THE 1Malaysia People Housing Programme (PR1MA) is a government initiative with the promise of an affordable home for every couple that deserves it and meets its criteria.
The Government’s main contribution to ensuring affordability is its land, which is a significant subsidy. It is necessary for the organisation to have clear criteria for these affordable homes.
PR1MA will have to be comprehensive in all aspects of house purchase: criteria for qualifying, build and sell; types of houses, the exclusion of commercial properties, the grievance redressal regime between purchaser and PR1MA, controls over sub-sale and, of course, appropriate sanctions for dishonesty in dealings with PR1MA.
They must build the right product at the right place with the right pricing and the right numbers.
Already, there are some disturbing signs that this noble initiative may be petering out even before implementation.
I will not dwell on the numerous issues how PR1MA has deviated such as:
> Why should second-time house buyers qualify for PR1MA when there are not enough to go around for first-time buyers?
> Why are they operating outside the current Housing Development (Control & Licensing) Act?
> Why buyers of PR1MA homes will not have the protection of the Housing Tribunal?
> Why is PR1MA sharing profits with private developers when PR1MA should itself be housing developer?
> And a host of other arguments.
We have time and again reiterated that there should be no racial profiling in affordable housing scheme. We must stick to the adage that “Whoever deserves a house must get a house”.
I had several cups of coffee on several occasions at several warong kopi with some of my Malay schoolmates and they had proposed that I do an article on the Kampung Baru enclave under the PR1MA initiative. I am in total agreement with them and thus this article.
Instead of PR1MA worrying about how to ensure a racial balance in the balloting process for PR1MA houses, the fact that Kampung Baru is a Malay reserve in the city centre makes it an ideal PR1MA-developed show-piece, if PR1MA wants to make it so. Having satisfied Malay housing needs to a great extent, it should be easier to satisfy similar needs of others.
Kampung Baru should be a challenge to any imaginative developer; to keep its ambience while turning it into a commercial hive. PR1MA does not seem to have sought it but it should be given the task of developing it into a place of low-rise blocks of affordable flats and shophouses together with all the facilities of any modern settlement with some Malay characteristics. It should include schools, mosques, playgrounds and playing fields, libraries, health care facilities and healthy hangouts for the young.
Such buildings already exist having been developed by owners of lots on their own initiative. There are also three- to four-storey walk up apartments with a compound and parking on the ground floor. Just replicate these in place of the plank–wall-and- zinc-roof structures now. It is well-connected by bus and LRT routes, although the infrastructure need to be improved so its inhabitants may commute to work in the city and return at the end of the day.
The Malay agricultural settlement of Kampung Baru has lasted from the 1800s. Its agriculture has all but disappeared and it has evolved into a Malay suburb of mixed commercial, cultural and religious activity. It has seen many changes in its surroundings but not of itself.
That seems to be the lament of some of the “construction-is-development minded” new commercial class of Malays to whom it represents at best, a conservative, at worst a decaying Malay anachronism of potentially great property value. They like to see it turned into a Malay-owned Manhattan (perhaps a bit scaled down but without its “cultural enclave” character).
But Kampung Baru means more than property value and high-rise commercial buildings of which there are already plenty in the heart of Kuala Lumpur and its sprawling vicinity. It can and should continue to serve its original purpose as a Malay settlement in the heart of cosmopolitan Kuala Lumpur. Even if the descendants of the original settlers still staying there may have dwindled, the fact remains that it is still a Malay settlement of more than a hundred years, continuously inhabited by successive waves of Malays from other states and who would never have met otherwise. To that extent, it has made a unique contribution as the melting pot of pan-Malay consciousness.
However, it is not being advocated that it retains its kampung character complete with old-style Malay houses of rotting timber – they may be preserved in a vanishing heritage enclave within Kampung Baru. “Kg Baru Moden” (Modern Kampung Baru) is proposed. A safe and healthy community not too jarring to emigrants from the outskirts of Klang Valley and the kampungs of Malaysia; a place of bustling Malay traders offering a variety of Malay-produced traditional and modern, and goods imported from Muslim nations-Pakistan, Turkey and the Arab states – which being concentrated in one place is going to be a place where Malays from all over Kuala Lumpur may expect to find their needs and fancies; and also a place for Malay cultural performances to which tourists may throng to seek some authentic Malay experience much like Petaling Street, Jalan Masjid India and Batu Caves.
Some of the existing buildings and facilities need to be preserved, most notably the Kg Baru mosque, which was before the National Mosque was built the premier mosque of Kuala Lumpur and the Sunday market which came to life on Saturday night and visited by all races, including my familiy, for sizzling satay and air tebu manis (sugar cane juice) and the tom yam.
Care should be taken to ensure that it does not with time degenerate into an inner city ghetto full of crime, drugs and parlours. Malay social discipline is more easily maintained in a racially exclusive neighbourhood as seen in the kampungs. Its population will, of course, increase to make for racial balance in KL, casting its shadow on its neighbours such as Jalan Raja Laut, which was itself the site of a Malay kampung that now has a Malay-style house, belonging to my friend’s brother’s classmate’s family, still standing in Chow Kit Road.
We should not let Kampung Baru go the same way along with the mansion of the Raja Laut family. Would the Government make Kampung Baru a PR1MA Malay suburb? Will our honourable Prime Minister, who is also Finance Minister and PR1MA please ponder this suggestion?