Cleaning Up Their Act

By Fathol Zaman Bukhari

Nothing sickens me more than to see uncut grass left on road edges, by the sides of monsoon drains and on playing fields. The road leading to my humble abode in Taman Siber in Simpang Pulai is never spared this ugly sight which makes an appearance once every fortnight. The interval between one grass-cutting period to another is a fortnight or two weeks, the same with the frequency of Ipoh Echo.

I have nothing against the workers, as they appear diligent and forthright and are willing to do extra if residents ask them to do so. One even gave the little lawn outside my house a trim without asking for a tip, like some do.

Curiosity kills the cat, so the saying goes. So like a curious cat I once asked an officious looking gentleman on a motorbike who was watching the cutters at work from afar. He happened to be a mandore (supervisor) on the payroll of the Ipoh City Council. His responsibility was to supervise the workers as they went about doing their job. According to him, two contractors are involved in the grass-cutting operation – one cuts the grass, the other disposes of the cut grass.

I asked him why two? Why not just one? He shrugged his shoulders implying that it was beyond him why the need for two contractors to do the same. A likely answer, I am told, is the Council’s policy of spreading the job so more could share the cake. Rubbish disposal is similarly being farmed out to not one but a few contractors, so all could share the ‘spoils’. I may have overstepped the limits of media decency by uttering the word, ‘spoils’.

But to my simple mind such inference is permissible when answers are never forthcoming from the powers-that-be. Granted that local council is the third tier of government, one that has the most profound impact on citizenry, be they the autocrats, the plutocrats, the democrats and the peasants (you and me). All are affected by policies and directives, good or bad, permeating from the Council. Policies and directives are as good as the person(s) who issues them. And that is a fact!

Dato’ Harun Rawi, the new major of Ipoh, in his maiden speech during the first session of the Council Full-Board Meeting for 2014, reiterated his commitment to serve the people, meaning Ipohites in general. “Our primary responsibility as councillors is to serve the rakyat,” he said. Previous mayors had said the same. Saying is one thing but doing is another.

Harun, the ninth mayor of Ipoh, is no stranger to the city. He was once the Deputy Director of Immigration (Perak) and had served in different capacities at both state and federal levels. His last appointment, before assuming the post of mayor, was as District Officer of Larut, Matang and Selama. He oversaw the second most populous district in Perak and, by all reckonings, is the right person for the job, given his immense experience.

I said the same of Roshidi Hashim and Mohamad Rafiai and those before them. They came with a bang but left with a whimper. Are they blessed or are they jinxed? I have no way of telling.

No other mayors and council presidents in the country have a community paper keeping watch over them. It is an advantage to have one. Community newspapers serve a purpose and if used wisely would be an asset to anyone in a position of power. Mayors and council presidents being civil servants should know how to optimise it to their advantage. Treating community newspapers as an irritant is definitely a no go.

Now back to the cut grass on road edges. Enforcement is the key word. All it needs is some form of punishment to get the contractors to clean up their act. If they are constantly let off the hook they will come to consider such infringements as permissible.

This malaise is so ingrained that it affects how councils are managed in this country. Politicians politicise anything and everything. Civil servants may be subservient to their political masters but politicking is definitely not their cup of tea.

For the new mayor to be effective he has to be a little unconventional in his approach. Start by reining in the Little Napoleons. You need not be a rocket scientist to be an efficient mayor. Period.

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