By Fathol Zaman Bukhari
I like to look on the bright side although there is not much brightness to look at for the moment. The day I received a text from Syahrizal Azmi, Ipoh City Council’s over-worked Public Relations Officer, alluding to a cleaning campaign in progress, I thought it was just another gimmick forced upon the poor guy. His eagerness in passing the news to media representatives in his WhatsApp group, along with photos and figures on the clean-up campaign, was rather strange. It was not the laidback Syahrizal that I have the “misfortune” of knowing for the last 12 years.
Syahrizal relayed a steady stream of information and photos providing details of actions taken to keep the city spotlessly clean. What had gotten into the guy, I asked? Was he under some form of substance influence or was he being directed by a superior and was acting like a puppet on a string. When Syahrizal (Syah) acts strange we know something good or bad is happening at Ipoh City Council. The good thing about Syah is that he never shies away from his media friends however obnoxious they may be. He will answer whatever queries put across to him and he does so promptly and with finesse.
The council had embarked on a cleaning operation, upon the direction of Mayor Dato’ Zamri Man, dubbed “Operasi Cari Sampah” (Operation Rubbish Hunt) beginning on Thursday, January 18. The reason was obvious. Having been nominated the cleanest city in Malaysia, and was amply awarded in the process, plenty of face-saving measures need to be taken in order to live up to the recognition. But Muar too has also been declared the cleanest city in Malaysia recently. Wonder which is the cleaner of the two? I will leave that to conjecture considering the sensitivity of the matter.
Incidentally, Ipoh had been known as the cleanest town in the country during the 1960s when the Seenivasagam brothers, from the once all-powerful People’s Progressive Party, were in charge. In those hazy days local council elections were still the order of the day only to be suspended later.
The 1960s was a challenging time for local authorities in the country. They faced many problems regarding internal politics and administration. Indonesia’s opposition against the formation of Malaysia in 1963 forced the federal government to suspend local council elections in 1965. The suspension was formalised with the passing of the Emergency (Suspension of Local Government Elections) Regulations 1965 and its amendment on the same year. Since then, local governments in Malaysia have not been elected. This impediment has a serious impact on the promised political reforms ordinary Malaysians have long envisaged.
The fact that the rakyat could determine what was good and bad for their neighbourhood was the icing on the cake before the passage of the enactment.
The rubbish-clearing operation is a weekly affair contingent upon request and reports made to the council. To date over ten such operations had been conducted and over 300 tons of rubbish had been cleared. I was elated when uncollected rubbish was cleared from my neck of the woods in Taman Cyber, adjacent to Taman Botani, on Monday, February 12. However, what happened next defies belief. Barely a day after the area was cleared, I chanced upon a fresh pile of garbage consisting of boxes and discarded papers at a clearing. This unsightly pile appeared in spite of warning signs posted at the blighted spot. The perpetrators, obviously, were impervious to warnings however discerning they may be. I am lost for words.
Are Ipohites so insensitive? Do they really care for the environment? Must they treat the whole city as one huge garbage dump? Has littering become a habit or perhaps a hobby? I don’t have the answers. The biggest culprits are those engaged in clearing rubbish and garbage. They find the easy way out flouting council by-laws by disposing their ‘precious cargos’ at illegal dumpsites all over the city.
The action of the guy, caught on camera (see pics), dumping rubbish in my taman speaks volumes about his attitude and demeanour. It is endemic, especially among the working class and those with little or no self-pride. There are laws prohibiting littering but they are seldom enforced, as the punishments do not reflect the severity of the offence. So it has become a cat and mouse game. No amount of warnings and signage will deter the culprits from doing what they do best.
So, Mayor Zamri Man, I don’t really think your badgering would amount to anything. Your threat to come down hard on habitual litter bugs is slowly, but surely, losing its sting. I shall leave it at that.
The conviction of graphic designer Fahmi Reza by the Ipoh Sessions Court on Tuesday, February 20 has rattled the legal fraternity. Fahmi was sentenced to a month’s jail and fined RM30,000. He was charged under the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 (Act 588) for uploading, on his Facebook page, a caricature of Prime Minister Najib with a clown face. Law expert Aziz Bari opined that the “country was showing signs of totalitarianism with laws being used against critics of certain politicians.”
“If laws were used selectively to protect one individual or a special group from legitimate criticism, it echoes of “lese majeste” (insulting of a monarch) as practised in Thailand,” said Universiti Malaya law lecturer, Azmi Sharom.
On the same day and at the same Sessions Court 36 men were charged with gang-related activities. They were charged under Section 130 of the Penal Code for being members and of assisting an organised crime group – the notorious Gang 04. The men were between 20 to 60 years old. If found guilty they face imprisonment of up to 20 years.
The majority were Indians, 34 in fact. Back in the old days those in the dock would be Chinese who were apprehended for triad activities. Their place has been taken over by Indians. Could economic factors be the reason behind this unhealthy trend?