By Frank A.

KUALA LUMPUR , Malaysia--We have all heard about it and we have all seen it. One project after another, millions or billions spent for construction, yet even the most grand of our buildings, parks and attractions quickly decay and look like some ancient ruin.

Why is it that the authorities and public seem to think nothing of the need to upkeep places once so much has been spent to build them? Why have we failed at this? Is it a poor culture, lack of education, the infamous “tak apa” attitude that is to blame.

Lets take Taman Tasik TitiWangsa as an example. The almost RM100 million park, Kuala Lumpur City Hall’s (DBKL) own estimate) has been in the news recently over the influx of unlicensed traders who have taken parking lots meant for visitors and have made a mess of what should have been one of the star attractions of our urban spaces.

While we can blame DBKL all we want, and indeed they have shown us their “tak aa” attitude, along with other enforcement agencies and authorities over the mess, health risks and traffic congestion, we should not overlook the public’s role in  this.

A civic-conscious public, knowing the value of their park should refuse to buy from these traders to show them that their presence is not wanted but of course that doesn't happen. Malaysians find such roadside stalls irresistible, as much as they find throwing their empty food packers anywhere and everywhere.

Istana Budaya

Let's take a slight detour from this expensive and unfortunate late, let's look at what is supposed to be the living embodiment of what Malaysian culture is all about, the Istana Budaya building.

The Istana Budaya or also known as the Palace of Culture, is Malaysia's main venue for all types of theatre including musical theatre, operetta, classical concerts and opera from local and international performances. It is located in the heart of Kuala Lumpur city, next to the National Art Gallery.

It was built at a cost of RM210 million with a theatre floor area of 21,000 m² as part of the 54,400 m² cultural complex. The Istana Budaya was officially opened in 1999 by the Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad. Upon completion, the former national theatre, Panggung Negara was relocated to this new building. Istana Budaya is the home of the Residence Artists (Dance);the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) and the Orchestra Traditional Malaysia (OTM).

Isn't this a familiar story? They say a picture is worth a thousand words so what does the picture at the start of this article say? Roof tiles that need to be replaced, a messy unlandscaped lawn, and of course the customary rubbish strewn around.

At least the unlicensed traders have yet to invade the place, but going with logic of the “free trade zone” established by the former Federal Territories Minister Annuar and perpetuated by his successor Shahidan Kassim, it's a pity we haven not allocated the space around the lace for unlicensed stalls.

It says a lot about a country when its own “Palace of Culture” is in such a state. It says a lot about us as a nation and people. What we do best is spend on building these buildings, frequently allegations of certain parties profiteering from these arise, which is fine. We will never be rid of corruption. But surely we can manage the upkeep of our city and its attractions. Surely there is money to be made in maintenance contracts?

But alas, when one party gets the maintenance contract, often through some questionable means or connection, they will “sub” the contractor out to another party that probably has the manpower and tools to get the job done, but by then most of the allocated budget has been taken up by the initial party (sound familiar?). So what will be left for the sub con? Do we ever see a good job being done? Worse yet if a contract is subbed several times.

Things need to change, and really the power is in the hands of the people provided they themselves are willing to wield it. For one thing local council elections will ensure Mayor’s who are elected, not appointed, will at least try to do a better job, knowing their office is at stake should they fail but that is such a dead end, we may as well forget about it, until our politicians grow a spine.

What we as ordinary people can do is apply pressure on DBKL, to at least better maintain places like our Istana Budaya and take enforcement action in the city where rules are being broken for the mileage of politicians who come and go. Change has to start somewhere and let Kuala Lumpur be the start.