Category Archives: Opinion

Medan – a City of Surprises


Postcard from Medan

by Djoko Nademhopi



People often ask me what Medan is like. The general perception is that it is grimy and boring with nothing to do. Well it’s not like that.

I was on the plane home when I met three Malaysians who just had a golfing holiday in Medan. Not knowing what ‘a hole in one’ is or vice versa, I could not engage in golf talk. Anyway, I asked how it went. “Fantastic!” they chorused. Why all the way to play golf? The greens fees are cheap and the caddies are something else, they told me. Apparently, the caddies here are females. There must be more to golf than hitting a white ball and chasing after it in Medan. There are at least three golf courses around the city.

Medan is like that, full of surprises. It’s not just a hustling bustling city where the roads are forever macat (jammed) and nowhere to go. Medan has a lot to offer if you look for it.

It used to be a staging point for Danau Toba and Nias which is one of the best surfing spots in the world but these days tourists are increasingly spending more time in Medan.

Depending on what your interests are, there are museums, mosques, cathedrals, heritage buildings, restaurants and street life – plenty of street culture.

There are even art galleries whether you are a serious collector or just want a pretty picture to hang on your wall. Of course the art scene is not as vibrant as in Bali, Yogja or Jakarta but Medan is by no means a cultural desert.

The word “Medan” means a field, a padang. In this case a battlefield where the Acehnese fought the Deli Malays from late 16th century to the early 17th century.  It’s quite peaceful these days; the only ‘fights’ are political as each party gears up for the presidential election next year.


From a backwater Medan has grown to be the third largest city (population 2.1 million) in Indonesia. The wealth is conspicuous as more and more high rises pop up all over the place and shopping complexes are chock-a-block. The mansions here are tourist attractions – huge and ornate monstrosities with Grecian columns and Florentine embellishments.

But it’s not just skyscrapers and brand new mansions, Medanese also realise the importance of heritage and there is an attempt by both the public and private sector to preserve colonial buildings like the General Post Office. The old town hall has been incorporated into the architecture of the Grand Aston Hotel.

While there is grime – don’t expect Singapore clean – there is little crime. But having said that there has been a recent spate of bag snatching. However, Medan Police Chief Snr Comdr Nico Afinta said that Medan is still a safe place for tourists.

Like in any big city one has to take commonsense precautions with one’s property. Shootings, bag snatching and muggings are relatively rare; much depends on the area – generally it is a safe city.

The new airport at Kuala Namu is about 1.5 hours by taxi to Medan and 37 minutes by train according to the operator. The train station is right by the airport and it costs IDR80,000 (RM22) to Medan. It takes you right into the heart of downtown Medan opposite the spanking new Centre Point Mall and Kariba Hotel.

Taxis cost anything from IDR130,000 (RM36) to IDR200,000 (RM55) depending on your haggling skill. Taking a taxi brings you right to your destination and can take four passengers (if you do not have too much luggage) it can be cheaper than the train. (The current exchange rate: RM270 to IDR1,000,000).

Taxis in Medan are both metered and non-metered. The Executive (white) and Blue Bird taxis are metered. The boarding fare is IDR20,000 (RM5.50) for the first 10km. They are generally very clean and the drivers very polite. Avoid non-metered taxis.

There must be at least one hundred hotels in Medan, from posh establishments like JW Marriot, Grand Aston, Santika Dyandra, to cheaper ones like Grand Swiss-Bel, Grand Angkasa, Tiara, Danau Toba International and budget hotels. With the recent spate of power cuts it is best to avoid the budget hotels, which probably do not have generators.

There is no shortage of choice when it comes to food. Because of Indonesia’s ethnic diversity you can get Sundanese, Padang, Aceh, Minang, Batak, Betawi and even Malay cuisine (if you look hard enough, the Malays are a very small minority in Medan and I think in Indonesia, as a whole). Each region has its own unique flavour and it will take more than a weekend to try them all.

Street food is plentiful from bakso, to ayam penyet to soto to nasi uduk, mie aceh and more. They are cheap and tasty if you don’t mind mingling with the locals. There are also Chinese restaurants but also Chinese hawker food if you don’t want to spend too much. I can think of only one Indian resto (restaurants – Indonesians are prone to shorten words). And if the chilies have got to your guts by the third day take bandrake tea and you will be right as rain again.

The electrical outlets are different from Malaysia’s so bring your attachments if you want to charge up your phone or use your tablet.

Medan is an experience rather than a sterile showpiece. Soak up the atmosphere and get into the local culture if you want a good time. The people are friendly and helpful and may even show you places not in the guidebook if you ask them. As long as you are good at haggling you won’t get scalped too much; the rule of thumb is to half or one third the opening price depending on what you buy and where. The mall shops normally have fixed prices.

In the next postcard we will look at some places of interest. Meanwhile for tourist information contact:

North Sumatera Tourist Office
Jln Ahmad Yani 107
Tel: +62 061 452 8436.
Opens from 8am to 4pm

Why would you eat in a dirty restaurant?


Thinking Allowed

By Mariam Mokhtar

mariam mokhtarDo Malaysians really care about dirty restaurants or are they more interested in the taste of the food? We complain about dirty restaurants but some of us continue to patronise these places. Perhaps, Malaysians don’t care about hygiene as long as they can eat the food they are used to.

If you sit beside the smelly monsoon drain, which is blocked with rubbish, you don’t think about the drain and your proximity to it. You just want to be served quickly and savour the food.

The dirty rag which the waiter used to wipe a mess on the floor is then used to clean the table, and you think nothing of resting your hands and cutlery on the table. Very few of us request fresh cutlery, if the one we were given are encrusted with bits of hardened food. Others who find lipstick stains on the rim of the glass simply turn it around 180 degrees.

Diners who see a fly hovering over food, may find on closer scrutiny, that the fly has laid eggs – tiny clusters of pearly white lozenges, almost invisible to the naked eye. Have you ever wondered how many times the garnish adorning a dish has been used? You might wonder if the bread has been on parade in the bread basket.

I have seen rats scurrying up the curtain in a restaurant in Ipoh, but the patrons merely laughed at the “playful” rats, and carried on eating. Produce, like vegetables, is stored on the wet floor, next to the toilets but you shrug your shoulders and wait patiently for your meal. We have seen some hawker stalls in which dishwashing involves dunking dishes into a bowl of murky water, before being stacked up for re-use.

If the parts of a restaurant that you can see are dirty, what about the bits you cannot see? As a rough guide to the standards of hygiene, try and check the toilets. If the customer toilets are dirty, just imagine what the kitchens are like, where only members of staff are allowed.

Are government statistics available which tell us how many people fall ill through food poisoning every year, and in which establishments – school or staff canteens, stalls, restaurants or takeaways? How many people were admitted to hospital and how many died?

Out of all the cases of food poisoning, how many people actually file an official complaint? What was the outcome of the complaint? Is an apology sufficient? Should one be paid compensation as well? When does the Health Ministry get involved? Do the health inspectors ever perform surprise checks?

Does the Health Ministry inspect the premises following a complaint and verify that the restaurant kitchen is unhygienic, as was claimed? We know that bacteria are dangerous, but vindictive and spiteful people can spread rumours that are just as poisonous.

On 15 November, Ipohites were shocked to learn that their popular nasi kandar restaurant, Perniagaan Nasi Kandar Ayam Merah, on Jalan Yang Kalsom, famed for its “Nasi Ganja” had its operating licence revoked by the Ipoh City Council.

According to Mayor Roshidi Hashim, the joint raid was “part of a scheduled raid” and the operator “had scored insufficient points” and had been ordered to close for 14 days, by the health authorities. The raid was done at 5pm on Thursday November 14 and the order to shut immediately was issued then.

The allegations which prompted the closure were stated on Facebook by a woman, who called herself Ze Aida. She blogged that a nasi kandar outlet had put faeces in the food.

On Friday November 15, an outraged manager of Perniagaan Nasi Kandar Ayam Merah, Mohd Nihmathullah Syed Mustaffa, convened a press conference and denied the allegations of faeces in the food. His business has been operating since 1955 and he challenged the media and the woman who started the furore to provide evidence instead of making defamatory remarks.

By Saturday November 16, Ze Aida had retracted her allegation and issued a public apology. The authorities had also inspected the premises and had no objections to the store re-opening. On Monday, November 17, the restaurant was back in business to the delight of its customers, who said that they had not believed the allegations.

Why did Ze Aida start malicious rumours and begin three days of hell, for the ‘nasi ganja’ owner?

The manager, Mohd Nihmathullah should demand compensation from the authorities for acting in an unprofessional manner. Ze Aida’s allegation almost ruined his business and the livelihoods of the people he employs. The Health Ministry must learn to investigate allegations and not make knee-jerk reactions.


Ipoh’s Reputation Trashed


Thinking Allowed

By Mariam Mokhtar

Last March, Ipoh Mayor Dato’ Roshidi Hashim, said that the Ipoh City Council (MBI) was hoping to achieve an 80 per cent level of cleanliness in the city by August. It is now November and a public spat is brewing between the residents of Ipoh and MBI, each side is blaming the other and the tussle is most disheartening.

Ipoh is a city which is struggling with its image. Previous nicknames give an insight into its former glory; ‘City of Millionaires … Town That Tin Built … Bougainvillea City’ and presently, ‘The Green, Clean and Developing City’.  Many senior citizens will fondly recall the Ipoh of yore, which they claim is nothing like what it is today.

Rubbish dump in Ipoh

Lately, over-flowing bins, discarded black bin bags, streets littered with refuse, clogged drains, stray dogs rummaging for food and rats are not just an eyesore but a health hazard. No area is spared. Inhabitants of new townships on the outskirts of the city, and the privileged people in the posh residential areas, have grown familiar with the unsightly mess of growing piles of rubbish.

One person may dump a plastic bottle under a tree, or by the road side, and before long the litter assumes a life of its own and grows from a tiny mound to a mountain of muck. Branches from a pruned garden, left by the roadside, will attract more garden waste from elsewhere, until the compost heap stretches along the road.

Uncut grass verges encroach into drains, causing weeds to choke the flow of water, thus increasing the chances of mosquito infestation. Snakes and monitor lizards from unkempt areas have invaded the gardens and homes of readers.

At one time council workers would demand to inspect the gardens of residential homes, and then impose a fine for growing large leaved plants like the crab-clawed heliconias or pitcher plants; these plants had large foliage or flowers which would naturally hold rainwater.

It is frustrating to speak to council officials who refuse to acknowledge that fogging is not as effective as the regular servicing of drains or clearing of rubbish. Piles of rubbish, with empty tins of stagnant water and rotting food which attracts vermin, pose a serious health risk.

Recently, Mayor Roshidi admitted that he was unable to keep the city clean and faulted the residents for the filthy state of the city. He was right to an extent, as residents are partly to be blamed for the state of affair. However, those who pay their assessment rates promptly and are very civic conscious strongly believe they are being short-changed, especially with respect to keeping their city clean.

Irregular rubbish collection will inevitably result in illegal dumping of rubbish. When the city’s rubbish trucks make irregular trips to residential areas, it is not the residents fault. When the rubbish men leave some of the rubbish behind, it is not the fault of the house-owner.

If there are insufficient garbage bins in and around eateries, patrons and food peddlers cannot dispose of their litter properly. If blocked public drains are only cleared after the city council has received repeated calls from irate citizens, the public services cannot be deemed to be efficient.

If small, manageable back-garden bonfires are not permitted, how can people dispose of their garden trimmings? Why doesn’t MBI allocate each home a few large, reusable, heavy-duty garden refuse bags so that each fortnight, garden waste like twigs and grass cuttings can be collected? The council could convert this into compost and sell it back to the public for use in their gardens.

Why doesn’t MBI install more recycling bins in the city centre, and bigger dedicated recycling collection centres in and around Ipoh, for recycling garden waste, discarded furniture, old electrical goods, household waste, used motor oil and old batteries?

Is Ipoh’s rubbish problem because of a shortage of money, an ineffective rubbish programme or incompetent rubbish contractors? Some people wonder if workers are supervised adequately. Are rubbish prone areas adequately monitored? Is enforcement effective?

Are our schoolchildren being taught the importance of cleanliness? Youngsters who are empowered can reach out to their older relatives and educate them. Are there adequate numbers of public education programmes?

Perak Menteri Besar, Dato’ Seri DiRaja Dr Zambry Abd Kadir, wants Perak to be a developed state by 2015. With strict controls and enforcement, developed countries like Japan, Singapore, Switzerland, Germany and Denmark are proud of their recycling efforts and rubbish disposal record.

The problem of rubbish, just like safety, is everyone’s responsibility. Ipohites would like to know how the mayor and his councillors want to resolve the rubbish problem. MBI should consult the public as well as talking to companies which want to secure local government contracts.

Efficient rubbish collection is like baking a cake. You throw in the right ingredients, in the appropriate order and everything will come out alright.


Boy Has Lucky Escape


Thinking Allowed

By Mariam Mokhtar


Boy has lucky escape - Mohd Amar Mohd AzizMohd Amar Mohd Aziz, a ten-year-old primary schoolboy from Sekolah Kebangsaan Belanga, in Parit had a lucky escape after being shot by a police sergeant on Monday October 14.

The incident happened around 4.30pm at Kampung Belanja Kiri when the policeman alleged that whilst cleaning his pistol in front of his in-laws’ house, a bullet was negligently discharged from the Walther P99 automatic, and hit Amar who was playing about 50 metres away.

The bullet entered beside Amar’s nose, and stopped at the back of his skull, near the bones at the nape of the neck (the cervical vertebrae). He was “lucky” because the bullet missed his spinal cord and the major blood vessels in the neck, by one centimetre.

Despite his injury, Amar was able to run home and alert members of his family to seek help. They first took him to a clinic in Parit, then the Batu Gajah Hospital where he was transferred to the Ipoh General Hospital. At the paediatric intensive care unit, he waited for specialists to operate and remove the bullet.

Hospital neurosurgeon Dr Cheang Chee Keong said that movement could damage the vital structures that were near the bullet and said that if Amar’s spinal cord had been hit, he could have been paralysed and damage to his voice box would have made him mute.

Hospital director, Dr Raja Lope Ahmad said that members of his medical team were in constant discussion with Amar’s family to advise them on the best option with the least risk.

On the morning of October 20, six days after the shooting incident, a team of six specialists took two hours to remove the bullet lodged in Amar’s neck. His relieved father, Mohd Azizi Abdullah said that on regaining consciousness, his son had asked for a glass of water. He said, “I am so glad that the doctors managed to conduct the operation and that my son is in a stable condition now.”

As a temporary precaution, Amar was placed in a neck brace as his neck bone had cracked from the impact of the bullet. Dr Cheang said that doctors would re-examine his neck after two months to see if further surgery was necessary, to stabilise his neck.

Amar may be on the road to recovery, but attention soon focused on the circumstances leading to the shooting. Initial reports indicate that the police sergeant was cleaning his weapon when it was fired. He was a deputy investigating officer with the Taiping police headquarters and he was on leave.

Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Leong Ah Kow said that the pistol and a magazine with 14 rounds of ammunition, which were seized after the incident, would help investigations, under Section 39 of the Firearms Act 1960. The policeman involved was detained, to assist with enquiries.

Angry citizens have expressed their outrage and concern about the incident and asked if the incident was a case of negligence, reckless abandon or bravado, by the policeman.

One man said, “Why did the policeman not surrender his gun, when he was on leave? Are there no Standard Operating Procedures (SOP)?” Another said, “If the policeman was negligent, then his superiors are also negligent. Both should be charged with dereliction of their duties.”

A former member of the armed forces said, “Safety procedures must be strictly adhered to. Safety is everyone’s responsibility. Investigations should include his superiors, not just the suspect.”

A former policewoman said, “Disciplinary action should be taken against those who neglected their duties in ensuring strict adherence to SOP and the monitoring of firearms movement. This incident gives an insight into the missing firearms highlighted by the Auditor-General’s report.”

One cynic said, “I would not be surprised if there is no further action (NFA) in this case. After all, the Home Minister advocated a policy of “Shoot first, ask questions later”. Someone else said, “If there’s a blame, then there’s a claim.”

The NGO, Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) has recommended that the policeman should be suspended, whilst Dr Kok Chin Leong, the president of the Malaysian Paediatric Association said that a review of existing firearms laws and the enforcement of more stringent protocols and SOPs of firearms are necessary.

The investigation into the shooting is ongoing. Initial news reports claimed that doctors had been informed that the child was hit by a bullet which ricocheted off the ground; however, witnesses allege that the shot had been fired in Amar’s direction. Moreover, a police source said that X-rays were not consistent with a bullet which had been deformed by striking the ground.

Perak police chief Acryl Sani Abdullah Sani said, “We changed our angle of investigation after taking statements from witnesses. The policeman was on leave during the incident and we want to know why he was carrying his weapon when he wasn’t on duty.”

Indicating that the “straight-forward, non-complicated and non-tricky case” would soon be closed, he assured the public that the investigations would be conducted with transparency, and that the deputy public prosecutor’s office would receive their report. He did not want the public to think that policemen were unprofessional and behaving like they were not fully trained.

Birds Foul-Up Clear Vision


Thinking Allowed

By Mariam Mokhtar

Thinking AllowedMalaysians are aware that the use of CCTVs has taken off in Malaysia. The idea is to reduce our dependency on security guards, because of problems in finding suitable and responsible workers.

According to one industry expert, CCTV operations are cheaper in the long run. They can be operated 24 hours per day, seven days a week.  The CCTVs are not affected by employees calling in sick, staff annual holidays, emergency leave or staff who are absent from their posts for long coffee breaks or extended lunches.

In March 2010, the Ipoh City Council made plans to install an additional 76 CCTVs, to augment the 24 units which had already been approved by the Housing and Local Government Ministry.

Ipoh Mayor Roshidi Hashim said that the installation would enhance security in the rapidly developing Ipoh city and its surroundings. Business centres were being built in areas further from the city centre, like Simpang Pulai, Bercham or Taman Meru, and Roshidi said that CCTVs would help reassure residents, within and outside the city centre, of their safety.

Roshidi said that each CCTV unit was estimated to cost RM3,000 and that funding  for the additional CCTVs would be borne by the taxpayer. The CCTVs would be linked to a control room in the city council and also to the Perak police headquarters.

It is gratifying to note that the rural community is not excluded from the promotion of the use of CCTVs. There is a drive by the Malaysian government, to upgrade 15 community colleges throughout the nation, and the Gerik Community College (GCC) has already received 16 CCTVs. The total upgrade allocation for nationwide colleges cost the government RM50.17 million.

The 2012 Auditor-General’s Report revealed a huge price difference between the price of the CCTVs supplied to GCC and those supplied to a similar college in Masjid Tanah, Malacca. One CCTV unit in Gerik was valued at RM85,500 compared with the Masjid Tanah one, which cost RM10,249. The CCTVs in Masjid Tanah was approximately eight times cheaper than the cameras in Gerik.

The high cost of the CCTV installation in Gerik can be attributed to its rural location and the difficulty of finding experienced contractors, who were willing to undertake work in the countryside. Gerik is more remote than Masjid Tanah.

The Education Ministry has justified the high cost of the CCTVs, by claiming that they had been purchased separately. They said, “The specifications, design, suppliers, locations and method of installation were different. The prices had been reviewed during the tender process as part of the entire project cost.” This sounds very plausible.

Critics of the audit claimed that a CCTV, which had been installed on the second floor of a college, had lacked a zoom function, whilst another CCTV which could rotate 360 degrees had been mounted on a wall, and was unable to make full use of this function.

These critics failed to note that CCTVs are very expensive and are possibly worth more than the fixtures they are secured to, or even the buildings which they are monitoring. CCTVs need careful positioning.

The audit revealed that one camera had stopped recording because its disc was full, but the more serious issue, was the bird droppings covering the CCTVs, which rendered the cameras useless.

Blame had initially been placed on the maintenance of these units, but it is disingenuous for the critics to blame the maintenance crew, especially as it is common knowledge that the Malaysian work culture does not normally include maintenance. It is possible that the need for regular maintenance, was overlooked in the tendering process.

Sources, who wished to remain anonymous, said that it is a generally accepted government policy, that it is better to procure new equipment than to maintain old equipment.

Malaysians prefer to replace items, as soon as they become obsolete, through frequent use or a breakdown in one of the components, although the CCTV which stopped functioning just needs a new disc to resume recording.

Anyone living or working in rural locations knows that it is normal for birds to leave droppings on fixed structures like those situated near the eaves of roofs. The amount deposited is directly proportional to the quantity of birds in the area. In other words, more birds mean more droppings.  More extreme suggestions to rectify the problem include building a cage to house the CCTVs, or a team of sharpshooters to kill the birds before they can perch on the CCTVs.

A report which has yet to be commissioned, will propose that a team of dedicated workers will be required, to clean the CCTVs on a regular basis. This will provide jobs for people living in the local area and thus, attract praise from the community. A strong message is being delivered, that machines need humans to make them function properly.

Cleaning bird droppings from CCTV lenses is a small price to pay in the fight against crime. Unfortunately, the birds are not the only ones fouling up the system.

Datuk Bandar Failure


Jerry FrancisMy Say

By Jerry Francis


Dato’ Roshidi Hashim was reported to have admitted that he had failed as the Mayor of Ipoh for being unable to keep the city clean.

I accept his admission at the last City Council’s full-board meeting, but I cannot accept his excuse that his failure was solely because the people could not be disciplined and refrained from throwing rubbish indiscriminately.

Does this mean that he and his successors are going to just accept the situation as “whatever will be, will be” and blame it all on the attitude of the residents? Dato’ Roshidi’s failure is largely due to the City Council’s lack of determination to restore the city’s lost image as one of the cleanest in the country.

The City Council needs to lead by example. If it failed in carrying out its responsibilities, then it can expect the residents to also adopt a “tidak-apa” attitude and discard their wastes indiscriminately and readily blame the City Council for its poor services.

My Say - Datuk Bandar failure

After all, preventing wastes from being indiscriminately discarded is only part of the overall efforts needed to keep the city clean. Clogged drains need clearing, rubbish collected efficiently, grass cut regularly, care of plants and shrubs along streets and roads, and proper maintenance of public parks and attractions. Every household in the city too must be directed to place all their domestic wastes in rubbish bins, not in plastic bags hanging on fences and trees, only to be scattered by dogs, cats and cattle. These are among the ingredients of a clean city.

Are all these not the responsibilities of the City Council? If so, would not the poor service we are experiencing now reflect on the efficiency of the City Council? Then why just put the blame on the people?

How is it that over two decades ago Ipoh was clean when it was just a municipality, but not now? The argument often put forward is that the city limit had increased in size, but let’s not forget that as the city grew, so did its manpower and budget.

Of course, the residents too are to be blamed for the thousands of illegal rubbish dumps scattered around the city. Their lack of cooperation is frustrating the City Council’s effort to clear the illegal dumps. The moment an illegal dump is cleared, a new dump begins.

One of the main culprits is the operators of small lorries for hire. They are the ones who cart the wastes and dump them at the nearest place convenient to them. Therefore, the City Council should consider taking stern action, including sending plainclothes enforcement officers to catch those responsible for throwing wastes indiscriminately. The City Council has the power to enforce the various enactments pertaining to health and cleanliness in the city.

It should not allow any “political constraints” to affect its efforts to keep the city clean. Those irresponsible residents will have to be prosecuted since attempts to discipline them into restraining from littering and illegal dumping of wastes had failed.

The City Council must bring those guilty of illegal dumping to court to show that it means business.

Ipoh Echo had in 2010 launched a “dirt vigilante” campaign calling on residents to report, with photographs, areas found to be filthy. Following this, the City Council had moved in to clear hundreds of illegal dumps, particularly in the Gunung Rapat area.

Of late, the City Council seems to be taking it easy. Not only the city is getting dirtier, cattle and buffaloes are reappearing in the city. They are endangering motorists at night and damaging plants in the housing estates.

Face-to-Face with Chin Peng


Jerry FrancisMy Say

By Jerry Francis

Local veteran press cameraman Wong Tuck Keong had never expected to come face-to-face with Chin Peng, who was accused of all the atrocities committed during the long-drawn fight against communism in the country.

He had covered the security operations intensively throughout Perak and South Thailand from the early 70s to the signing of the Hatyai Peace Accord on December 2, 1989. Yet, he never had a glimpse of the man with the notorious name.

Face-to-Face with Chin Peng

Tuck Keong and I had formed a press team, described as “Tom and Jerry”. We were at the scenes of various incidents related to terrorists’ activities and security operations.

During those Turbulent Years in Perak, the communist terrorists had re-emerged from their defeat in the 12-Year-Emergency to be a formidable force capable of posing a serious threat to the security of the country until it was reduced to small bands hiding in the jungles and constantly on the run from the security forces.

Tuck Keong had also covered the assassinations of Perak Chief Police Officer Tan Sri Koo Chong Kong in 1975 and six other Special Branch officers in the state.

They, together with five others killed outside Perak, were described as the “systematic elimination of Special Branch officers by the communist terrorists to strike fear among the people and security forces.” The terrorists had even intimidated loggers and mining workers and as well as sabotaged the construction of the East-West Highway and the Temenggor Dam in Upper Perak.

Witnessing all these incidents had created a fear in Tuck Keong’s mind of Chin Peng, secretary-general of the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM). When Chin Peng died in Bangkok on September 16 at 89, I happened to be sitting with Tuck Keong and reminiscing about our “Tom and Jerry” days.

“I had expected to see a fearsome terrorist leader, after hearing all about him from the time I was in school,” Tuck Keong recalled his personal encounter with Chin Peng in Betong. “But, all that impression of him defused when I came face-to-face with him in December, 1989. Instead, I saw a cheerful man with a broad grin wearing a bush jacket and a cap. He appeared like a Chinese businessman,” he said.

Chin Peng had gone to the terrorists’ jungle camp in Betong to brief his comrades on the terms of the tripartite Peace Accord signed by the Malaysian Government, Thai Government and the CPM.

Members of the press corps, who heard that Chin Peng would be in Betong, had gathered at the Thai Border Police Patrol base in Betong. According to Tuck Keong, after about a two-hour wait,  a Thai military helicopter landed and the terrorist leader emerged from it.

“We rushed forward before he could get into a vehicle. On seeing us, Chin Peng gave a broad grin and waved,” added Tuck Keong. “He was friendly and responded to all our questions.”

Chin Peng answered the questions in whichever language hurriedly thrown at him by the press. He was fluent in English, Malay and Mandarin. However, he was quickly whisked off by his bodyguards to lunch at a restaurant where residents of the Thai border town who had lived under the shadow of the terrorists for decades, had gathered to have a glimpse of him. Betong Salient had been the sanctuary of the terrorists for decades. Chin Peng left for Hatyai after the lunch.

Following Chin Peng’s visit, the estimated 1200 terrorists in the southern region of Thailand handed over their weapons and ammunition for destruction and were given the choice of either returning to Malaysia or staying in Thailand, in accordance with the provisions of the Peace Accord.

Tuck Keong was in Betong again later on hearing that Chin Peng would be at a ceremony to witness the destruction of the firearms and ammunition in the camp. However, he was stopped by CPM members manning a roadblock along the jungle track leading to their camp.


New Appeal in Farming


Thinking Allowed

By Mariam Mokhtar

In the rustic charm of Klian Gunung, in Selama, a group of enterprising friends, decided to repay society by contributing their expertise to the community. The desire of engineer-turned-farmer, Mohamad Nawawi Hasbullah (Awie) took on a greater meaning.

New appeal in farming

Expressing a wish to return to his roots, Awie was committed to green farming methods and wanted to preserve the social fabric of rural Perak. He was keen to engage the local community and keep abreast with advances in technological development.

Awie started his farm four years ago and was subsequently joined by four of his friends. They pooled their resources and talents for their joint-venture, the Sungei Rambong Project in Selama.

All the partners lamented the state of the agricultural industry in Malaysia. Jim Lim, the managing director said, “The agricultural industry is neglected and poorly managed. There appears to be an absence of national strategy and low priority accorded by politicians. We import too many products like bananas and pineapples, which Malaysia once produced. The majority of farmers today are over 70 years old.”

The Sungei Rambong Project, an Agro-Aqua industrial scheme, involves the breeding of udang-galah (freshwater prawns) in natural fresh water, using natural foodstuffs. The farm consists of 30 large ponds and smaller agriculture plots. The hatchery, for the udang-galah, is a joint-venture with a fishermen’s cooperative in Sungai Acheh. The most advanced natural breeding technology ensures healthy post-larvae (small pre-baby prawns), with a low mortality rate.

The project is sited in the Klian Gunung area, which is favourable for farming and for prawn breeding. Nestled in the hills with its hot, humid weather, it also has a plentiful supply of natural, running water from the hills.

Lim said, “Our backgrounds are diverse but we hope to develop strategies for young people, and to provide them with skills, training and development. We know there are many disenfranchised youths in Malaysia, including the rural communities, and Awie is keen to help his community. He is an impressive grassroots leader.”

Lim’s enthusiasm shows. “My background is in the social care field, principally in mental health and Child Protection. My company tries to divert young people from crime and help them make better sense and meaning in their life. I work with employment schemes for people with special needs.”

One of the other partners is in Human Resources (HR) and corporate management. As a former HR Director of Petronas, his expertise will be used to devise training and development programmes for employment opportunities within the farming community.

Awie trained as an electrical engineer and spent over seven years in Japan. He realised his desire to return to his roots by involving the local community in farming and associated activities.

The technical driving force is provided by another partner, a scientist in aquaculture and agriculture who is a renowned expert in sustainable green product development.

The final director is experienced in probation, rehabilitation and retraining. He joined after a visit to the farm, which was then in its infancy, during which he was so impressed with the operation that he offered to become an investor.

Traditional male, farm employees are the key workers, and they are supported by nine single mothers, who feed the udang-galah, everyday. The project aims to energise the rural sector by creating jobs in agriculture for youth and disadvantaged people. With emphasis on practical training, the project should generate sustainable employment and produce competitive, sustainable, green farms. Another objective is to reverse the migration of the local youth to urban areas.

Community development would be enriched with the training of farmers, youths and less conventional workers, like single mothers, who would be able to improve their lives and have a sense of belonging.

The single mothers have given encouraging feedback. They are happy to be employed and contribute towards the household income. More importantly, they have a job which offers flexible working hours which mesh with their child-rearing duties.

When asked if the partners were pioneers in green aqua-culture, Lim said, “We are pioneers in the sense that we link agriculture with social and workforce development for both agriculture and community gains. We want to increase and provide sustainable farming skills, using agriculture and aquaculture initiatives for the community. We are building social capital.”

Lim conceded that initially, people were not used to the traditional sustainable and non-chemical, or organic farming. He said, “We found that just talking about what is good about our methods is not good enough, to overcome these objections. We need to show and to demonstrate that the yields and outputs from the ponds are high. This way, many other landowners and small farmers are willing to lease Awie their plots.”

The Sungei Rambong organic udang-galah project appears to make farming appealing and attractive once again. With the introduction of modern, green techniques, it has become more appealing to younger people. The increased interest in green farming technology will benefit the business, the farmers and the community.

Lim’s message for Perakians was, “Perak is blessed with good land for food production and with it, enormous potential for economic growth and potential for future prosperity. Those social gains and raised living standards will see consequential reductions in crime and disharmony.”


Dangers Lurking on Pavements


Jerry FrancisMy Say

By Jerry Francis

Sybas! Ipoh City Council for responding to the need to repair the dangers lurking on the pavements along some of the busy streets in the city. The city council had carried out the minor repairs by replacing the heavily corroded metal covers of manholes and missing interlocking bricks along the busy Jalan Dato Onn Jaafar.

Fearing that pedestrians could get hurt, I had highlighted these issues in June and had waited to see the response from the city council.

I was afraid that it would be yet another case of “no allocation” just as the missing drainage cover at the Pasir Pinji wet market where a number of people had fallen.

However, I was wrong. The quick response by the city council had also shown that  it is treating the comments from “My Say” as feedback. As I had said before it is not my intention to just criticize the administration, it is more as a means to bring some of the issues to their attention. I am glad that the city council had acted.


Recently, the Pasir Pinji state assemblyman Howard Lee Chuan How and his team of concerned residents had to collect funds from the public to carry out repairs and put a concrete cover to the drain. Lee claimed that his team had forwarded the issue of the missing drain cover to the city council and was told that a preliminary investigation would be done first. “Because there was no allocation yet, the team decided to collect funds from the public and solve the problem immediately,” he said.

Is it not the responsibility of the city council to ensure the roads and pavements in the city are safe? If so, why wait? It would save the city council from being sued should there be a mishap resulting from dangers along the pavements.


Is This Possible?


Thinking Allowed

By Mariam Mokhtar


State assemblyAt the first, post-General Election 13, state assembly sitting last month, Menteri Besar Dato’ Seri DiRaja Zambry Abd Kadir, announced that Perak would become a developed state by 2015.

The optimists on the bench nodded in agreement, a number were less sanguine while some expressed their doubts. Can Perak become a developed state by 2015?

We can still recall the confusion when former Malacca Chief Minister, Ali Rustam, declared that Malacca was a developed state a few years ago. Sometime later this declaration was retracted.

Jon Hall of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said, “The OECD did not endorse the Malacca declaration, mainly because we’re not in a position to do so.” Neither the UN nor the OECD has a definition of a developed state.

Hall also remarked that the press conference and proceedings were in Malay and, therefore, he had no way of interpreting it.

Malaccans had assembled at Stadium Hang Jebat, in Krubong Malacca and welcomed Premier Najib’s televised announcement on the evening of October 20, 2010. The occasion turned sour, as the OECD’s statement contradicted Ali Rustam’s pronouncement.

The Malacca state had declared a public holiday, and organised a fireworks display, but the U-turn caused much confusion and disappointment.

The Perak Maju Plan 2015 was launched alongside the Perak Amanjaya Development Plan in 2008. Their objective was to make Perak a developed state by 2015. The two plans were designed to transform three main aspects of development, namely socio-economic, sectoral and physical.

The Amanjaya Plan broadly followed the concepts of the federal government’s Vision 2020 and covered key result areas which included skills, knowledge, youth participation and environmentally-friendly practices.

The plan aimed to raise the five regions, Hulu Perak, Beriah Valley, Manjung, Ulu Bernam and the Kinta Valley, to an equal level of development.

In April 2011, Zambry announced that both the Perak Maju 2015 and Perak Amanjaya development plans had successfully expanded the state’s economy, reduced poverty and crime rates.

The Amanjaya Plan, according to Zambry, had increased average household income from RM2809 per month in 2009 to RM3548 in 2012. Hardcore poverty rate had been reduced from 0.5 per cent in 2009 to 0.2 per cent in 2012.

However, fluctuating Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) flow into Perak is worrying. In 2009, the FDI was RM399.5 million, it increased to RM1.6 billion in 2010, dipped to RM90 million in 2011 then rose again to RM1.5 billion in 2012. The trend may be the same this year.

Perakeans who were asked if Perak could become a developed state by 2015 appeared doubtful. One pessimistic Ipohite said, “Our wages are depressed and with the recent hike in petrol and diesel prices, cost of living is set to rise. What’s the use of being developed when the ringgit is shrinking!”

Notwithstanding the odds, we ought to give Zambry the thumbs-up for his optimism and conviction.