Roshidi’s Swan Song

I know perfectly well how it feels to stand on a podium and address an audience consisting of both loyal and dissenting followers on the last day of one’s tenure in office. The feeling can be one of melancholy and utter sadness or one of remorse with a measure of joy.

I was overcome by these sentiments when I stood in front of my soldiers on the final day of my term as the commander of a Territorial Army regiment some 16 years ago in Seremban. Words alone cannot describe the thoughts that ran through my head. It is not something easy to commit to writing.

I believe Dato’ Roshidi Hashim, the former mayor of Ipoh, must have felt the same when he chaired Ipoh City Council’s last Full Board Meeting for Year 2013 on Monday, December 30, 2013. That was his saving grace; his swan song, to be precise, before the inevitable happened – his departure from office.

Dato’ Roshidi Hashim took over the reins of a sufficiently well-managed city council on June 6, 2008. It was, in all honesty, a time of political upheaval following the March 8, 2008 General Election when Perak became one of the five states that was wrested by the Opposition.

The position of mayor was a matter of contention, as the issue of local council elections was being hotly debated both in the media and in the streets. It eventually culminated in the appointment of an equitable number of notable figures from non-governmental organisations and the civil society to make up the 24-member council.

It was an interim arrangement put in place to placate an indignant populace riled by an administration that was beginning to lean a little to the right and riddled by accusations of corruption and cronyism involving those in high offices.

It was during this period of volatility that Roshidi was appointed the eighth mayor of Ipoh. He could not have acquired a more sensitive post as the attention was definitely on him being the odd guy in the crowd. But it was never a time for reflection or gratification, as the job of making the capital of Perak a liveable city was high on the agenda, political correctness notwithstanding.

Not many are aware that the Kedah-born Roshidi was ‘groomed’ for the post over a decade before him assuming the appointment of mayor. He was the assistant director of the state economic planning unit in October 1996 following a brief stint at the Finance Ministry.

In December 2003 he was appointed personal secretary to Tan Sri Tajol Rosli, the then Menteri Besar of Perak. From the MB’s office Roshidi radiated closer to the Ipoh City Council when on February 16, 2007 he took on the post of Secretary of the city council, a job he held till he was made acting mayor on June 6, 2008.

Roshidi’s confirmation as holder of the august appointment came barely two months down the road. Not bad for a career civil service officer who had just turned 52. The doting father of five (four girls and one boy) had everything going for him, a loving wife who was a teacher by profession and an equally loving family who had by then become accustomed to the high-profile lifestyle of their affable father.

Niceties aside, the post of Mayor of Ipoh is not something to brag about. No doubt it is a high-placement appointment, a Jusa C post reserved for PTD (Perkhidmatan Tadbir dan Diplomatik) Officers of the elite Malaysian Civil Service, it comes with a caveat. One has to be strong enough to take the challenge head-on. With a crew of over 2700 personnel, some on contract some on permanent basis, ensuring that the council ticks is easier said than done.

Pleasing a population of almost 700,000 spread over 640 square kilometres of rough terrain and concrete jungle is definitely not for the faint-hearted. Any lesser mortal would have shriveled under such pressure.

The pressure comes in different directions – from above and from below. It is the pressure from above that is most taxing. Being a serving civil servant the mayor is answerable to his immediate boss, the state secretary, the one who appraises his performance through the annual confidential report.

Then comes the political masters who exert as much influence and power. Any signs of disobedience will be construed as insubordination. And not to mention the royalty that sits at the apex of the pecking order. It would be bearable if he has the support of the senior staff. But this is not often the case. They are not called ‘Little Napoleons’ for nothing.

Roshidi may claim credits for the many success stories attributed to him. He leaves a legacy – a rapidly expanding Ipoh evidenced by the numerous developments now taking shape. But he is equally culpable for the many sins left behind. His promise of a clean and vibrant Ipoh fell short of expectation, and so was his insistence that illegal dumping, illegal hawking and illegal parking would be a thing of the past.

His critics may have nothing good to say about him. But having known the man, I find Roshidi to be honest, friendly, easy-going and very articulate. He makes a good politician. His parting words when we last met at a media dinner in November 2013 exemplified his character. “I’ve no plans yet for my future. I’ll take each day as it comes,” he enthused.

For Ipoh’s longest serving Datuk Bandar, the end came with a bang, literally, as he said adieu on December 31, 2013.

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