Former Secretary of Ipoh City Council, Dato’ Haji Abdul Rahim bin Md Ariff is falling back on his 30 years experience at Ipoh City Council to manage Taiping Municipal Council the way he deems fit. In this exclusive interview with Ipoh Echo the newly-minted Council President unveils his plans for a better Taiping, a heritage town noted for its many firsts.
Ipoh Echo: With over 30 years experience in managing a local council what are the challenges you face in helming the Taiping Municipal Council?
The main challenge is perfecting the municipal council’s delivery system to better serve the people of Taiping. We try to provide the best services in spite of the many constraints and I feel we have done a pretty good job. There are over 1000 reports lodged over the period of five months compared to over a 1000 reports lodged in a month at Ipoh City Council. The Taiping Municipal Council staffs have done an excellent job. As to whether my experience with Ipoh City Council would help, that’s a definite yes. After all, similar laws are in force in all local councils throughout the country. And having worked in Ipoh for over 30 years, I find it easier to apply them here in Taiping. I got going the very first day on the job. Taiping is much smaller than Ipoh having just one third of Ipoh’s population. Hence, it’s a lot easier to tackle the challenges.
Ipoh Echo: Taiping is noted for its tourism potential, especially in ecology and heritage. How do you plan on exploiting and maximising these two sectors in order to realise the goals and aspirations of the state government and that of Taiping folks?
Yes, Taiping is blessed. It has many tourism products that are the envy of other countries and cities around the world. We have the sea at Kuala Sepetang. We have a lake and we have two hills, Bukit Merah and Bukit Larut nearby. Not forgetting, heritage buildings that are over 100 years old. We have it all. These tourism products have been marketed before but over the past few years, they have been marketed very aggressively. This is largely due to financial assistance from the Northern Corridor Implementation Authority (NCIA), and one of the biggest beneficiaries is the Taiping Zoo. I notice how proud Taiping folks are of their heritage. Recently, when officiating Earth Day, they indicated their keenness in conserving their town’s heritage. We’ll focus on heritage preservation by implementing recommendations made through studies. Among our long-term strategies include a heritage trail, very much similar to the one in Ipoh, and a rain tree walk in front of Hotel Flemington. The state government has promised to build a botanical garden. A 60-acre site, within the 200-acre plus Lake Gardens, has been identified for the project.
Ipoh Echo: Ipohites, generally are more vocal when it comes to voicing their dissatisfactions with the local council as opposed to Taiping folks who are rather compliant. Is this a plus point or does it offer you a different kind of challenge entirely?
I am of the opinion that if you complain less, you’re contented. The disruption in municipal services in Taiping is not much of an issue, as services like rubbish collection and drain maintenance have been functioning very well. Of course, since Taiping has a high precipitation average, flash flood is an everyday occurrence. Nevertheless, we have very few complaints. The people, however, have plenty of avenues to voice their dissatisfactions like e-aduan and the media. Incidentally, the municipal obtained a 4-star rating from the government recently. We are placed 16th out of 166 municipalities rated nationwide. The evaluation criteria cover people’s expectations, delivery system, council’s services and so on. We scored a credible 82 per cent. Based on that, I feel the municipal has done exceptionally well.
Ipoh Echo: Taiping has many popular tourism products, namely Taiping Zoo and Lake Gardens. What are your plans to ensure that these icons remain popular, attractive and at par or better than the best in the world?
The upkeep and development of these products require a lot of money and this is our major setback. However, I am thankful that with the federal government supporting us through the NCIA, so long as we have the backing, Taiping will do fine. If we look at numbers, these places are growing in popularity. Last year over 700,000 people visited Taiping Zoo compared to over 800,000 with Zoo Negara. The NCIA is actively packaging day trips from Penang. With Taiping being a mere 40 minutes away and thanks to the second Penang Bridge, we are witnessing an influx of tourists from Penang visiting our town. On weekends, especially in Kuala Sepetang, there are dozens of tour busses off-loading visitors keen on seeing the thriving mangrove swamps and to patronise the many seafood restaurants.
Ipoh Echo: Taiping is fast becoming a traffic-congested town, as the number of vehicles in the streets is on the rise. What are your long-term plans to overcome this problem?
Frankly, traffic congestion is not a major issue at the moment. We have done a traffic-flow study with the help of local consultants. That study is ongoing but we appreciate the town folks’ concerns with vehicular traffic. Development in Taiping, however, is concentrated more towards Kamunting and not in the town centre. This is done to minimise impact caused by vehicle movements.
Ipoh Echo: The former mayor of Ipoh, Dato’ Roshidi Hashim has demonstrated that a close rapport with the media and the people goes a long way when it comes to winning the hearts and minds of the populace. Do you subscribe to this belief? If you do, how do you intend on making it work to your favour?
Of course, I certainly subscribe to the belief. It is important to be media friendly. In fact, one of the first things I did upon assuming the post of President was to have a media get-together. We had breakfast with local media representatives and I then unveiled my plans and vision of the Municipal. I have plans for a Dataran Warisan (heritage square) like the one opposite the Ipoh railway station. Thankfully, the Prime Minister has approved a RM2.5 million funding for the project. I will certainly emulate Dato’ Roshidi and maintain a healthy relationship with the media. It is important because they are the bridge that connects us to the masses.
Ipoh Echo: Plenty of thoughts have been put into developing Taiping and making it more attractive to tourists. With these developments there is a risk that Taiping may lose its rustic and provincial charms. Is this good or bad?
Developments create economic opportunities for Taiping’s business community. The hospitality industry is booming and new hotels are mushrooming of late. I look at it on the positive side. These activities help make the town and the Council richer. With additional money the Council is able to improve its services and build better infrastructures. However, we have to exercise caution in order to maintain Taiping’s image as a heritage town. The skyline, for example, is controlled. No buildings over 10 storeys are allowed to be built in the town centre. Other efforts too are put in place to maintain the integrity. It is important that we strike a balance between modernising Taiping and maintaining its rustic charms.
Ipoh Echo: Last but not least, hockey remains dear to your heart. Do you have plans to revive the sport in Taiping, as the town has produced many hockey greats?
Hockey has always been one of the more popular sports in Taiping. However, it is not our priority at the moment. The reason is simple we lack the resources to develop the game. It is the government’s policy to have an artificial hockey pitch in every district. There is one in Ipoh, Kuala Kangsar and even Manjung. Taiping has yet to have one. The nearest we have now is a half-artificial pitch at Sekolah Sultan Azlan Shah. I’ll be working hard to acquire one soon.