Categorised | Columns

Crime and development

REPORTS on break-ins, robberies and attempted kidnappings have abounded recently but there are few answers as to why these keep occurring. One of the reasons could be due to unchecked development. When this occurs, it becomes the source of many of our society’s problems that then affects our surroundings. I have highlighted some of the problems before, but I would like to bring in another aspect that most of us do not consider.

Development and displacement

Development can displace the low-income group to high-density low-cost flats. Families who once lived in squatter villages are a rarity these days as many of these villages have been cleared for re-development. A typical family unit from this group probably consists of a couple with about five children.

Many of these low-cost flats do not have nearby schools. Also, public transportation does not frequent these areas so the family’s cost of living goes up as parents must find a way to send their children to the nearest school. Some may even choose not to, depending on their financial capability.

Residents of low cost flats need affordable public transportation to their work places (© thienzieyung | Flickr)

Residents of low cost flats need affordable, reliable public transportation to their work places (© thienzieyung | Flickr)

The abysmal state of our public transportation services also means that the adults do not have a reliable way of getting to and from their workplaces. This means longer hours away from the family and leaving the kids at home to their own devices.

There are also insufficient open fields that are easily accessible to the children who live in these flats, which means they have no affordable way to entertain themselves. This leads to a high rate of vandalism of the apartment lifts and other common properties.

Damage to these facilities requires the generosity of the government to fix because the majority of residents do not pay building maintenance fees.

Since the government is paying to maintain these low-cost flats, it means taxes are subsidising these residents. The last time I checked, the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) spends an average of RM5 million a year to subsidise the maintenance of two low-cost flats in Lembah Subang and Kota Damansara. This cost is not inclusive of the replacement of any permanently damaged facilities.

Additionally, with the escalated cost of living forced upon these residents, it means that some may turn to crime to sustain themselves. We usually blame foreigners for the increase in crime, but our police force once admitted in 2007 that 80% of crimes are committed by Malaysians.

Discussion and awareness

Many may feel that there is nothing that can be done about this because the system is too difficult to change. True, there appears to be hardly any change in the way the local council operates despite all the articles I have written on the irregularities in management.

But it is important for society to be aware of these issues, as discussion and reflection follow awareness. This leads to a change in perception and then a change in behaviour of the public as a whole, which will in turn influence our policy makers, judges, police and the civil service. Remember, all these people are part of society too and we cannot change things without them.

It is for this reason I continue to write and advocate awareness on development issues, even when told at times that it’s a hopeless cause.

What we can do

One thing the public can do is insist on councils and developers complying with the open space requirement. The rules require at least 10% of any development to be surrendered as open space. It also ensures there are two hectares of open space for every 1,000 persons.

Infrastructure like drains are already available in Petaling Jaya

Infrastructure like drains are already available in Petaling Jaya

Property developers are all keen to develop within urban areas like Petaling Jaya because the infrastructure like roads, drains, pipes, power lines and sewage treatment are already in place. They do not have to start from scratch like they would if they built over a plantation. But most developers don’t bother complying with the open space requirement.

If this rule was forced upon developers, it would suddenly become unattractive for developers to tear down old buildings and replace them with bigger buildings. One, the rules simply would not allow it, and two, it would be less profitable due to part of the development having to be set aside for open space.

I have highlighted these requirements many times before but no politician — either from Barisan Nasional or Pakatan Rakyat — has bothered championing these rules because it isn’t demanded by the public.

While such advocacy work would not help existing low-cost flats very much, it can prevent more developments from displacing low-income groups that would then go through the cycle I described above.

(© Benard Kok | Flickr)

(© Benard Kok | Flickr)

Such advocacy would also help put pressure on the government in the long run to provide the low-income group with schools, public transportation and other infrastructural issues that the government ought to have planned for from the start.

Setting up barriers and hiring guards could be one way to guard against crime. But this is only a short term measure as it doesn’t do anything to address the root causes of crime. Looking out for the lower-income group through advocating that they have proper infrastructure, schools and open spaces is one way to address this.

Former MBPJ councillor KW Mak once attended a forum on elections in 2007 where an audience member remarked that the speaker Toni Kassim sounded too angry and would not achieve anything. Toni’s reply is something he remembers and keeps to heart till today. “I would rather be angry than be apathetic.”

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17 Responses to “Crime and development”

  1. siew eng says:

    Yes, the media should look beyond superficial and surface causes of crime and give a holistic perspective instead by dissecting the factors that affect the quality of life. After all, how many more cautionary snatch theft and break-in stories are the media going to keep churning out at the rate such crimes are happening every day? The effect of which will be heightened fear, paranoia, and disillusionment with the law enforcers especially vis-a-vis the rate of crimes solved. Also, consider how people are now sharing personal or secondary stories of crime on their social network, quicker and with more details, so this role is not crucial of the media anymore.

    With the advantages the media have in terms of human resources, contacts and research access, they should be dissecting crime stats (unless the police have classified those as OSA, which is another serious blight to our well-being where good governance is concerned) to see whether there is empirical backing for the hypothesis presented here or discover a new theory so that action may be taken upon it.

    Also, Poskod KL have been organising talks on a better KL. I attended one where architect Lillian Tay presented a proposal to incorporate public, green spaces right within the low-cost apartment blocks. It looked a winning proposition to me. But how can it be put forward to the housing and local government ministry, or DBKL? Are their processes flexible enough to consider propositions from outside? I feel frustrated when I see good ideas not being applied, especially in this age of information where crowd sourcing can produce the best works.

    BTW, thank you for remembering what Toni said. She was right. As she was in everything. Look at what public anger in Tunisia achieved – at long last, people power that brought down despotic leaders in the Arab world. When next we meet, please share more what you learned from Toni. She was my guiding light.

    • KW Mak says:

      @ siew eng

      All I remember of Toni Kassim was that one statement from her. I did not know her personally. But I felt the need to share her words with others because they inspired me to speak up.

      On the part about how development proposals like those proposed by Lilian Tay can be integrated, there are actually plenty of government laws and rules that mandates such things. The problem we have is actually one of enforcement, or lack of it.

      I will be conducting a forum for residents of Petaling Jaya to educate them on what these rules / regulations are. I’m not sure what educating a bunch of people on what their rights are would do, but hey, it’s a start.

      • siew eng says:

        That’s the amazing thing about Toni – how she could inspire so many people from different walks of life after only one encounter. Something I remember her saying was: “Always leave the person you’re with feeling better”. Which she did. Until she left for good.

  2. A good topic to address on a public forum such as The Nut Graph. However, the writer fails to provide a proper analysis of the subject matter, choosing instead to rely on a discredited hypothesis of “development” as being the driver of the problem.

    Theft, burglaries, murder, mayhem and rape are as old as man himself. Each of these crimes have a deep history in the emotional and physical needs of mankind. Development in the sense of urbanisation of rural communities can and sometimes does play a part in the rise of a criminal culture in some communities.

    Sweden, other Nordic states, Singapore, Australia, Britain and the US have all experienced an exponential growth in crimes in both rural and urban areas. But none for the same reasons as espoused by the writer of this article.

    In the West as much as I would dare say in Malaysia, the majority of these crimes have nothing to do with necessity or the need to survive. They are more crimes committed under the influence of drugs and drink with diminished capacity whether self-induced or the result of prescribed medication.

    Greed and peer group pressure, the desire to acquire all of those material things like a night on the town, a BMW, material things to impress a girlfriend or boyfriend, status through material acquisitions have all, according to crime statistics in each of the named countries, played a significant part in driving crime.

    There is no denying that poverty and displacement of people can be a contributing factor.

    In India for instance, criminal behaviour is either politically driven and in the case of bride-burning, culturally so. How disgusting a culture that tolerates it. The absence of the rule of law aids its growth.

    Crime, like failure and the reasons for it, is an orphan. That’s because no one can pinpoint a singular uniform reason for it. Intention has to be proved in order to satisfy the offense of crime which is why the analysis in this matter cannot be attributed to a single unreliable source.

    • KW Mak says:

      @ Gopal Raj Kumar

      The article is food for thought. It’s good that you have digested the contents and derived some nourishment.


      • If, as you suggest, it is food for thought, it is a recipe for indigestion. This is more a political statement on your part in furtherance of a campaign to discredit the government at any cost by the opposition which includes your publication as one of its mouthpieces.

        In order to achieve any form of political advantage through writing, you need to research your work thoroughly and do so from a variety of credible sources. The Nut Graph however in its rabid anti-government froth loses much credibility when it engages in juvenile government, Malay and Muslim bashing.

        Everyone wants change but not at the cost of exaggeration and inaccuracies. The articles on the Malaysian constitution by The Nut Graph is an outstanding example of this point.

        All that said, I think you did a good job in raising an issue that has been much neglected by government in Malaysia for too long. Crime.

        • KW Mak says:

          @ Gopal Raj Kumar

          […] I apologise for the unpalatable thought meal you had, but really, you should also exercise caution in what your brain ingests. After all, you keep coming to The Nut Graph week after week for a thought meal that hardly agrees with your brain.

          Unless…you derive a guilty pleasure in ingesting unpalatable thought food and this is really a fetish for you? If that’s the case, please enjoy.

          Either way, you should still exercise caution in what you subject your brain to. Remember the saying, “One person’s meat is another person’s poison.”


  3. zamorin says:

    KW Mak,

    I always look forward to reading your articles. Thank you.

  4. hclau says:

    Some requirements highlighted by the writer make no sense. The rules are simply not well thought out. Let’s take the 2 hectares per thousand rule. That’s about 5 acres of open space per 1000 person.

    What does that cover? Residential? Commercial? Mixed?

    Let’s take residential. Most land parcels in the Klang Valley are only about 5 – 10 acres. With that rule, if you built 3 blocks of 25-storey condos that can house 4,000 – 5000 people (1,000 families) you would need to provide 20 – 25 acres of open space. Let’s say $300 per sq ft. That would be (300*20*43000) $258/- million on the low side. The open space would cost each family 258,000. AND you are complaining that condos are expensive now?

    • Kong Kek Kuat says:


      Haha… good observation.

      I agree that at first glance it does seem absurd given the physical area of West Malaysia. Assuming that Peninsular Malaysia is 131,598.00 km², it would mean that it is 13,159.80 ha to 6.57990 million people. Where will the rest of the Malaysians and visitors go!?

      But I suppose if you can see the proverbial wood in the trees, two hectares per thousand is about 20.00 m²/person (which is about 65.6168 ft², if you like).

      I suppose if seen in the context in which the rule arose, which would probably be back in the old (possibly colonial) days, and ignoring external yardsticks, 65ft² for each person might be a norm back then in Malaysia. After all, it´s really only about the space of 65 one-foot floor tiles.

      It is a wonder, though, as to what amounts to “open space” in Malaysia these days. For example in Singapore, rooftops and void decks are considered open spaces. So, for borak-borak’s sake, if each block of 10-storey flat is built on 1 ha. of land with a void deck alternating in between each level, you would already have at least about 5.0 ha. of “open space” (including the ground floor and some of the rooftop space, but not including other common space). It will definitely cost money and planning resources, but less than “open spaces” in the traditional sense of the word. It is probably doable with some downward revision of the rule. But even so, I doubt the ability of the authorities and those in charge.

      • Kong Kek Kuat says:



        Hohoho…I just made one of the fundamental mistakes my teacher in school always reminded me to never make i.e. to never directly compare apples with oranges even though they may both be fruits. I´ll be suing me.

        Assuming that Peninsular Malaysia is 131,598.00 km², it would mean that it is 13.15980 million ha. to 6.57990 trillion people. There will be plenty of places for all Malaysians and visitors to go around! Heck, we can even have a two-year procreation party inviting all the Chinese and Indians and still have “open spaces” to spare!

        Two hectares per thousand people is indeed 20.00 m²/person (or 215.2782 ft²). Again, I suppose if seen in context, 215 ft² is about the size of a small gym for each person. Might be a norm back in the days when the rule arose. It is still a norm (in the traditional sense of “open space”) for certain parts of Malaysia, today — though not due to good planning.

        Still, I doubt the ability of the authorities and those in charge.

        • hclau says:

          Hi KKK,

          Open space definition is actual ground space, as defined by the local council. It also must include 10% “green” vis-a-vis the whole development. However, if one goes around PJ, one will see many buildings etc that has nothing of that sort. Example would be Jaya One and Jaya 33, amongst others. This would lead to only one conclusion (as Sherlock Holmes said – When all other explanations have been exhausted, the one remaining must be the right one, no matter how bizarre).

          The rule can be broken for some “consideration”.

          Anyway, I am not writing about that, I believe “open space” is a must, but should be configured by the govt – in this case the council within the context of community or town planning. Developers should realistically be made to contribute towards community parks, instead of taking land from their little parcels to make unrealistic “open space”. The nett effect of this unrealistic demand is to drive up cost and hence prices. It is the nature of historical (tiny) “land parcelling” that has made this requirement unrealistic.

          BTW, open space is defined as “accessible space”, thus the whole peninsula comparison really does not apply. Furthermore, you will have the “tree-huggers” up in arms if you include the jungles of the main range!?

          • Kong Kek Kuat says:


            Ya, but just a note: “Accessible space” is always “creatable”. We didn´t start off in history with the current accessible space in West Malaysia, did we?

            Which brings me to this: Developers should be made to look elsewhere if their little parcels cannot meet the rules and regulations. I think historical land parcelling or not, it all boils down to our immigrant culture (which [some locals] have adopted to a certain subtle extent) and, on the govt’s side, the human capital we have available that is allocated for such jobs. I think “you never know what you have until its gone” is apt here. With the land area in relation to the population, those in charge could easily pick up the ‘tidak apa’ attitude when it comes to planning for the future. “Oops… salah bina airport kat Sepang pulak. Takpe lah, kalau tak jadi, kita bina satu lagi kat Rawang. Tak rugi, projek-projek baik untuk economy negara dan UMNO.” Our culture is all about a certain quality of human capital chasing after poor quality money, for the moment.

  5. Patrick says:

    You are certainly right. The reason why politicians from both sides of the divide don’t take up issues such as open spaces and public transportation is because the public doesn’t raise these issues themselves.

    Sure, the public has on occasion raised these matters from time to time, especially when it directly affects them, as I’m sure you’re well aware of, but in most cases, it seems to be pockets of people here and there.

    There isn’t really an encompassing group of people who are openly and regularly demanding for this sort of thing, although you can expect these topics to come up when you’re meeting with people over dinner or tea.

    Also, it certainly isn’t as sexy for politicians to jump on, definitely not as readily appealing as Evidence 114A, Merdeka slogan etc etc.

  6. Alwin Lim says:

    Here’s what I think:-

    1) Open space cost should not be borne by residents, it is the council and land office that must ensure livable areas for the people.

    2) Those who live in Petaling Jaya long enough know that PJ was created in a systematic way and it is the developers who like to build in PJ because the infrastructure has already been in place. This results in huge traffic congestion, over-crowding, sewage problems etc.

    3) Why disturb the peace and tranquility in PJ when you can have development in other areas? Again the infrastructure is in place. New buildings put tremendous strain on existing drains, sewage and roads. One day it will reach a breaking point.

    4) Places like Kajang and Segambut which have uncontrolled development have seen flash floods, parking, crime and many more problems.

    5) A trustworthy council should never allow rampant over-development to maintain the well-being of its residents.

    6) Has anyone read the article by Derek Fernandez titled “Where have all the professionals gone?” The author has even said that the developers treats architects like prostitutes and some architects here also behave like prostitutes. Although architects are governed by a professional body, rampant over-development still happens. At the end of the day, a good and worthy council can prevent this from happening. Will we be seeing this anytime soon? I guess it’s a hope long gone.

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