By Mariam Mokhtar

When you saw the headline and photographs of the Perak Menteri Besar, Dato’ Seri DiRaja Dr Zambry Abd Kadir and mayor, Dato’ Zambri Man, collecting rubbish and sweeping the streets of Ipoh, your first reaction was probably of shock, then amusement. Your next expression was probably of delight, and praise.

Zambry’s one-and-three-quarter-hours of masquerading as a rubbish collector, on Thursday, February 2, created a frisson of excitement on social media. Expressions such as “Fancy the number one man in Perak, being your bin man.” “He’s so good to collect our rubbish.” “He’s not afraid of getting his hands dirty.” “How humble and how fortunate we are to have a leader who understands and listens to the people.” “We need more politicians like him.” Really?

Accolades aside, did you ever wonder why it took him ages, to listen to the grouses of the ordinary people, about rubbish collection? Some residents allege that their rubbish has not been collected, for months.

Zambry told reporters, “Cleanliness is not the responsibility of the city council alone. It is a continuous effort. Everybody will have to do their part.”

It is all very well to say this, but if MBI does not fulfil its role, how are people to make cleanliness a part of their lives? The poorer estates suffer most because the voice of those residents are not heard.

For years, if not decades, many residents have contacted Ipoh Echo to publicise their plight caused by uncollected rubbish, blocked drains, vermin infestation, fly tipping, and environmental pollution. The authorities failed to respond.

Zambry said that he was more worried about industrial and construction waste being thrown in illegal dumping sites, than he was about fly-tipping.

He should also look into the grouses of people who complain about effluent being discharged into drains, rivers and streams. Complaints have fallen on deaf ears, because some of the companies which discharge the toxins, belong to people with political connections.

Some Ipoh residents have also ceased trying to contact the Ipoh City Council (MBI), whose customer service officers can become quite intransigent and keep residents waiting for lengthy periods.

If the MB’s rubbish collection effort was sincere, he would not have brought a photography crew and reporters, to showcase his rubbish collection. That is why his action smacks of a publicity stunt more than anything else.

One political cynic said, “One is hardly surprised. In the run-up to GE-14, some states have already started their election gimmicks.

“Kelantan for instance, has announced that it would make polygamous marriages easier to process and thrown in the incentive, that newly-weds need not travel to Thailand to register their marriages.”

Other people are equally dismissive. One Batu Gajah resident said, “The Visit Perak Year (VPY) 2017 has not got off to a wonderful start. Social media and mainstream media are littered with people writing about the filth of Ipoh, once the cleanest town in peninsular Malaysia. Zambry should have acted last year.”

Others dismissed the MB’s remarks on Twitter. He said, “At 6.45am, I surprised Ipoh City Council (MBI) workers and joined the duty to collect and clean up rubbish around the city...I share their spirit to keep Ipoh as clean city.” (sic)

It is alleged that there is a breakdown in the provision of the basic services provided by MBI and that things must have got so bad, that the MB was forced to find out for himself.

If this is the case, what are the department heads and the mayor doing? It is well known that problems at the bottom of the work chain, are rarely heard by top management.  Middle management wrongly believe that to air workers’ problems reveals their own incompetence.

One resident of Jalan Sultan Azlan Shah (Tiger Lane) resident said, “The MB must be the highest paid rubbish collector, in Malaysia. Ipohites know that rubbish has always been an issue, so why his sudden interest? That is itself suspicious. It is a waste of money to elect a wakil rakyat, to do a mandor’s job.”

A retiree living on the other side of town said, “Where the rich live, like Tambun Road, bins are provided, whereas poorer parts of town are not supplied with bins. I remember that decades ago, when they privatised the rubbish collection, the service went from bad to worse.”

Another Ipohite who lives along the road to Bercham said, “Fly tippers are everywhere. It happens because people’s rubbish is not collected on a regular basis. People feel compelled to dump their rubbish, to avoid the stench, the sight and the vermin infestation. If the council workers were more responsible, the problem would not be this severe.”

One housewife said, “If the MB has to collect our rubbish, then something must be wrong in the system.”

The MB also claimed that his visit to the council’s waste management centre in Buntong, would give him a feel of being a council worker.

He is wrong! Under two hours will not even give him a taste of what it is to be a council worker.

If he really wanted to understand the problems with the collection of rubbish, faced by Ipohites, Zambry should also visit the housing estates and roads, where residents have, for many years, complained about litter and uncollected rubbish.

Budget cuts are a possible reason for the provision of poor services. Would Ipoh City Council be prepared to increase the budget allocation and at the same time, weed out the incompetent department heads and workers?