IT didn’t take long for Kuching’s newest attraction to court controversy.
The Darul Hana musical fountain was launched with great fanfare last Sunday night. With hundreds of nozzles shooting dancing jets of water from a floating pontoon in the Sarawak River, accompanied by music and flashing lights, it appears to be quite a spectacle.
But the aftermath of the launch made a less pretty sight. Photos circulating on social media the next day showed rubbish strewn all over the Kuching Waterfront where the ceremony took place.
Ironically this happened just days before Kuching hosted the Alliance for Healthy Cities’ global conference and general assembly, a biennial meeting to discuss better management of cities for the health and wellbeing of citizens.
Then on Tuesday Batu Lintang assemblyman See Chee How queried the cost of the fountain, claiming it was “excessively priced” at RM31mil.
For comparison, he said the recently-completed Darul Hana pedestrian bridge across the Sarawak River cost RM35mil while the nearly-completed floating mosque several metres upstream was projected to cost only RM10.6mil.
“Is the Darul Hana musical fountain such a monumental engineering feat equal to the Darul Hana bridge or three times the cost of the floating mosque?” he asked, urging anti-corruption enforcement officers to investigate the “extravagant” project.
On Thursday it was reported that the fountain had come to the attention of the Auditor-General’s Office, which had instructed the state audit department to look into it.
The next day Kuching North City Hall (DBKU), which managed the project, said it welcomed the Auditor-General to examine and audit its details.
“We would like to clarify that the project has fully complied with all the financial and technical process and procedures.
“The details of the design have been deliberated by the technical and cost committee and also by professional consultants,” it said in a statement responding to news reports on See’s query and the Auditor-General’s scrutiny of the project.
DBKU said the project scope included cascading water features, piling works, landscaping, control room with computerised system, electrical substation, waterfront walkway, sound and lighting system and state-of-the-art fountain system comprising a floating pontoon with supporting arm, filter screen, fountain nozzles and navigational lights.
Be that as it may, this episode should give us pause for thought on the implementation of such projects in future.
Firstly, any public attraction should be designed and built primarily with locals in mind, not tourists alone. After all, city dwellers are the ones who have to live with it, so to speak, and their interest is what makes an attraction meaningful and sustainable. Otherwise it risks ending up as a white elephant if locals themselves do not enjoy or appreciate it.
It follows, then, that the process of deciding, designing and building such projects should be more open and transparent, involving public consultations and inviting local opinion on what will make the city more livable and attractive.
Transparency should also be extended to the project cost and implementation, so that the public knows how much is being spent, how and to whom it was awarded and how it is carried out. Any project that involves public money should have public oversight to foster a culture of accountability and prevent poor or excessive use of funds.
A detailed audit of the musical fountain project is therefore to be welcomed for the sake of transparency, accountability, prudent financial management and good governance.
Also, now that the fountain is there, let’s hope it will be properly maintained. And while we’re at it, please educate people to stop littering too.