We can learn from Singapore flats

WE have had low-cost flats in Kuala Lumpur for a long time, well before the city was transformed into another condominium enclave.

They are noted for being haunts for drug addicts, vandals and petty criminals but Jan 15 shall go down as perhaps the darkest day in the annals of such flats when a 15-year-old boy was killed by a chair thrown from the 21st floor of a People's Housing Project flat in Pantai Dalam.

What a horrible crime.

Ten days after the tragedy, the police are still looking for the person who had the gall to dump the office chair out of his flat with the full knowledge that it would kill someone who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

And the police have rightly said that a charge of murder awaits the culprit.

Those of us who have had the occasion to visit such flats can't help but be struck by the notion they are generally badly maintained, as residents are out most of the time working or trading.

One common complaint about the flats is the condition of the lifts which regularly break down due to high wear and tear as well as water supply woes.

Kuala Lumpur City Hall that owns or manages many flats is immune to complaints of rubbish being thrown from balconies but nothing like the chair-throwing tragedy.

I have in a few columns urged our local authorities that manage flats to learn from the Singapore experience as most people in our southern neighbour live in flats.

I don't know whether any of our officials have made educational visits to the island republic's Housing Development Board (HDB) flats but I was invited by a Singapore Member of Parliament to a Family Day three years ago.

In his parliamentary ward near the Johor Causeway, there are 141 blocks of flats with over 50,000 residents!

And these flats are so well kept with hardly any form of petty crime or vandalism.

There are eight residents' committees to oversee the duties and responsibilities of flat dwellers and it is such education that is apparently the missing link in our flats where improper rubbish disposal is reportedly rampant.

Following the flat tragedy, I emailed a Q & A to the Sembawang Town Council in Singapore wanting to know more about how it manages its flats in such pristine condition so that Malaysians can learn from their success story.

In this town council, there are 220 blocks of flats with 87,000 residents.

Its general manager, Soon Min Sin, promptly responded to my queries.

"The recent incident in KL is very sad and tragic. Indeed, there are many lessons both our countries can learn from one another to deter such reckless and fatal acts especially from our high-rise flats," he wrote.

"First of all, it reminds us not to be complacent and to continue to press on to educate our residents to be always mindful of such dangerous acts in our midst."

Soon said in Singapore, the residents committees (RCs) play an important role to look out for such potential dangers by working closely with town councils to remove all potential hazards or to seek the councils' timely help where the dangerous objects are hard to reach or remove in the higher level of the building.

"Indeed, our RCs are our crucial partner or additional pairs of eyes and ears as we wage a constant war against this social hazard," he said.

In Singapore, members of the public are encouraged to report to the police any killer litter act while the town councils remain vigilant and take pre-emptive action, such as timely removal of all potential killer litter items found in precarious positions like common corridor ledges or walls before they become weapons of havoc to the public.

Another measure is that the Ministry of National Development which oversees public housing in Singapore also audits the town councils' work in this area by sending its own independent inspectors to spot and report to the TCs for urgent immediate attention.

"The war against this social hazard is ongoing and the need for constant vigilance, collaboration by all stakeholders with timely pre-emptive action cannot be over-emphasised," said Soon.

At the end of his reply, Soon pointed out that the KL flat tragedy serves as a potent reminder to Singaporeans as well in not to let down their guard even as we learn from one another how best to handle this social hazard.

I must thank Soon and let's hope that it shall not be business as usual at our flats and there won't be another tragedy.

Comments: letters@thesundaily.com