and shallow Sungai Kinta? I am amazed by such a suggestion. No wonder our plans often fail because we do not give much thought to such proposals before implementing them.
Why do we need to develop water-related activities like other cities where their rivers are deeper and wider? Sungai Kinta is hardly 30 metres wide and 2 metres deep, and as such not feasible for any water-related activities. Furthermore, it is also badly polluted.
Such activities, particularly a river cruise, are doomed to failure. Just take a look at the nearby artificial lake in Taman D.R. Seenivasagam and what has happened to its water-related activities.
We must be crazy to expect that tourists would be interested in our river cruise. What is there to see, except the polluted water and the riverbanks that are hardly attractive? Unlike Malacca where the river cruises allow visitors to see the heritage buildings, a traditional kampong and some big monitor lizards lazing in the sun along the riverbanks.
What we really need is to beautify the stretch of Sungai Kinta’s embankments, not water-related activities as they would be a waste of public funds.
Rivers have always been the focal point of cities all over the world. They not only reflect how well responsible authorities can manage pollution, but also how well they can co-opt rivers into their beautification plans.
Famous cities all over the world, which were founded along rivers, have been beautifying their river embankments. Look at London, Paris, Amsterdam and even Singapore where their riverfronts have become well-known landmarks.
The cities are beautiful because of the rivers, where the bridges and riverbanks are spruced up to blend with the development. However, Ipoh is just like many others in the country which have yet to make use of their rivers for beautification purposes.
Sungai Kinta continues to be polluted as those living upstream are throwing wastes into the river daily. Efforts by the Drainage and Irrigation Department to save the river from pollution through such campaigns as “Love Our River” have not been successful.
If the state government is serious about developing the riverfront, it should be concentrating on the embankments. Forget about the water-related activities, as they will be a strain on funds.
Morubina Group of Companies had initially looked at it in the right perspective. It had developed a stretch of the embankment as food outlets, constructed small-scale replicas of famous bridges across the river and established a tin mining gallery to reflect the past glory of the “City That Tin Built”.
The riverfront can become the rendezvous for visitors to refresh themselves and visit the tin mining gallery before setting out to the various mining and cultural heritage sites in the state. While the city folks can walk or have a “teh tarik” and some food at one of the outlets. However, to make the project a reality, there is a need to put a more determined effort to developing the riverbanks.