Speaking up for Joe Public

  • Nation
  • Wednesday, 07 Sep 2016

StarMetro started off as a single-page publication in The Star on Sept 17, 1984, to being a part of StarTwo, before becoming its own pullout. Dubbed “Pulse of the Klang Valley”, the publication focuses on community issues and events happening in the Klang Valley, including those on local authorities, community affairs, local sports and more recently, local and SME business. Here is a walkthrough of StarMetro over the years, and some of the stories that left an impact on the community.

SStanding tall: After a long and bitter struggle, the Vivekananda Ashram gets its due recognition.

Ashram designated a national heritage

One of Brickfields’ iconic buildings, which has been part of the area’s historical scene, has finally been designated a national heritage site thanks to StarMetro’s expose two years ago.

The 112-year-old Vivekananda Ashram, with its bronze statue of prominent spiritual leader Swami Vivekananda, has been given the status by the National Heritage Department (JWN) following a public tussle between the trustees and the community that saw the issue brought up in parliament.

It received preservation status on June 16, 2016, after the gazette was published in the Attorney-General’s Chambers website early this year.

It was learnt that the JWN proceeded with the gazetting, after the ashram trustees wrote to the Kuala Lumpur High Court and Court of Appeal to withdraw both their cases in line with a decision made during the EGM convened by the Trustees on May 16, 2016.

In February, the trustees failed to get leave to initiate judicial review proceedings to compel the JWN to reconsider its proposal to gazette only the building as a heritage site.

The Vivekananda Ashrama Kuala Lumpur wanted to develop its surrounding land and be allowed to use the property as it deemed fit.

High Court (Appellate and Special Powers) judge Justice Hanipah Farikullah dismissed an application for leave for a judicial review with no order as to costs.

The rest, as they say is history – and a victory for the people, especially for those who championed it.

Loud and clear: Artists making their stand clear for a culturally alive city at The Star’s Preserve Our Heritage-Jalan Sultan Mural Painting project.
Loud and clear: Artists making their stand clear for a culturally alive city at The Star’s Preserve Our Heritage-Jalan Sultan Mural Painting project.

Preserving heritage at Jalan Sultan

In its efforts to promote better public awareness, StarMetro often goes beyond the confines of a paper to organise on-site events, one of which was the Preserve Our Heritage campaign in 2011.

The campaign was organised in the wake of threats shrouding many historic buildings in the capital city, as a row of pre-war shophouses in Jalan Sultan in Kuala Lumpur, was acquired to make way for the MRT.

Not only did StarMetro launch an extensive reportage, it gathered 60 artists to paint a mural in Jalan Sultan to show the community’s determination to save the country’s heritage.

The event was also accompanied by a heritage walk around the Petaling Street area.

Following that, the pre-war shophouses managed to escape the bulldozers – for good.

A better awareness on heritage preservation was inculcated, too, with many dilapidated buildings turned into arty eateries and hostels.

StarMetro won the silver medal in the Best in Community Service category at the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers’ (Wan-Ifra) Asian Media Awards, and the Best Environment Reporting award from the Malaysian Press Institute for its coverage on this issue.

Happily ever after: StarMetro’s relentless reporting of the dilapidated and dangerous living conditions in PPR Kota Damansara pays off – and the results obvious as seen in this photograph. 

PPR Kota Damansara finally gets proper aid

PPR Kota Damansara in Petaling Jaya has always been close to the heart of StarMetro.

Since 2012, we have been highlighting the plight of residents who were living in dangerous conditions due to unsafe railings and barriers.

Vandalism resulted in railing bars near the staircases and the corridor of the higher floors going missing, while the ones installed to replace the missing pieces were not sturdy enough.

Despite the articles written, nothing was done, resulting in the death of two five-year-olds - Thinesh Raj in 2013 and Muhammad Zul Hazriq Danish Alden in 2015.

After numerous articles, as well as persuasion by the local residents and NGOs, the place has finally gotten the attention and aid it needed. Works are underway to ensure it is fit for habitation.

Parking matter: StarMetro shocks readers with a scoop. What happened next was the authorities caving in to a city’s outburst. 

KL parking rates revised

On July 18, the increased rates for Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL)-owned parking bays within the central business district (CBD) took effect.

StarMetro broke the story that the parking charges would be increased by 150%, from 80sen an hour to RM2 for the first hour. The rates were raised to RM3 for subsequent hours.

DBKL justified the increase by saying that the rates had not been revised for 40 years.

Kuala Lumpur mayor Datuk Seri Mohd Amin Nordin Abdul Aziz said the move was not profit-driven, but was the only way to ease traffic congestion in the city and to encourage the people to carpool.

“I know I am going to be very unpopular, but it has to be done because traffic in Kuala Lumpur is already bursting at the seams,” he had said.

However, the move drew immediate flak from the public as well as politicians.

On July 30, the parking charges were finally reduced by up to 33%, depending on the locality.

Federal Territories Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor said charges in the CBD were reduced to RM1.50 for the first hour and RM2.50 for the second.

Rates in areas categorised as high activity such as Sentul, Solaris Mont Kiara, Sri Hartamas, Bangsar, Brickfields and Sri Petaling were lowered by 33% from RM1.50 to RM1 per hour.

Meanwhile, zones outside the city were cut by 20% from RM1 per hour to 80 sen.

These areas include Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Sungai Besi, Wangsa Maju, Overseas Union Garden and Segambut.

Cleaning up their act: A dirty job, but someone’s got to do it. StarMetro took the lead and changed things for the better. 

River of filth

It’s a decades-old problem – domestic and construction waste being dumped into Sungai Kelang from the Petaling Jaya Selatan side of the river.

The authorities not only turned a blind eye to the situation, they also passed the buck onto other agencies that they said should be responsible for the necessary actions to be taken.

But, when StarMetro highlighted it in February 2014, the issues came to light and after numerous reports, the authorities finally put a stop to the problem.

Part of the area was cleared and converted to a Muslim cemetery. And, the area prevents trespassing.

While the issue has been mostly solved, there are still pockets of land along the riverbank that are still being abused as waste dump sites.

Tower redevelopment plan scrapped

Millions of ringgit were spared when Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) scrapped its plan to redevelop Menara DBKL 2 last year.

Former mayor Tan Sri Ahmad Phesal Talib announced in 2014 that the 12-storey Menara DBKL 2 in Jalan Raja Laut would be demolished and replaced with a skyscraper to create more office space, as DBKL intended to relocate all its departments under one roof.

The new building was to have four towers and retail floors.

DBKL has three administrative buildings – Menara DBKL 1 and 2 at Jalan Raja and Menara DBKL 3 at Jalan Raja Abdullah, some 2km away.

Ahmad Phesal planned to relocate the departments in Menara DBKL 3 to the new tower to increase efficiency.

Hijjas Kasturi Associates won the contract to design the proposed skyscraper that was estimated to cost a whopping RM500mil.

The decision received strong objections from Members of Parliament, non-governmental organisations and the public for abuse of taxpayers’ money, since the present building was only recently refurbished and was functioning well.

Despite the criticism, current mayor Datuk Seri Mohd Amin Nordin Abdul Aziz announced last year that they would go ahead with the redevelopment project.

However, just two week later, he reversed the decision, saying that it was not feasible in the current economic situation.

Amin Nordin said they reviewed their commitment for 2016 and chose to focus on affordable housing instead.

Laid to rest: Plans for this vital land get buried following StarMetro’s coverage, and so were proposals for an expensive office building. 

Cheras crematorium service remains public facility

The Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL)-run crematorium in Cheras, known as the cheapest in Peninsular Malaysia came under threat of privatisation in early 2012.

Had DBKL gone ahead with the privatisation project, the entire Cheras crematorium would have been restructured to look like a modern-day funeral parlour, probably resulting in an increase in fees and burdening the people.

City Hall charges RM100 for a cremation service, the cheapest among all government-run ones in the peninsula. Private cremation costs range from RM500 to RM700.

The issue came to a happy ending when the Cabinet stopped talks for privatising the vital public facility that has served the underprivileged for almost four decades.

Subang Ria Park saved

StarMetro broke the story on the Subang Jaya community’s strong objection to development plans for the park, and covered it extensively thereafter.

The issue was thrust into the limelight again in 2007 during the time of former Subang Jaya assemblyman Datuk Lee Hwa Beng. It gained the attention of Subang Jaya assemblyman Hannah Yeoh from 2008 onwards, and also the-then Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim, who later announced the revocation of the park proposal by the developer.

In the end, after a long-drawn battle that dragged on for several years, Subang Jaya residents were victorious in 2011. The Appeals Board rejected the developer’s application for planning permission, and upheld the Subang Jaya Municipal Council’s decision in rejecting the developer’s application to subdivide and convert a portion of the park for residential and commercial use.

People power

Back in 1993, then Petaling Jaya Municipal Council (MPPJ) had approved the purchase of a new Mercedes Benz 200E for its president even though there was no allocation for it.

StarMetro frontpaged the exclusive story on Oct 22 and what followed was uproar from the people, politicians questioning the council’s action and residents associations writing to the state government calling for the removal of the council president.

The finance committee approved the purchase of the car by “transferring” some funds from the budget allocation of the council’s Urban Services Department and Engineering.

Seven months later, he was asked to go on a two-week leave and on May 30, 1994, transferred to a ministry.

M. Mariyamma, 44, (right) with her husband S. Nathan, 43, (second right) telling about their family condition and the house when met at their house in Lunas, Kedah. Their youngest daughter N. Bavani, 14, (lying down) is mentally disabled. Sitting beside her is another daughter N. Anbarasi, 21.Starpic ASRI ABDUL GHANI / The Star / 27 August 2016.
Happy ending: Mariyamma (right) and Nathan almost gave up hope over their predicament until StarMetro, a club and some good Samaritans did what they could to get the family back on their feet again. In the background is the couple’s youngest daughter N. Bavani, 14, (lying down) who is mentally disabled, and taking care of her is her sister . N. Anbarasi, 21.  

A family saved

Housewife M. Mariyamma and her husband S. Nathan, 43, nearly gave up on life.

They struggled to care for their five children, three of whom were either mentally handicapped or physically disabled.

In 2014, they were on the verge of losing their home in Lunas, Kedah.

Nathan defaulted on mortgage payments after he lost his job following an accident in 2011.

The northern edition of StarMetro highlighted their plight. Many philanthropists, NGOs and well-wishers stepped up to lend a helping hand, including the Rotary Club of George Town. Club members also visited the family several times between 2014 and 2015, bringing food and cash vouchers.

The club raised RM37,062 which went towards paying for Mariyamma’s housing loan for six months. A Good Samaritan from Kuala Lumpur agreed to pay the instalments for the next three years while other anonymous groups contributed RM26,000 towards saving the house.

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