Saturday, January 28, 2012

Talking About A Greener Kuala Lumpur

Green tidings! Malaysia has been ranked 25th out 132 countries in the Environmental Performance Index (EPI) 2011 at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland yesterday (source). That’s the best in Asean and 3rd in Asia-Pacific, preceded only by Japan and New Zealand. Despite our popular belief that our air is polluted and not healthy enough to breathe in, the international committee honoured us with an amazing 97.3% performance score in terms of air quality. We also scored a 95% in agriculture 95% and 90.1% in biodiversity and habitats. Other aspects evaluated include climate change, fisheries, forestry and water pollution. This amazing feat puts us in the same league as those of high scoring countries such as Germany, Iceland, Finland, Denmark, Japan and Belgium.
The Environmental Performance Index (EPI) was developed by Yale University and Columbia University in collaboration with the World Economic Forum and the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission
 This new benchmark announced by the WEF proved that despite the rapid transformation going on in our country, our environments are still taken care. It reiterates my point in last post ‘Talking about a Greater KL’ that modernization must never be at the expense of natural environment. I think a good way to judge a country’s environment is to look at the place where it is most likely to be polluted: the big cities. If the environment in the big cities is taken care of, most likely the whole country would follow suit. Many people don’t realize that Kuala Lumpur is indeed a green city. I have visited numerous cities around the world, and realized that most modern cities do not have much trees planted around them. They do have big parks (like the Central Park in New York City), but the greeneries are only concentrated on a piece of land, while the other parts of the city are filled with concrete. In our city, the streets are lined by trees, and even small pieces of land in roundabouts are used to landscape small gardens (and we still have pieces of land concentrated with greeneries smacked right in the city centre such as the KLCC Garden, Taman Tasik Perdana and Taman Tasik Titiwangsa).

Taman Tasik Titiwangsa

If we maintain this standard, we are well on our way to our target of being the top 20 most liveable cities by the year 2020. But however, according to WHO standards we are still falling behind. Today, the amount of green space per person in Kuala Lumpur is only 12 square metres, which is below the WHO standards of 16 square metres per person. That is why the government under the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) has made ‘Greening Greater KL/KV to Ensure Every Resident Enjoys Sufficient Green Space’ as one of its Entry Point Projects (EPP). Three key initiatives will be taken to realise 3 goals. The first is to adopt a green-focused development policy for both government and private redevelopments. Second, to employ creative landscaping methods including dense foliage tree planting, rooftop greening and vertical landscaping, and third, to integrate parks and promote outdoor events, where integrated park systems will be created to include parks of all sizes, landscaped boulevards and paths and public open spaces, where different open spaces in the city are connected through green trails. 
Many KL-ites themselves do not realize that we have green icons which stretch from Masjid Negara to Tugu Negara comprising of the Islamic Arts Museum, Planetarium Negara, Memorial Tun Abdul Razak, Panggung Anniversary, Perdana Botanical Garden, Orkid Garden, Deer Park, Bird Park, Butterfly Park and Tugu Negara. These attractions could be developed and combined into a big stretch of park with green trails connecting them to lure the green-inclined tourists. The benefits of growing a green city are infinite. For the citizens, it would improve liveability through a more comfortable living environment and creating space for healthy recreational activities. It would also create a sustainable environment by reducing inner city temperature and greenhouse gases. Economically, it would indirectly contribute to our gross national income through commercial activities and attracting more investors, especially from the west where ‘green policy’ has always been of concern and inquired when making business dealings.

All these initiatives gave a new hope to our country, but we cannot just depend on the policy makers to maintain and improve this standard of environment without ourselves as citizens, the essence of Malaysia itself to take part. Taking part doesn’t mean we have to do garden landscaping around the city or picking up all the rubbish we can find around the city (though it would be great if you can). As everything else great in the world, it all starts with small steps, like by creating awareness. Start by simply making and effort to stop open burning, stop throwing rubbish into drains and rivers and start using public transports and carpooling. Stop being so pessimistic saying ‘We will never be like this country, we will never be like that country’, because as what the world rankings has shown recently, yes we will, and maybe even better! As a fellow young citizen of Malaysia, I am going to take part in this green transformation going on in Malaysia. Are you?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Get Private Sector Doctor To Teach

This post was published in The Sun Daily, Jan 27th 2012 (link) and re-published in the Daily Express, Feb 5th 2012 (link)


With reference to “MMC to be corporatised” (Front page of The Sun Daily, Jan 25), as chairman of the Society of Medical Students, MMA and on behalf of Malaysian medical students, I welcome the news and hope that an amendment to the Medical Act 1971 to corporatise the Malaysian Medical Council will be passed. As the ones who will be working in the midst of the resultant outcome of policy decisions today, we hope the amendment will result in a better professional body that monitors the quality of healthcare and medical education as independently as possible from individual interest or government bureaucracy. In moving towards developed nation status, the corporatisation will hopefully result in a body as effective in maintaining standards of healthcare as those in first world countries such as the General Medical Council of the UK.

We also welcome the news from Health Ministry director-general Datuk Seri Hasan Abdul Rahman that the list of recognised universities is to be shortened and reviewed more frequently to maintain standards. We hope that once the amendment is passed, issues similar to this that involve the accreditation of medical schools will be decided more independently. Although the issue of the houseman glut has quietened down, there is always the issue of a glut in medical officers to look into. With the increasing number of housemen and limited spaces for postgraduate study to become a specialist, this will be an issue that we as medical students today will face in the future. There are currently 35 medical institutions producing undergraduates, but only three produce postgraduates – UKM, UM and USM. We hope the MMC will look into this issue.

As a student, my ideas might be na├»ve, but may I suggest that the government with the support of the MMC start encouraging the private sector to be involved in postgraduate medical education. As the Economic Transformation Programme announced by the prime minister places the private sector in a vital role to transform the economy, medical education should follow suit. The private sector has more than enough resources in terms of the numerous private hospitals and doctors that far outnumber those in public service. In terms of teachability of doctors, as a student in one of the top public universities in Malaysia, I have seen very talented lecturers going out to private practice for better pay in order to support their families. The teaching spirit is still in their hearts, but as per the Malay saying “jangan monyet di hutan disusukan, anak di rumah mati kelaparan”, they would of course prioritise supporting their families over teaching. Not given the chance to teach, that spirit might slowly die away, which would be a waste of the country’s talent. I am sure that given the chance, many doctors in the private sector would be willing to teach postgraduate students. 

I believe successful people succeed because they do what interests them and what they are passionate about. With the limited number of spaces to pursue medical specialties, many would have to choose a specialty not because they are interested in it, but because it is the only one available. If the private sector can fill this increasing demand, better productivity in terms of healthcare awaits the nation as doctors give their all and produce better research in areas that interest them. Adam Smith changed the economy by recognising the benefits of specialisation of labour in the production process. The same goes for healthcare.

In the end, as in many first world countries, healthcare, research and education would have to go hand in hand – as is practised by world class private medical institutions like John Hopkins and Mayo Clinic in the US. To reach developed nation status, both the private and public sectors must play their part in nation building. As medical students, we are unable to be directly involved in policy making, but we hope our views are taken into consideration and our voices of concern heard. We wish the best for the future of our healthcare and medical education, so that one day when we become a part of the system, we can proudly tell the world “I am a Malaysian doctor”.

Lutfi Fadil Lokman
Chairman
Society of Medical Students, MMA


Saturday, January 21, 2012

Talking About a Greater Kuala Lumpur

This post was featured in the official blog of the Malaysian Economic Transformation Programme under the Performance and Delivery Unit (PEMANDU), Prime Minister's Department: (link)

A Chapter in the Malaysian Economic Transformation Program (ETP) Handbook

It came out in the newspaper today that our Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said Malaysia offers the best package in the world in terms of standard of living and amenities (link). While ‘best in the world’ might be received with skeptical eyes by some, I think there is already a whole lot of negativism on other blogs and online portals that I think it wouldn't hurt to spread some positivity around. The Prime Minister further commented that once projects such as the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) and River of Life has been completed, it would transform the face of Kuala Lumpur and will be among the quantum leaps that will enable Kuala Lumpur to match major cities of the world, such as London, New York and Tokyo.

It was a twist of fate that got me looking first hand at the final drafts and blueprints of future Kuala Lumpur, or ‘Greater Kuala Lumpur’ as our government calls it. My Special Study Module research team were actually looking for the most detailed map of Kuala Lumpur because we were doing some disease prevalence research which involves some heavy geography and map-reading. We initially went to the KL library (which was so fine-looking with all that glass windows) to search for the map, but as with anything else in research, one thing led to another, and somehow we ended up at the 11th floor of DBKL building (The Kuala Lumpur Town Hall), where the Master Planner Department lies.
As we were discussing with one of the staff there about the Kuala Lumpur map we were looking for, my eyes couldn't stop wandering around the room. I failed to pay attention to the discussion for more than 10 minutes because the room was filled with posters and blueprints of the Greater Kuala Lumpur that efficaciously caught my attention. I couldn’t help but to excuse myself, get up, and look at these plans one by one. Some of the posters were the written objectives, mission and vision of Greater Kuala Lumpur (which can be summed up by the catchy phrase ’20-20 by 2020’: being the top 20 in city economic growth and top 20 most liveable cities in the world by the year 2020), some were the blueprints for the MRT project, and some were the step by step plan for The River of Life project.

All these plans were set out in detail by the Kuala Lumpur Town Hall. It is like a road map for the future. I first heard of the Greater Kuala Lumpur during the event where I met the Deputy Prime Minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin in UKM Bangi (link). Before the lunch with him, I had the opportunity to hear from Dato’ Idris Jala, the CEO of Performance Management and Delivery Unit (Pemandu), who was also there, about Malaysia’s National Key Economic Areas (NKEA). Pemandu is responsible for Malaysia’s Economic Transformation Programme (ETP), and one of the key economic transformations is the formation of Greater Kuala Lumpur. It was a very enlightening session.
According to him, the population of Kuala Lumpur is targeted to increase from the current 6 million to 10 million by the year 2020. To accommodate this growth in population, an expansion of the city centre must take place. Hence, Greater KL actually extends beyond the boundaries of Kuala Lumpur. It is defined as the area covered by 10 municipalities, each governed by local authorities: DB Kuala Lumpur (DBKL), Perbadanan Putrajaya, MB Shah Alam (MBSA), MB Petaling Jaya (MBPJ), MP Klang (MPK), MP Kajang, MP Subang Jaya (MPSJ), MP Selayang, MP Ampang Jaya (MPAJ) and MD Sepang: 

Also, to accommodate the increase in population density, it makes perfect sense to provide a reliable transport to move the mass of people around, into, and out of the city. This is where the MRT project comes in. Looking at the plans reminded me of the London underground tube. I used the tube quite often every time I am in London, and I find it quite reliable (except recently where heavy maintenance works was going on in preparation for the 2012 London Olympics). It is impressive that they have such extensive networks, with a central line (the Circle Line) which goes around the city in a circle loop, so when there is an obstruction or breakdown in any of the other lines, the passengers can always take the circle line to bypass it (unless the Circle Line itself breaks down). Although they have thought of this system decades ago, I am glad that Malaysia is also going to extend its reaches of mass rapid transit to cover more areas and construct a central line too that goes in a loop around KL.
 
The talk by Dato’ Idris Jala, the CEO of Performance Management and Delivery Unit (Pemandu)

As for now, the proposal is to build an underground MRT line designated ‘MRT Line 2’ that will be looping around the city centre. Extending from this circle line are further extensions: the Red Line will go from Damansara in the northwest to Serdang in the southeast, the Green Line will be from Kepong in the northeast to Cheras in the southwest, and both lines will pass through the city of Kuala Lumpur and converge at Dataran Perdana (Kuala Lumpur International Financial District) near Jalan Tun Razak. Sounds cool, doesn’t it? I am sure that this will indeed stimulate the growth of the economy by providing easier transport for businesses, create jobs for more people, and developing areas throughout the lines traversed by the MRT, hence creating even more businesses and jobs.


 
Urban development and maintenance of the natural environment rarely goes hand in hand. Hence I am glad that while urbanization and modernization takes place, the government has not left the natural environment out of the way. Living in Gombak for over a half of my life, I am well acquainted with the dirty polluted waters of the Gombak River. I’ve always known that our rivers were under-utilized natural assets. Great civilizations has been built upon rivers, and here we have two prominent rivers running through the city centre and not much has been done to tap into its capabilities. When I was a child, I used to cycle across the Gombak River through a bridge in Kampung Changkat to buy some Playstation CDs in Taman Greenwood. Every time I passed across the bridge I would observe the murky waters scattered with floating rubbish and god knows what peculiar looking objects. I’ve always seen beautiful rivers in Discovery Channel but they were all far out of town. It has been embedded in my mind that rivers running through a city will always be dirty and polluted. However, my visit to Korea 2 years ago changed my perception. They had a river running through Seoul called the Cheonggyecheon River. The river was amazingly clean, even safe for human contact and there were pedestrian walkways all along the river. I thought how comforting it is to be able to take a walk along the river after a hard day of work in the city.
 
A snapshot of Cheonggyecheon River I took in Seoul. The river runs through the city and is so clean that the people spend time just sitting by watching the water. It's a small river as compared to the ones in KL, hence we might have a bigger potential if the River of Life project is a success

At that moment, I thought of Gombak and Klang River and I remembered thinking negatively that Malaysian rivers will never be that way. Hence, I am quite surprised the first time I hear about the River of Life project. I know it would be a daunting task to clean the rivers that has been polluted for years. However, I am positive, with the right management of the project, the rivers can be cleaned and beautified and transform Kuala Lumpur into an environmental friendly city. The rivers could also be a source of economic earnings through creating vibrant waterfronts like in Vancouver, Auckland, Geneva or Seoul. It could also be great for recreational purposes, so KL-ites would not have to go far to de-stress. The possibilities are infinite. Here is a video about the River of Life project that you should watch:


All these plans have got me excited and hopeful. However, my true hope is that the development of Malaysia is beyond the material. The civic mindedness of the people remains a greater challenge. If people can just throw things out of their car windows on clean streets like Jalan Tun Razak, what would stop them from throwing rubbish into clean rivers? I hope that our civic mindedness also grew with the developments and economy. However instead of being negative about the future of Malaysia, why not do something about it? Being overly pessimistic and skeptical doesn’t help. Everybody wants a better future for themselves and their children, but not many go past the whining and start making a change. As fellow citizen, I am going to be a part of this transformation going on in Malaysia, are you?