By Mariam Mokhtar

Come on, MBI, you have the potential to improve and make a success of Visit Perak Year (VPY) 2017!

All it takes is leadership, political willpower, lots of elbow grease and stopping officials from making loads of excuses. You must listen to the general public, who are concerned, and acknowledge journalists who are merely doing their jobs, when they report shoddy work practices.

On January 1, a few visitors to the Gunung Lang recreational park, in Jalan Kuala Kangsar, Ipoh, wrote to the mainstream papers expressing their disappointment at the park’s facilities.

As anyone who has visited Gunung Lang knows, the area is extremely beautiful and is accessible by a short, inexpensive boat ride, which enables them to admire the limestone hills and emerald green waters, at close range.

The holiday trippers, who wrote to the papers, said that very little had been done to improve the park in recent months and it was reported that poor maintenance left visitors reeling with anger.

Some people claimed that Gunung Lang was an eyesore; the flower pots were full of weeds, shrubs had not been pruned, grass was allowed to grow over the footpaths, some of the animal enclosures were empty, whilst the roofs of some of the buildings had been damaged.

A visitor who spent half an hour walking around the park, said that both he and his grandchildren were disappointed. He wondered why the city council had failed to maintain and upgrade the park. He said that visiting Gunung Lang was a waste of time.

Another visitor complained that the damaged structures in the park posed a safety hazard. He said that there was a lack of notices warning people to keep away from areas that were undergoing repair or construction. Metal and wood, which he believed were from ongoing construction works, were strewn about and posed a danger to visitors, especially children.

The New Straits Times Actionline reported that Zamri Man, the mayor of Ipoh, had said that the park was being upgraded in stages. He said, “We are constantly upgrading the recreational park. We need proper planning to carry out the process.

“I know it is our responsibility to ensure the park is in a good condition, to attract local and foreign tourists.”

So, why does the City Council find it difficult to keep the park in good order? Is it a lack of funds, a lack of direction, a lack of knowledge, a lack of skilled labour or simply a lack of initiative?

Over the years, Ipoh Echo has highlighted the lack of maintenance at Gunung Lang (see http://www.ipohecho.com.my/v3/photo/pdf/1836_20150828105747_uqzbe.pdf and http://www.ipohecho.com.my/v4/article/2016/04/01/potential-of-gunung-lang-park-not-tapped).

In Ipoh Echo’s Issue 219, published in September 2015, editorial consultant, Jerry Francis asked why the Ipoh City Council neglected Gunung Lang and other parks in the city. He complained that the council had allowed Ipoh’s four parks to deteriorate through lack of maintenance, and fall into disrepair.

Jerry wondered if the workers did not understand the meaning of “maintenance” and misunderstood the meaning of “repair”. He strongly asserted that the staff, who are tasked with keeping the parks in good order, lack dedication. He did not think that a lack of manpower or resources had contributed to the terrible conditions at Gunung Lang.

We cannot blame the junior staff, who are directed to maintain the place. Blame should also be apportioned to the top, principally their bosses and the mayor. The stories of unkempt parks have plagued Ipohites since the parks were opened.

Where is the leadership? What happened to accountability and responsibility? Many senior staff have been sent abroad on study trips, but they seem to have learnt nothing on these expensive so-called-educational visits to other places. These trips are a waste of taxpayers’ money.

I, too, have complained about Gunung Lang. In August 2011, I brought a large party of local and foreign visitors to visit this green lung of Ipoh, and it was a shameful experience, having boasted to my friends about the beauty of the place.

Rubbish was strewn everywhere. The animals were dehydrated, so my visitors felt compelled to find a hose pipe and put water into the animals’ troughs. Some of the rabbits were very diseased and appeared to be on their last legs. Their fur was falling off, some were panting in the heat and the rabbit enclosure was covered in a one inch layer of rabbit pellets.

The visitors wrote to the papers, independently of my input to the online media. It is anyone’s guess if the letter(s) were published, or if the council made any improvements to the park.

In 2011 I said, “Why has the mayor allowed such terrible practices to continue? Is he not aware that Visit Perak Year (VPY) 2012 is just around the corner? If improvements are not made, the foreign visitors will say that Malaysia is a nation which ill-treats its animals.”

In 2017, it seems that history has repeated itself. VPY 2017 has started and we have a new mayor, but the terrible practices continue.

So, will the Ipoh City Council learn its lesson? Will it listen to the people, who only want the council to be a bit more responsible? Will the mayor stop making excuses and start acting responsibly?