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.
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.
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.
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.”