When residents defeat the litterbugs

Daily task: A cleaner sweeping the playground area of the Pinang 3 Flats in Johor Baru. — THOMAS YONG/The Star

JOHOR BARU: At first glance, the low-cost flats at Taman Pinang 3 look nothing like the typical dwellings of their kind.

There is no rubbish strewn about, no abandoned cars in sight, the grass is well maintained and the over-20-year-old flats look new with a fresh coat of paint.

This has not always been the case.

It took almost a year of active engagement with residents and strict monitoring of the six blocks of units to look the way they do today, said Pinang 3 Flats residents association chairman Azman Amdan.

“Just five or six years ago, it was a completely different picture. The buildings were just like any typical low-cost flats where rubbish was a major issue.

“There were also abandoned cars left in the parking area here.

“In 2019, the residents association along with the new management took the drastic move of carrying out an operation with the Johor Baru City Council (MBJB) to clear all the junk around the area.

“This was followed by strict monitoring where we addressed rubbish and other complaints one by one.

“There was a lot of resistance from the residents at first as they felt as if they had lost their freedom but years later, they understood why we had to do what we did,” he told The Star in an interview at the flats.

In January last year, the Pinang 3 Flats management received the ISO 9001:2015 – the first low-cost flats in the country to receive the quality management system certification.

Azman said it was difficult to change the behaviour and attitude of the residents who for years were used to wanton littering.

“There were also many residents who would just throw rubbish from their units.

“However, once we started keeping a close eye on the issue and talking to them personally when they were caught in the act, things started to change gradually.

“Instead of scolding them, we talked to them nicely but sternly. Eventually, they themselves felt bad about behaving in such a way.

“In fact, residents are now quick to make complaints when they see litterbugs among their neighbours,” he said, adding that there are about 600 people living at the flats.

Among them is retiree Woo Sew Hoong, 60, who said the change of attitude came when residents saw the results.

“When we saw that the flats were clean and looked new, it made us more keen to help keep the building looking good.

“We are also proud when outsiders come and see how clean this place is.

“When I see others throwing rubbish, I will immediately report it to the management or residents association,” he said.

Woo, who has been living there since 1996, added that there are also over a dozen closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras around the flats to keep the place under surveillance for safety and cleanliness.

“The CCTVs really help as people are less inclined to litter when they know they are being watched,” he said.

Housewife Asmah Abdullah, 51, said her fellow residents have cultivated a culture of keeping their surrounding areas clean.

“There are no penalties or fines for tossing garbage out of the units but we will feel embarrassed when people find out.

“The embarrassment is probably the best deterrent, especially in a community where most people are disciplined enough to mind their own rubbish. It all boils down to attitude,” she said.

Meanwhile, a director of the company managing the flats, Lim Kok Thye, said there has been a significant shift in behaviour among the residents over the past four years.

“It’s not easy for us to get to where we are today.

“The reason we wanted to get ISO-certified was to ensure that our efforts to maintain this place would not be in vain in case of a change of management or committee members of the residents association.

“We want to keep to a certain standard. The residents have put in efforts to bring us to where we are today and we want them to enjoy such an environment as long as they live here,” he said.

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