IT IS close to five months since Mohd Azizi Mohd Zain was made mayor of Petaling Jaya. He now leads the city, a renowned metropolis with about 650,000 people. The mayor shares some of the plans and programmes he has for the city and its people to take it to the next level.
Q: For five months you have guided PJ City. Being in the hot seat as mayor, can you tell us how it feels?
A: Open communication with the residents is important. PJ people are vocal and that’s excellent as I need people to talk to me.
As a seasoned civil servant and having served at Selayang Municipal Council as council president, I see PJ having similar issues but it’s different over here due to the rapid urbanisation. Extra time, right action, being transparent and building trust with the people can overcome a lot of neighbourhood situations. So, it’s not a hot seat.
Whether serving in a municipality or city council, the nature of the problems are similar but it’s the people and at times I need to explain the issues. Most of the people are aware of their rights and are able to put forward their demands as ratepayers.
Upon getting the information, I channel it to the various heads of departments (HoDs) and get them to brief me on the progress. Residents Associations want the problems worked out and HoDs must get to the bottom of it to find the solution.
Meeting all HoDs and the staff within the first three months from April was crucial. I had to set the do’s and don’ts. All the HoDs are helpful and I don’t mind dissent, I expect it. I don’t mind if the arguments are raised on policies and for the betterment of the people.
(Mohd Azmmi wants to upgrade Petaling Jaya's infrastructure for the comfort of its residents.)
Q: You seem to be comfortable with PJ folk. What makes you greet and talk to the residents?
A: I have a curious mind that observes, and questions just come. Yes, I am comfortable with PJ people as most of them are professionals who are also able to share constructive ideas on various matters. With their alternative solutions, I am determined to see more improvements. Motorists have told me about the accident prone areas around the OWL (One-Way Loop) route that is under construction and I have decided to have the council’s enforcement officers to guide the traffic, even on weekends.
Q: You have allowed PJ people to walk in to your office without appointment. Why is that?
A: I allow all PJ residents to meet me. I want to be as close as possible to the residents. MBPJ is the service provider and I want to have immediate knowledge from a neighbourhood if the garbage is not collected or the drains are clogged. I do my best to attend all Residents Association events. People must know I have an open-door rule and this will resolve many situations. For me, I am able to obtain information at grassroots level and people in the neighbourhoods act as feelers for me, to know what the contractors are doing. I meet people at 9am, again after lunch and in the evenings.
Q: I understand that the OWL is being created to trim down on vehicular traffic?
A: OWL will only have a maximum of four driving lanes. Dedicated cycle and pedestrian lanes with protective buffers will be given importance. With this approach, it makes it accessible for many people. The OWL project will make the route safer and encourage more people to go green and reduce carbon footprint. Now, the streets do not have dedicated cycle lanes.
Q: MBPJ is making initiatives towards improving connectivity and mobility throughout PJ, achieving integration in transportation network. Can you share with us about this?
A: We have introduced the PJ Free City Buses and there has been encouraging response. We find people using a combination of foldable bikes and hopping onto the buses at certain points.
Other than that, MBPJ is thinking of having redevelopment in existing industrial areas that could provide jobs near homes. Our vision is to have offices and businesses within PJ that can offer jobs and this will make it easier for residents to go to work within walking distance without a car.
Our PJ City free shuttle bus service will see improvements in 2016 where we plan to have additional buses to cover a wider area. MBPJ also plans to have a dedicated free bus service for students from next year. We want to provide students a safer ride to their schools within PJ and to be on time. It will be available in the morning from 6am to 7am and noon when the morning school session ends. The public are not allowed to board the bus to ensure the children’s safety.
Q: Could you tell us if MBPJ is thinking of alternative revenues to freeze assessment tax?
A: Our aim is not to raise assessment rates and instead use revenue collection from charges for putting up billboards, fees for business licences, rental, development fees, planning fees, advertisements, compounds and others to administer the city.
Redevelopment of commercial buildings has allowed the council to earn revenue.
It will see economic growth, provide jobs, help the environment as people will walk to the offices and reduce single occupant vehicles and carbon footprint.
Discussions of urban regeneration of existing aged-commercial areas do not go down well in mature cities like PJ.
At times, people object but it must be discussed in a transparent manner where it allows the area to revitalise for the future with benefits for the communities living in the immediate environment.
Q: What is MBPJ’s immediate mission and long-term vision for PJ?
A: Our city’s immediate mission is to ensure the OWL project goes on as scheduled and provide a strong commitment to public safety all along the construction route. Enforcement will be brought in for this.
Come August 2016, I want to see the OWL working well for the people. Our roads are complex places, the balance is tipped in favour of vehicles but there is an urgent need to make it pedestrian-friendly to encourage people to accept a combination of using the buses, cycling or walking.
On a long-term vision, I hope cycling and walking under tree-lined paths in PJ will become an integral part of the transport network. Cycling and walking should be a normal part of everyday life.