By Khor Hung Teik
Cleanliness has always been a matter of controversy in Penang. It was in 1991 that former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad famously gave his damning indictment that the state was fast becoming the Rubbish Bin of the Orient. Now when the Cleanliness Master Plan is presented to the state, can we expect radical change?
Rats, crows, clogged drains, dirty markets… these characterised Penang urban street life for a long time. Over the last two decades, however, the situation is believed to have improved, even if not radically.
A sweeper at Gurney Drive recently observed, “I have been cleaning Gurney Drive for the past five years. The street is much cleaner now than before. However, more rubbish is still being thrown during weekends than on weekdays. Even the new 3Rs (Reduce, Reuse and Recycle) bins are being used and people are segregating their waste into separate compartments. Attitudes are slowly changing but we can do much more.”
First-time visitor to Penang, Mal Williams from Wales, remarked, “I love Penang and I think it is a good example of civic order. The traffic is well regulated and the streets, whilst very Asian in that they are bustling with trading activities – a feature not commonplace in Europe – are not overwhelmingly cluttered. A noticeable lack of street litter and a general obvious supply of civic infrastructure that enables services like gas, electricity, water and drainage to be relatively invisible gives Penang quite a different feel from many Asian cities I have visited.”
Despite such positive feedback, expectations on the present government to make significant progress in this area remain very high. Indiscriminate dumping of rubbish or uncollected rubbish is still fairly common in the inner city. Prangin Canal frequently clogs with rubbish, causing flash floods along Kimberley Street, Jalan Lumut, Cintra Street, Sungai Ujong Road and Jalan Pintal Tali.
The Penang state government’s vision is, after all, to turn George Town into an international city – “the location of choice for investors, the destination of choice for tourists and the habitat of choice for sustainable living”. It has also identified the 3Cs (Crime, Cleanliness and Congestion) as key areas to manage if the shine is to be brought back to Penang.
Working towards a Cleaner Greener Penang
In early 2011, Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng ordered the director of the Penang Island Municipal Council’s (MPPP) Urban Services Department, Mohd Ibrahim Mohamad, to come up with an operational plan for cleaning up Penang. This is part of the Cleaner Greener Penang initiative, the road map for achieving the government’s rather ambitious goals.
The department, in collaboration with Penang Institute, completed a three-year plan in April 2011 and presented it to the state government on July 1, 2011 and to municipal councillors on July 29, 2011. Its Key Result Areas (KRAs) include the following:
Ensuring cleaner public realms and residential areas
The key objective is to improve the quality of public spaces by creating sustainable and inclusive communities. This is to be done through the identification of key areas. Areas will be colour-coded according to their level of cleanliness (e.g. Red – Critical, Orange – Alert, Green – Acceptable). MPPP grassroots officers will be mobilised and given the specific task of overseeing public cleansing and solid waste management operations in zones under their charge.
Areas that remain constantly denoted as red will need more initiatives to increase public awareness, education and enforcement. Ideally, the areas should change colour once remedial action has been taken. Public awareness campaigns should necessarily be people-centric and should encourage community participation. The state government can lead but it is the people who can make the difference.
Implement key activities to improve cleanliness
A holistic plan is needed if public awareness is to be raised immediately. Its implementation requires continuous monitoring and maintenance on the part of the local authority. Activities should include road and drain cleansing, solid waste collection and action against indiscriminate dumping.
Cleaning of roads and drains
In the city, cleansing services are carried out by MPPP staff; outside the city area, roads and drains are cleaned by MPPP-appointed contractors. Current operation times (which range from 7am to 3pm depending on the area) are not effective because hawker activities continue or even start after 6pm. It is proposed that cleaning times be extended past office hours for hawker areas and pasar malam.
Solid waste collection
As part of its efforts to improve waste collection, MPPP has appointed seven contractors to collect refuse throughout the island. The vehicles they use are colour coded according to each zone to enable the public to recognise them and provide feedback on their performance. This system should allow for greater efficiency in terms of channelling complaints and other feedback to MPPP.
However, any rubbish left by the roadside after operation times will duly be reported by MPPP’s ground staff and carried off to the nearest disposal centre. Bulk refuse such as furniture and large household appliances, and garden waste and yard trimmings are collected daily in residential areas except on Sundays. Collection hours are usually from 8am to 5pm.