Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Report from Malaysian Insider


Melaka grows, but residents fear lack of control

October 20, 2010
Melaka has leveraged its popularity as a tourism spot to bring about development. — All pictures by Choo Choy May
MELAKA, Oct 20 — Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam’s zeal to make Malaysia’s third smallest state globally competitive within a decade has earned him much admiration, but locals worry if the development was truly sustainable.
Melaka-born and bred businessman, Bharat Ajmera, believes Mohd Ali is a capable leader who has laboured hard to develop the state.
“He’s really done well. He has not marginalised any community. Being Indian, I have also benefitted even though I don’t lobby him for projects,” the 45-year-old who runs the Malacca Straits Hotel in the city centre and the Trend Hotel in Melaka Raya told The Malaysian Insider in an interview.
“Melaka has developed a lot under him,” Bharat stated firmly.
He highlighted the trim landscaping and cleanliness around the city — especially in the touristy Melaka River where barges carrying passengers ply the narrow waterway day and night.
Boats carrying tourists ply Melaka’s water ways day and night.
He pointed to the proliferation of hotels, shopping malls, boutiques, colleges, cafes, hospitals, banks and busloads of tourists jamming up the city’s thoroughfares every weekend and public holiday as prime examples of progress.
The enterprising hotelier also runs several businesses related to the hospitality trade, including heritage tours, a café and a recreation park, the Taman Mini Malaysia in neighbouring Ayer Keroh.
Bharat noted the lively economy had created a job boom.
Similarly, a lecturer remarked that there was no shortage of jobs in the education sector. Demand for English teachers especially was high, with the proliferation of colleges in the state and influx of students from within the country as well as those abroad.
Graphic designer, Chris Lee, concurred. Business is good and he still gets to enjoy a leisurely life, said the Penang-born who chose to settle down in Melaka 12 years ago after returning from a long stint working in the US.
“Location is no problem. I have regular clients from the other states,” he said.
For hotelier Johan Ramli, “every day is peak season”.
The 63-year-old runs two hotels in Melaka Raya — a backpacker lodge and a budget inn popular with Indonesian tourists who regularly fly in for medical treatment at the nearby specialist centres.
But Bharat and Johan both lamented that the development was concentrated in the state capital, which was starting to suffer the side effects of poor supervision by the local authorities.
Taxi driver V. Sellapan, 63, bemoaned the poor traffic management in the city, especially during the weekends and public holidays when tourists from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur would drive into the city centre and add to the congestion.
“They need to improve the traffic management system,” he stressed.
Parking was another major headache with Melaka’s scratch-coupon system bewildering for the first-time visitor.
To park a vehicle in any of the street-side parking bays, the motorist is required to scratch out the date and duration the car will be parked on a coupon booklet and display it in the car windscreen.
Signs bearing the information and where the booklets can be bought are lacking in public, often resulting in a fine for the hapless motorist.
Sellapan and Johan remarked there used to be a hop-on, hop-off bus service around town for tourists, but shrugged when asked what happened to it.
A monorail project scheduled to run three months ago also appears stillborn. Its tracks can be seen clearly around the city, especially from the riverside, but locals appear to have been kept in the dark over its status.
Jonker Street has been misguidedly labelled Melaka’s “Chinatown”.
“I heard there was some land issue problem, but there has been no official word,” Johan said.
What worries Bharat most, however, is the lack of co-ordination among the various state agencies, whether tourism or enforcement.
He noted with concern the speedy approval for hotel operating licences given out by local authorities and questioned if proper care had been taken to check the quality of the operator.
He also questioned the approval for projects in Melaka’s core heritage area.
“Melaka’s selling point is its culture. If don’t take care, we will lose it and then tourism will drop,” warned Bharat.
Local heritage conservationist, Josephine Chua, echoed Bharat’s concern.
“Development for Melaka on the whole is good. But in the core area and buffer area, it needs to be managed,” Chua said, who feared that Melaka’s real history as a melting-pot civilisational centre was being over-written by “plastic” history.
The first mistake was labelling the Jonker Street area as “Chinatown”.
The history buff said the area was and remains a very racially mixed neighbourhood and pointed to the existence of Kampung Kekek — or Ketek as the signboard proclaims — a tight huddle of houses opposite the Cheng Hoon Teng, the state’s oldest Chinese temple where 18th century Malay writer, Abdullah Abdul Kadir, better known as Munshi Abdullah, once lived.
A detour into the bicycle-only lanes one sultry weekday afternoon revealed a very multicultural village smack in the heart of the city. An elderly Malay man was spritzing his pet songbirds with water to cool them down. Next door, an elderly Chinese woman was hanging out her laundry, and in the house opposite, an Indian lady sat on a low stool peeling onions in the front yard.
The chief minister needs to pay attention to the heritage zone and not cover it up with “plastic” culture, Chua stressed, pointing to the shiny plastic banners advertising a certain brand of crisps plastered across town — on flyover arches, on a permanent stage fronting one part of Jonker Street and even on the river boats cruising the Melaka River.

Some worry the unbridled progress comes at the price of the state’s rich heritage.
“It’s not Melaka losing its Unesco heritage status. It’s Malaysia losing it,” she cried. Melaka and George Town in Penang were both awarded heritage city status in 2008.
As the head of the municipal council, it was her duty to ensure all new development was carried out strictly according to municipal guidelines, Chua added.
But she admitted that there was only so much one person can do, and her state council did not appear to be co-operating.
“It’s so sad that no one’s listening to our CM who wants sustainable development,” she sighed.
Lee the graphic designer and a heritage buff observed shrewdly, “Malacca needs people with passion.”
For Bharat, Mohd Ali has the passion, but lacks the support where most needed.
“His downlines are not supporting him. Some of them are not giving him the real picture of what’s happening down on the ground,” he said.
“I believe if he’s in control, Melaka will really become a truly developed state. If it’s not him, I don’t know,” he added.

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