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Big plans but little support
Published on: Sunday, March 15, 2009

Datuk Hj Abdul Ghani Hj Abdul Rashid is no longer at the helm, but KK's first Mayor still harbours the dream of seeing Kota Kinabalu fully transform into a Tropical Garden City.

Also for Kota Kinabalu City Hall (DBKK) to be people and environmentally-friendly, progressive, professional and technology-oriented.

He said the proposed Tropical Garden City concept was outlined in the Landscape Master Plan for KK over a 10-year period from 2000 to 2010.

This Plan was produced by DBKK's Landscape Department during his tenure and approved by the National Landscape Department.

"Basically, the concept of a garden city is to enable its residents to live in a conducive living and working environment," he said.

He regrets that the Kota Kinabalu City Centre Environmental Improvement Master Plan (KKCCEIMP), which could have changed the entire face of Kota Kinabalu, could not be implemented due to lack of funding.

"Actually, the city centre can be transformed into a beautiful Tropical Garden City if the KKCCEI Master Plan is fully implemented. In the Plan, we have a proposal to improve the city's appearance by developing 22 precincts for the city centre," he reminisced.

Apart from the Gaya Street Pedestrian Friendly Mall project, the Master Plan entails improving the traffic flow, creating more pedestrian walkways, a one-way street system, beautifying the city's external environment and acquiring land to build more car parks, among others.

"Our plan is to link the entire Central Business District (CBD) through pedestrian walkway linkages."

He lobbied for the KKCCEIMP project for DBKK "but Federal tidak mau kasi itu duit (did not want to give the money)." It would require about RM130 million for the five-year development plan from 2005.

Abdul Ghani said he aspired to implement a number of plans but they tidak jadi (didn't materialise). Lack of political will and inadequate funding were the stumbling-blocks as he soon found out. At that time, there were three main sources of funding - own revenue generated from rates assessment, for example; Grant from the State Government; and Grant from the Federal Government.

Among his first moves as Mayor was to broaden DBKK's revenue base towards achieving financial autonomy by incorporating a company named DBKK Holdings Sdn Bhd as its commercial and investment arm.

"When KK became a city in 2000, satu sen pun tiada (not a single sen) from the State and Federal Governments. Although there was funding from the State and Federal Governments in subsequent years, the sum was negligible. That is why I was suffocated," he recalled.

There was also the hurdle of changing the people's mindset so that they would accept changes in the city's infrastructure. While the public had high expectations of changes in the city, owners of business premises were reluctant to co-operate.

This was evidenced by the failure of the Gaya Street Pedestrian Mall project (under the auspices of the Danish Co-operation for Environment and Development or DANCED). Some people are stubbornly against changes and preferred the "old municipal ways", according to him. The objections came from local politicians and the community, including some shopkeepers.

"That one was done free because it's by DANCED. Of the RM2 million matching grant from DANCED, only half a million was spent on the pedestrianisation project. The balance of RM1.5 million was taken back by DANCED.

"Sayang, kan? Kalau jadi itu hari (Isn't it a pity? If it had materialised that time), it could have become a good pedestrian-friendly walk in Kota Kinabalu like the Elizabeth Walk in Brisbane." Then Chief Minister Datuk Osu Sukam helped push the project but the State Government later reversed the decision.

"I was very disappointed because I wanted to see a modern city developing.

What to dolah? It's already history," he sighed.

Following the completion of the Inanam Bus Terminal project (catering to northbound traffic (from Sandakan, Tawau, Lahad Datu, etc), DBKK was looking at the next terminal for southbound traffic, one that would be sited very close to the airport.

"With my concept of traffic flow, that is the plan. At that time, there were about 28,000 or 29,000 vehicles coming to the city every day from the south (that is, Keningau, Beaufort, Papar, Kinarut and Penampang).

"The Government got about 90 acres there. We applied for the land when its lease expired but Kerajaan tidak kasi (Government didn't give). I think the land was given to a Bumiputera Chamber of Commerce, something like that," said Abdul Ghani.

According to him, it was part of the KK City Transportation Plan to provide a spacious area outside the city zone for people to park their cars there and then use public transport to go into the city.

"We wanted to minimise the entry of private vehicles to the city. This 'park and ride' concept is practised in Singapore and Australia, among other places."

DBKK conducted a survey on the number of vehicles entering the city by day and found there were over 100,000 vehicles from all parts of Sabah, north bound, east bound and south bound.

"But we can provide only about 15,000 car park lots (inside buildings and open-air) within the City Hall boundary (within a radius of 20km). Of the total, 10,000 belong to City Hall and the rest are privately-owned (in hotels, shopping complexes, etc).

"That was in 1999. Now, 10 years down the road, it is 135,000 vehicles coming into the city. So, you can see the growth."

City Hall's area is 30km (length) by 10km (width), that is, 300 sq km.

He also pointed out that the population at night is 400,000 while it's about half a million at daytime within an area of 300 sq km.

"So, this is the difference between the day population and the night population. That means, at any one time, you have got about 100,000 floating population in the city - people who come to visit, people who come to shop, people who commute to work in the city, people who have dealings with government departments and agencies and so on."

At the same time, Abdul Ghani had also planned to develop the land concerned (90 acres that was allocated to the Bumi Chamber) into a sort of tourism belt leading to the airport, based on the arcade concept.

"We already have the conceptual and development plan for this, everything done, tinggal implement saja (awaiting implementation only). That's why a lot of frustration."

There was even a plan for a KK Monorail - a short train service to run within the city centre. It was estimated to cost over RM300 million at that time. "That also tidak boleh implement (can't implement).

Tidak ada duit (No money)."

One more plan which did not materialise relates to the proposed new airport in Kimanis. He argued that had the old airport been moved out of Kota Kinabalu, the city area could be expanded southwards to become KK South over a span of another 50 years.

"There is ample land at the airport area for southward expansion of the city. That's about 800 acres.

KK City now covers an area of about 800 acres, which took us about 100 years to develop.

"But actual development took place only about 50 years after we achieved independence from Britain.

So, it means we only developed about 800 acres within that period of time.

"Therefore, if we want to develop KK South, it will take us another 50 years. It doesn't matter if we are no longer around by that time. At least, the city already has got an area to expand further.

"But right now, it's already choked. The moment they fill up the space between the Asia City and Sembulan, which I give another 20 years, that's it. You can't expand anymore," he said.

On the option of more reclamation of the seafront which was basically how KK had expanded since independence, Abdul Ghani said this was not possible as the current waterfront development has set the limit to further earthworks.

"If you keep on reclaiming, very soon you are going to join Pulau Gaya and then the city will lose its character as a coastal city. What I had in mind was to develop KK in the likes of Cape Town (South Africa) and Sydney.

"So I was very disappointed when they didn't relocate the existing airport to another area outside the city."

Environmentalists and the public, he said, wanted the airport to be re-sited but the Government was adamant about not shifting it.

"To the Ministry of Transport, the new airport in Kimanis would cost about RM1 billion and the proposed dual carriageway (four lanes) from KK to the airport would cost another RM1 billion. But I don't think it's going to cost that much."

As former State Secretary Datuk KY Mustafa put it in his address at the farewell ceremony for Abdul Ghani in February 2005, "As the first Mayor, you have initiated and overseen many developments to 'renew' Kota Kianbalu. We knew from the outset that it was not going to be easy as Sabah then was facing one of the most trying periods in the State's history.

"With most countries still nursing the bruises of the Economic Crisis, the City's birth and early growth had to contend with the realities of both internal and external economic and social changes.

"Nevertheless, the first five years of Kota Kinabalu City's growth has been interesting in many respects."

Notwithstanding his disappointments, Abdul Ghani is happy that two public parks were completed during his tenure - the Rainforest Park (Ujana Rimba Tropica) along Jalan Penampang and the KK Pocket Park completed at a cost of RM1.9 million, in addition to new developments at Tanjung Aru Beach initiated by DBKK Holdings.

"We developed eight acres into the Ujana Rimba Tropika. It was solely funded by the Federal Government. Actually, the Federal authorities are very helpful if you know how to go about it." The Lintas Deasoka was also planned during his time.

"Last time, some local politicians and members of the community also objected to it but now they are using it as a venue for festive celebrations."

He also takes pride in his original 5K Formula to make Kota Kinabalu a cleaner and safer city.

"Basically, these 5Ks are our main functions as a local authority.

Kebersihan is cleanliness, Keteraturan is orderliness, Keindahan is beauty, Kesihatan is health and Keselamatan is safety. We also have this Advisory Board system and our city is governed by an enactment. "But now, it seems the 5Ks have been reduced to 3Ks. I don't know which are the ones."

Abdul Ghani also said marked improvement in law enforcement was reflected in lesser public complaints against DBKK. On the demolition of illegal squatter houses and illegal extensions on business premises, he said it was a routine exercise.

The other consolation is that the much-awaited Kota Kinabalu City Waterfront (KKCW) project on 3.12 acres of sea frontage (in front of the Marina Court, Kota Kinabalu) had recently been launched.

At the launching ceremony, Abdul Ghani said the project would be a mixed commercial development comprising four-levels of retail malls, residential designer suites and a 330-room five-star international hotel. In December 2004, he had in an interview with Daily Express disclosed that DBKK was preparing a master plan for the seafront development to promote the tourism industry. According to him, the Kota Kinabalu seafront has been rated as one of the world's best locations to view the radiant sunset.

Offering suggestions for the future of KK City, Abdul Ghani said more money is needed to improve the public amenities.

"There should be more parks for leisure, which at the moment are still lacking. Of course, you have got to improve your administrationlah. Make it more efficient, make it more citizen-friendly.

"You see, the city has got to go from a point to a point, so we have to take into consideration what are the economic activities, what facilities can be provided and what is the quality of life of the population.

"Those are the normal ingredients for the city to grow. And of course, when the population grows, the demands will be different, more for housing, more for recreation and more for facilities. You cannot focus on any one particular aspect.

"Cleanliness is just part of the city management. You have to think also of housing for the people, the city's infrastructure such as car parks, road system, sewer system and so on."

Rest of the interview:

DE: How much could you do during your 16-day presidency (of MPKK)?

Abdul Ghani: Nothing much, only administration.

DE: Is it true that then Chief Minister Datuk Osu Sukam pushed for city status for political mileage?

Abdul Ghani: That one is up to you to make a conclusion because Barisan Nasional (BN) had just come to power at that time.

Not actually pushing, we were more or less ready because all the necessary things had been done already. Vision to be a city was there as early as 1996Éthere will be a city. After all, the Sabah State Legislative Assembly had passed the Kota Kinabalu City Hall Enactment Bill in 1996. So, it was a matter of time.

DE: The general public sentiment then was that KK was not ready to be a city.

Abdul Ghani: If you say, we are not ready, then we will not be ready forever. In fact, there was talk of upgrading KK to a city as far back as the term of Datuk Peter Cheong but did not get Federal blessing.

There was no university at that timeÉthat was one of the pre-requisites. We have everything elseÉbanking, international hotels, cultural activities, etc.

By right, the qualifying budget should be RM50 million but the Federal Government was willing to consider even though our revenue was only RM42 million in 1999. KK City Hall (DBKK), which governs the administration of the city is the third City Hall in the country.

There are only three city halls in the whole of Malaysia, which administer the cities of Kuala Lumpur, Kuching North and KK. The other three cities in the country - Ipoh, Johor Baru and Kuching South - are administered by city councils and not city halls. There is no more City Hall and ours is the last one.

DE: What were some of the challenges you faced as the first Mayor?

Abdul Ghani: To begin with, elevation to city status necessitated changes in many areas. For example, critical decisions on City Hall and City Management are now being referred to the Chief Minister's Department, and no longer to the Ministry of Local Government and Housing. Given our financial difficulties, I perceived the need to improve the financial health of City Hall.

I told the staff that we should diversify our sources of revenue and revise the fees and charges for services that we provide. Our revenues are derived from property rates, licence fees, rents, car park fees and Federal and State Government grants. In 1999, when I took over as President, we got only about RM42 million in terms of revenue. And there was a deficit of over half a million. That was the transition period, after that, it began to improve, a plus in 2002 and 2003. The budget rose to RM55 million in 2002.

When I became the First Mayor, I started reorganising all the departments, created new departments, recruited more people and sent them for training. The MPKK's system of budgeting was different. They were using the accrued system. Our financial status began to improve only from 2002 onwards. More challenges when I became the Mayor.

You just imagine, from a baby, you ask me to run. The machinery was not even ready, staffing was not there. There was inadequate manpower in terms of numbers and expertise and competencies (planners, engineers, landscape architects, system analysts, researchers, public relations personnel, technicians and other human resources).

We expedited the recruitment exercise once the positions were approved.

I created 15 departments, all in all (examples, City Planning Department, Enforcement Department, Legal Department, Computer Department and Landscape Department). Our IT development initiative enabled the processing of business licensing to be greatly reduced. Our Landscape Department spearheaded the planning and implementation of the city's beautification and greening programmes.

So these are some of the challenges and actions taken during my time. In 2004, our revenue was RM64 million and when I left the organisation (in 2005), we collected about RM73 million that year. The figure went up to RM78 million in 2006, just a matter of continuation.

DE: So, how did Kota Kinabalu City Hall (DBKK) improve its financial status during your tenure?

Abdul Ghani: We adopted a three-pronged strategy - expenditure control and prudent spending; increase our revenue and the third approach was to establish smart partnerships with the private sector. We also decreased our debts by establishing a task force to ensure that all taxes on city properties were collected efficiently. Defaulters were brought to court.

DE: You mentioned the shift in jurisdiction from the Ministry of Local Government and Housing to the Chief Minister's Department (JKM). What is the difference?

Abdul Ghani: When you are in MPKK, you are under the Ministry, so you get grants. But under the JKM, no grant, so you have to survive on your own because to qualify for a city status, you must be financially independent.

That is the problem, during the transition period when they elevated KK to city status, we didn't get any grant. I was supposed to get RM50 million from the State Government. I was hoping as a launching grant and another RM50 million from the Federal Government. But these things didn't happen.

DE: Was it an empty promise?

Abdul Ghani: It never came, not forthcominglah. Because at that time, the State Government was also suffering the effects of the recession from the Asian Financial Crisis.

DE: Did you pursue the matter?

Abdul Ghani: We did but then the money was not forthcoming. Tidak dapat (did not get), the launching grant. Supposed to get RM100 million, that is, RM50 million from the State and RM50 million from the Federal. That was how I was going to start with. If I had that amount, then I could settle all the debts in one go. Then I could start from zero base but at that moment, I had inherited the debts and at the same time, I got to run the city administration. That was the dilemma I was facing. But nobody knows that.

Anyway I have this Advisory Board system and City Hall Enactment by which to govern the city.

However, the Board has no executive power.

DE: How come there were debts throughout the years as shown in your tabulation?

Abdul Ghani: The debts were inherited. Actually, when I took over, about RM12 million owing to contractors and suppliers. But the total was about RM50 million plus, owing the State Government, SESB, Water Department, etc. All the utilities. But this was inherited from the previous Municipal Council Administration dating back to the Eighties. From the Government, sometimes you got development loans to build pasar (market), to build dewan masyarakat (community centre), to build jetty, apa semua itu (and what not).

DE: So, DBKK did not have enough revenue?

Abdul Ghani: No, we had enough revenue to run the city but you need money for development, you see.

Same thing with Government, they collect money enough to pay the staff, gaji, salary, everything. But if you don't have enough money, you don't go for development. You cannot have money to develop.

DE: How did you pay for the salaries of staff?

Abdul Ghani : That one was from the collection of rates assessment, licence fees all lumped up. These are the cukai am (general rates), pembentungan najis, saman (fines), sewa (rentals), faedah (interest), etc. And then pembangunan hartabenda which is property development.

Pembentungan najis (for sewerage) is the contribution from the Government because we managed the sewers for them while revenue from miscellaneous items comes from licenses for public performances, for example.

DE: You took disciplinary action against errant staff. How many were affected and for what reasons?

Abdul Ghani: Ya, in the first place, we established a Disciplinary Board to address manpower disciplinary matters. Initially, I chaired the Board and then it was passed to the Director-General. About 50 were affected.

They were terminated or demoted or suspendedÉvarious types of disciplinary action. Personnel with ethical problems were sent for training on integrity management. Terminated, I think about 30, mostly general workers. Oh, they were just deadwood. Tidak pandai kerja (don't know how to work), absenteeslah, Dia bilang dia ada hadir tapi tiada kerja (they claim they were present but had no work to do). Somebody just went and signed the attendance register for them.

DE: There were public complaints about the standard of service delivery.

Abdul Ghani: Yes, too much red tape, slow, inefficient and ineffective.

What we did was to establish a task force team to intensify efforts to monitor and improve our service delivery at the ground level. We reviewed practically everything from laws to policies, to procedures and work processes.

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