Tag Archives: Jerry Francis

Old Does Not Equal Heritage

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By Jerry Francis

Recently, when I wrote about condemned and dilapidated buildings in the city centre being left to rot as “eyesores”, I drew some flak from readers. It shows there are a lot of people here who are enthusiastic about preserving heritage buildings and thought I was advocating that such buildings be demolished.

 

Flattened
Condemned building at the junction of Jalan Sultan Idris Shah and Jalan Raja Musa Aziz

 

 

I had highlighted those “eyesores” with an intention to draw the attention of the city council to get the owners to do something as the buildings, which have been left abandoned and condemned for years, are posing a danger to motorists and pedestrians. If they could be restored well and good, but if not what do we do? Do we allow the buildings to rot and collapse on their own?

Many readers appear to be very emotional where heritage buildings are concerned and prefer that such buildings be left alone with the hope that they would be eventually restored. They do not seem to be concerned that those ruins along main streets are dangerous to motorists and passers-by.

An example was the building at the junction of Jalan Sultan Idris Shah and Jalan Raja Musa Aziz, which was left in a dilapidated condition after a fire damaged it some years ago. The building has since been demolished after I highlighted it a couple of times.

In a city such as Ipoh, that was built over a century ago, many of its buildings are bound to be old. Is just being old of heritage value?

Whenever some of these old buildings are torn down, there is much hue and cry that heritage is not being preserved; for example, the demolishing of a block of double-storey residences along Jalan Chung On and more recently, five pre-war shophouses at the corner of Jalan Sultan Abdul Jalil and Jalan Lau Ek Ching for redevelopment. There also have been other old buildings in the city, which have faced the same fate.

We need to look from the point of view of the owners of such properties. What can they gain from preserving their buildings as heritage? Certainly they would prefer to redevelop their prime land for a greater economic return.

Of course, heritage needs to be preserved. In the case of our city, who is responsible for preserving heritage and to what extent are we willing to take it? There are not many owners of old buildings who can afford to restore their condemned and dilapidated buildings to their original forms.

Can they sustain, like the owner of the well-known FMS Bar & Restaurant, slowly restoring the building? Unless they have deep pockets, they will want to see their investments bear dividends quickly.

Therefore, if we are really serious about preserving heritage buildings in our city, we need to take stock of all the old buildings and decide which of them are of heritage value and gazette them as heritage sites, and what kind of enforcement will be in place before property owners are allowed to demolish their buildings. Also what financial incentives are there for the owners to restore the buildings to their original splendour?

The city council has taken the right step, though long overdue, by carrying out an extensive programme to identify old and heritage buildings around Ipoh and will ask the Heritage Department to gazette those heritage buildings. It has identified 120 buildings for the purpose.

Buildings which are of significant architecture and have stories to tell should be taken into consideration, not just because they are old. It is better to have a few heritage sites than not at all.

Otherwise, we can go on protesting and yet we will continue to see buildings which we consider as heritage being torn down periodically.

When even preserving a unique mining heritage – the only tin dredge, which I have been advocating for over two decades, has yet to be achieved, what chance do we have to preserve all the old buildings in the city?

And finally is the Heritage Department willing to put their money where their mouth is?

Mayor’s Justification Not Valid

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By Jerry Francis

Mayor Datuk Roshidi Hashim seems to be satisfied that Ipoh need not necessarily be as clean as during the era of the Seenivasagam brothers.

He stressed that the area under the city council now is many times bigger than it was in the sixties. Hence on the basis of this, he added, there is no justification in comparing the cleanliness of Ipoh now with that during the Seenivasagam era. This was told to the residents of Kampung Tersusun Buntong during one of his “turun padang” (meet the people) programmes recently. The residents had complained about clogged drains, uncollected rubbish and problem with stray cattle.

Such a conclusion was not easily accepted by most residents. In fact some of them rang Ipoh Echo criticising Roshidi’s justification. They claimed that the Mayor was merely finding an excuse for the failures of the city council to keep a clean image of the city.

There is no doubt the city’s jurisdiction has expanded over the years but then so has the manpower in the city council. It is estimated that there are over 2,700 employees now compared to just a few hundred before Ipoh was upgraded from a municipality to a city 23 years ago. So, the manpower too is “many times” bigger.

The city council’s office had also moved from a congested complex at Jalan Tun Sambanthan to an impressive multi-storey complex at Dataran MBI in Greentown.

Therefore, if any fair comparison is to be made between then and now one must look at Taman D.R. Seenivasagam, which has not expanded ever since it was set up in 1970. It still covers an area of 14 hectares.

It was then a premier family recreation park. Despite just a handful of employees tasked to look after it, there were boating facilities at the artificial lake, as well as other facilities such as a ferris-wheel, merry-go-round, mini-train, dodgem cars, skating rink, traffic game and wading pool.

There was also a mini zoo with Seenivasagam’s pet honey bear as the centre of attraction and deer, while television sets were installed at various parts of the park and piped music streamed over the area. Every evening the park attendants, who were smartly dressed in orange tunics and blue trousers, were on duty directing traffic and maintaining the various facilities.

Parents would spend quality time with their children at the park at every opportunity they could get. It was a joy to see the children happily interacting and participating in the activities. Just ask those who grew up in the city in those days, and they will relate many happy memories of the Taman.

Now the number of employees maintaining the park is probably the same, if not more, yet the park has lost its glitter.

This is just an example; there are many other amenities within the city to which the city council needs to pay extra attention.

Giving the excuse that the city’s limit has enlarged as a justification for its failure to be efficient and to keep it clean will not hold water when the number of employees have also increased.

The city council should instead examine whether there is a need for greater supervision of the employees and whether they are dedicated in carrying out their tasks.

The city’s anti-dengue campaign too does not seem to be successful. Residents have been complaining that drains throughout the city are dirty.

However, much of the illegal rubbish dumps within the city have been cleared after they were highlighted by the press, including an ongoing campaign for cleanliness by Ipoh Echo.

I am surprised that the Mayor is now talking about his determination to bring back the city image as one of the cleanest in the country. Can he achieve it? Can he walk the talk? Of course he can, if he and the councillors and employees are determined to achieve the goal.

 

Remembering Our Fallen Heroes

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By Jerry Francis

On one side of the oblong cenotaph located opposite the Town Hall along Jalan Panglima Bukit Gantang Wahab is a hastily cut black marble plaque with an inscription “IN MEMORY OF THE GALLANT MEMBERS OF THE ARMED FORCES, POLICE AND CIVILIANS WHO SACRIFICED THEIR LIVES DEFENDING THE NATION DURING THE MALAYSIAN EMERGENCY 1948-1960, INDONESIAN CONFRONTATION 1962-1965 AND THE REINSURGENCY PERIOD 1972-1990.”

The plaque is “squatting” on the memorial built for those from Perak who died during the First and Second World Wars. Three of the four original brass plates on the cenotaph which bore the names of the dead and military units have been vandalised and stolen. Thus, they were substituted with one dedicated to the dead during the wars, and another during the Malaysian Emergency and Indonesian Confrontation.

Are the sacrifices of the members of the Commonwealth and Malaysian security forces, as well as civilian workers in Perak worth just a mention on a plaque? Thousands of them had given their lives to ensure peace and progress in the country since the Emergency was declared following the killings of three European planters in Sungei Siput in June, 1948.

Certainly, the dedication and sacrifices of those men and women of all races and religions must always be looked upon with pride as we strive to mould a united Malaysian nation. Therefore, they deserve to be remembered in a manner more deserving than just a plaque on a cenotaph that was not even built for our fallen heroes of the Emergency and Indonesian Confrontation.

I have always advocated the erection of a monument specially dedicated to the members of the security forces and civilians in the four decades of combating communist insurgency in the country. Perak took the brunt of the threat and was deprived of the much needed development until the peace accord was signed in December, 1989.

Their sacrifices, which eventually brought peace and security to the country, must be immortalized to remind us how close we were to losing our freedom. In so doing, we will also show to future generations how the various races had united to face a serious threat to the sovereignty and integrity of the country and instill a sense of pride and patriotism among all Malaysians, especially now when the loyalty of the non-Malays are being often questioned by some people with a political agenda.

In my book, “Turbulent Years in Perak – A Memoir”, I had also called for the monument to be set up, preferably along the East-West Highway in Upper Perak, which had withstood the terrorists’ attempts to sabotage it. It should be located prominently on Banding Island, which is linked by two of the longest bridges along the highway, so that travellers and tourists will remember how the highway and the Temenggor Dam were constructed in the face of the threat from the communist insurgents.

A gesture such as this would be a small tribute to those who had responded beyond the call of duty and would serve as a reminder to us of their deeds and sacrifices. It would also make travelling along the East-West Highway more interesting, apart from being a tourist attraction.

The Malaysian Army had taken the cue and erected a small monument at the entrance to their camp at Banding in March, 2009.  It was a decommissioned V-150 “Commando” armoured vehicle surrounded with plaques containing some heroic episodes of their fighting men. At least, the Army has recognised the deeds of its men. Others, like those in the plantation industry and Malaysian and Commonwealth veterans, are also continuing to observe a remembrance day at the “God’s Little Acre” in Batu Gajah in June, every year.

What has the state government and the people of Perak done in appreciation of the role played by members of the security forces and civilian workers? It has been over two decades since the battle against the communist insurgents was victoriously concluded, yet there is no outstanding monument anywhere in Perak dedicated to those men and women except for what appears to be a half-hearted plaque at the cenotaph.

Even the few small monuments along the East-West Highway, which mark the scenes where serious incidents had taken place, have been neglected. I fear that soon, all their dedication and sacrifices will be forgotten and mentioned only in some books found on library shelves.

 

Hidden Danger Lurks in Scenic Beauty

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By Jerry Francis

One of Ipoh’s tourism assets is its serene and scenic cave temples, especially the Chinese temples. Most of them were built in the characteristic style of temples one can see in some of the old Chinese Kung-Fu movies from China.

Their facades are colourful with glazed tiles roof and symbols of dragons on the rooftops, and on the ground and inside the caves large statues of Buddha or other deities, such as Kwan Yin (Goddess of Mercy) abound.

However, amidst their splendour and attraction, the estimated 30 cave temples in and around Ipoh can be a worrying factor. These temples are increasingly popular among local and foreign devotees and sightseers, and as such the safety aspect needs to be given more attention as there is a danger of rockfalls which can occur at any time.

Some of these temples, having been established about a century ago, have attained international recognition. Among them are Sam Poh Tong and Perak Tong. Started as small shrines, many have developed over the years without interruption from the authorities. Some were built precariously on cliff-faces, as though clinging on them and others underneath huge cliffs.

Their massive renovation plans have transformed them into magnificent and colourful structures, which are attracting both devotees and visitors by the bus-loads daily.

Over the years, there have been a number of rockfalls in the state, some of which were disastrous. Among the incidents was at Gunung Cheroh in 1973 which killed 42 squatters living at the foot of a limestone cliff behind a Hindu temple.

The most recent one occurred inside Perak Tong on January11, 2009, when a big chunk of rock fell in the main cavern of the temple killing a security guard and injuring two tourists; while 16 other tourists were rescued in a three-hour operation. As a result, the temple was closed for about six months.

According to a study carried out, the primary causes of rockfalls are attributed to the rainwater along the many joints and fissures present in the limestone and it is inevitable that the rock slabs will break from the cliff where such action has sufficiently reduced their stability.

Rockfalls could have also been hastened by a number of secondary causes, such as vibrations like low intensity earthquakes, quarry blastings and passing vehicles nearby and oscillation related to wind blowing through vegetation growing on cliff faces and loss in cohesion due to prolonged periods of wet weather. Rock slabs and blocks will therefore fall off occasionally although the time and period of successive rockfalls are unpredictable.

Therefore, the cave temples have often been described as “time-bombs” in view of the dangerous situation in which most of them were located and built, and the relevant authorities had not checked on the development of the temples to ensure they are safe despite the existing safety directives.

Though the state government may be aware and concerned about the situation, it has continued to find great difficulty to evict the occupants or demolish the structures. Any action taken against the temples can create some sensitive problems. So, it places the authorities in a dilemma.

Although such rockfalls are rare and unpredictable, the authorities must continuously monitor the situation in the cave temples and their surroundings to ensure necessary precautionary measures are observed for the safety of the visitors.

Perhaps the respective temple’s management committees need to carry out regular safety checks of the surroundings, such as tell-tale signs like rock-fall debris strewn about the cave floor or near the entrance or outside the caves. If rock debris is seen, then the cave should be closed and not reopened till the stability of the rocks have been ascertained by the Geological Sciences Department.

However, these should be done without scaring away worshippers and visitors from frequenting the cave temples.

Safety guidelines have been in existence for years, but have not been strictly enforced. Among them are conditions for construction and the safe distance buildings need to be from the foot of limestone hills.

Do we have to wait for another rockfall to take safety measures at the cave temples seriously? Safety cannot be compromised, but should be a priority at all times. Therefore, what is needed is less talk and more action from all relevant agencies and departments, and as well as those responsible for safety.

IE’s ‘Dirt Vigilantes’ Campaign pays off

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By Jerry Francis

We are thrilled with the prospect that Ipoh is moving towards restoring its image as one of the cleanest cities in the country. Mayor Datuk Roshidi Hashim’s recent declaration that the city council will intensify enforcement against litterbugs and illegal dumping of rubbish in the city has given us that hope.

It also indicates that the Ipoh Echo’s on-going “dirt vigilantes” campaign, which was launched in December, 2009, has achieved its desired effect on the city council.

We have even advocated that those irresponsible residents who throw rubbish indiscriminately be made to pay for clearing the thousands of illegal rubbish dumps, and not from the ratepayers’ money as was the case at Rapat Setia where several thousand tonnes of rubbish from illegal dumps were removed by a contractor who was paid by the city council.

Our online poll has also received good response from the residents who suggested that plainclothes enforcement officers be stationed at strategic locations in the city to nab those who illegally dump rubbish and fine them heavily. They should be made to pay for their actions.

The time for appeals and warnings are over, as the irresponsible residents continue to ignore them despite the presence of notice-boards. Among the steps announced by the Mayor are to clean up the city and improve garbage waste management. The city council is also to go after those who pile up rubbish at non-designated areas and force them to bear the costs of cleaning up the mess and as well, be slapped with the maximum compound of RM250.

He said 14 enforcement officers have been appointed recently to regularly patrol the city’s 22 zones and take action against litterbugs and illegal dumping.

“There will be no compromise even for those who litter while walking and throw rubbish out of vehicles. I’ll suggest to the committee that the names, addresses and car registration numbers of repeat offenders be exhibited at the city council building for all to see,” he was quoted to have said.

Meanwhile, various locations of illegal rubbish dumps in the city, including Taman Medan Ipoh in Ipoh Garden East, are being cleared.

Syabas! Datuk Roshidi. This is what we have been waiting to hear for a long time. This announcement must have been accelerated by the concern shown by the Raja Muda Raja Dr. Nazrin Shah who insisted on inspecting the site of the location of illegal rubbish dumps in Taman Rapat Koperasi at Rapat Setia last September.

I hope Raja Nazrin Shah will keep up with his concern on the cleaning up of the city to put the city council on its toes all the time, as all our past efforts had failed to get its attention.

It is now up to the Mayor to “walk the talk” and seriously make a sustainable move to achieve his mission to clean up the city and improve garbage waste management by next year.

The city council must set an example by regularly collecting all domestic wastes and as well as clear clogged drains.  And, the residents need to co-operate by restraining from throwing rubbish indiscriminately. If they have large items, such as broken beds or old furniture, they can request the city council to help them dispose of the unwanted items.

I sincerely hope that getting the city to restore its image is not just wishful thinking, but will become a reality through the joint efforts of both the city council and residents.

Need to Rebuild Public-Police Confidence

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By Jerry Francis

Our recent front page report “Reduced Crime Rate – Reality or Perception?” has revealed some disturbing facts about the attitude of the residents towards the police force in the city.

Firstly, the residents refused to accept the claim by the police that the crime rate in the city had been reduced. They dismiss the claim as “mere statistics”.  On the contrary, they said, there has been a spate of street robberies, snatch-thefts and house break-ins, resulting in the womenfolk in housing estates being afraid to come out of their gates.

However, the city police chief Assistant Commissioner Azisman Alias stressed that there was no manipulation of figures; they were based on the reports lodged at police stations. “If, no report was made then it would not be taken into account,” he said.

Taking both views into account, I can only come to a conclusion that many of the crimes committed in the city were not reported. This was even admitted by many victims of petty crimes.

Why is this so? Have residents lost their confidence in the police force to the extent of not reporting any occurrence of crimes? I hope not.

The police force is a necessity in a civil society as it is the guardian of law and order. Without it, we will be subjected to the ‘law of the jungle’.

Therefore, despite some incidents in the past few years that had tarnished the image of the police force, we need to give them our full confidence. Let us not allow a few bad apples in the police force to spoil the relationship between the public and the police.

In general it is fair to say that most police personnel are dedicated to their responsibilities, as they too have family members and relatives who need the police to safeguard them.

But recent interviews with residents have shown that some had refused to lodge crime reports, while others are reluctant to pass on information. Their excuses are the waste of time as they need to take leave from work and go through the hassles to lodge a report, or as in the case of passing on information, there is fear of confidentiality leakage.

“I telephoned the police one night when there was a group of youths at the play-ground drinking alcohol and making a nuisance of themselves,” said a resident in Silibin. “After much persuasion, a police patrol car finally came. Peeping from my window, I noticed that the two policemen, instead of directing the youths to disperse, behaved like old friends. After the patrol car left, the youths continued with their activities. Luckily, I did not give my name when I rang the police. Had I done so, the youths would very probably know who had reported,” he added.

Our report has also drawn various adverse comments of the police from residents. Among their allegations are the lack of police mobile and foot patrols and failure to take prompt crime preventive actions.

This shows that there is a serious need for the police to win the “hearts and minds” of the residents to intensify efforts against criminals. Police need help from the public to provide them information, and based on the information the police can increase surveillance on crime prone areas.

Therefore, the launching of the Convoy Community Oriented Policing (CCOP) programme by the city police is very  commendable. Under this programme the police would meet the public over breakfast for a chat with the objective to break the barriers between police officers and the public. The meetings are held regularly in various housing estates.

Apart from this, the city police chief had directed his men to step up the SWAT (Stop Walk and Talk) programme, whereby policemen would chat with the people and discuss their problems.

Azisman had also directed the frontline’s personnel in the police stations to be courteous to the public and attend to their needs fast. The public must not be made to wait to see a staff or make a police report. While those in the patrol cars are to be sensitive to the needs of the people and situation.

The CCOP is similar to the Salleh System, which was named after the Inspector-General of Police, the late Tun Salleh Ismail, introduced to all police contingents in 1968.

The main purpose of this system was to train police officers to be more responsible and acceptable by the public as a partner in combating crime. However, like all good moves, the Salleh System was gradually forgotten.

Let us hope that CCOP can sustain and help to rebuild the rapport between the public and police, so that neighbourhood watches would emerge all over the city to reduce crime and safeguard the security of the residents.

Without Malice or Hidden Agenda

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By Jerry Francis

Recently, some friends asked me why I am creating a reputation as a critic of the Ipoh City Council. My reply has been, and will always be, that I harbour no grudges against the city council, its Mayor, councillors or employees.

It is my responsibility as a journalist towards the society, particularly the city’s ratepayers in this case, to highlight the short-comings of the city council. Therefore, since early 1990 I have been raising various issues or forwarding suggestions, not just to city council, but also to those of government agencies and the private sector, in my desire to see good governance.

First through the weekly column “Ipoh Outlook” of the New Straits Times, later the “The Other Side of the Valley” of the Sun, and now “My Say” of the Ipoh Echo. These columns are written without malice or hidden agenda. They are meant to be “feedback” to the relevant authorities.

My cherished wish is to see Ipoh regain the vibrant and beautiful image it had prior to being accorded city status 22 years ago. I had taken a liking to Ipoh since I took residence in 1973; it was then a municipal council, which had many qualities I found worthy of praise.

However, after two decades of my highlighting the issues, the city council appears to have adopted a nonresponsive attitude. Maybe, it feels that “silence is golden” and allows the issues to be blown over, rather than clarifying them or taking steps to remedy them. Therefore, I have been repeatedly raising certain issues, in the hope that the relevant authorities will take note and begin to address them.

Among them is the need for the city council to rejuvenate the city centre. It saddens me to see much of the city centre becoming neglected and desolate and may soon become swiftlet hotels as the recorded chirpings of the swiftlets can now be heard loud and clear.

Already about 10 per cent of the business premises in the heart of new and old town sectors, bordering Jalan Sultan Idris Shah-Jalan Raja Ekram-Jalan Sultan Iskandar-Jalan Sultan Yusuf, have either been vacated or condemned.

Owners of most business premises seem to have lost any interest in redeveloping them as they see no future and much of the business and commercial activities are moving to new growth areas outside the city centre.

Evidence of the city centre being unattractive to investments can be seen by the poor response to the offer for development of the site along Jalan Raja Ekram once occupied by the famous landmark Yau Tet Shin Market, or popularly known as the circular market, which is proposed to be the hub of a cultural district in the city.

If there is going to be any hope of the city centre reviving, the city council must sincerely look into activities that could induce re-development that include parking spaces, but it is yet to come up with some viable proposals or projects. Even existing beautification projects such as the fountains are being neglected.

Ipoh needs a good theme, around which it could be developed and promoted. I don’t see why the well-known slogan “City That Tin Built” should not be used to market the city. These four words aptly describe the history of the city and the heritage it inherited from the once glorious tin mining industry in the Kinta Valley.

Why use other slogans, such as, “City of Bougainvillea…Virtual City…Ipoh Indah dan Maju” and currently, “Bersih, Hijau dan Membangun”, which only serve as mockery to the ability of the city council, while we have the heritage assets to promote tourism for the city.