By Mak Khuin Weng
M Sugumaran knocked on my office door at MBPJ. His off-white office shirt was thin and had been washed too many times. This was some time in 2010 when I was still an MBPJ councillor.
“Mr Mak. I really need your help,” Sugumaran pleaded as he showed me a crumpled and faded plastic bag filled with papers.
Normally, I would not be helping Sugumaran because he is from PJS 1, a Petaling Jaya Selatan area covered by PKR. It was a touchy subject for councillors to cross boundaries to help people because it could be misconstrued as one party trying to interfere with another party’s work.
But Sugumaran had been bounced around from politician to politician for many years with only empty promises being given each time.
See, Sugumaran was the leader for a group of low-cost flat buyers. That low-cost flat was promised but never built.
His story starts in 2002 when BN promised many families living in rumah setinggan around Petaling Jaya Selatan (PJS) that they would be getting new homes.
It was after the sensitive 2001 racial clashes between the Malays and Indians in Taman Medan and everyone had wanted to move on.
The village was demolished many villagers were offered to buy units at the low-cost flats that would be built. The developer helped secure the bank loans for everyone.
Construction of Block A to D proceeded as planned in April 2004. Block E – assigned to 276 buyers – however was not built. The project was supposed to be completed in May 2006.
Why was the project not built?
According to the documents that Sugumaran showed me, MBPJ had recieved a solicitor’s letter on 2 June 2006. The lawyer was representing a land owner of a house located next to the project.
The house owner objected to the project and had obtained a court injunction from the Shah Alam High Court dated 9 July 2004 that prohibited construction pending the case hearing.
On 23 July 2007, the buyers met with MBPJ officers to discuss the problems, assisted by the office of then Petaling Jaya Selatan member of Parliament Datuk Donald Lim. Promises were made, but the project was still not started. On 8 March 2008, the Selangor government changed hands to the Pakatan Rakyat.
So, Pakatan should have solved things right?
Nope. From 2008 to 2010, Sugumaran had been given the runaround by the councillors, ADUN and even MP of his kawasan.
Sugumaran approached me for help because several MBPJ officers told him I would help and I helped him as best I could.
He was quite poor then and had to juggle between his work and following up on the case as the community leader. The letters he had to write, he would ask me to write for him because he had no computer or printer.
He took unpaid leave just to attend MBPJ meetings on the issue, and sometimes he would give me a miss-call after the meeting so that I would call him back, and thus I would be paying the call charges.
Sugumaran tries. He has gone to see Khalid Ibrahim and Azmin Ali. Letter after letter. Promise after promise.
It’s 2019, and the project still has not started although there were certainly plenty of letters from the government with pledges that the project would start.
Oh, did I mention there were bank loans? Yeah – imagine having to pay a monthly loan for a piece of paper, because that’s the plight of the low cost flat buyers.
Sugumaran is better off financially now. He no longer miss-calls me when he wants to talk. And he did call me up yesterday asking me what I thought of the Zakir Naik issue.
I told him I didn’t really have much of an opinion because the issue was being blown out of proportion.
He then tells me he also did not care and wished the Indian leaders who were complaining about Zakir Naik would stop playing politics and actually help the Indians like him who face real problems instead.
His rant however reflects the sad truth about the Indian community in politics. It is much easier to play the race and religion card to get support than to sit down and go through piles of legal and technical documents to solve a problem.
I know I’m going to get a lot of hate for telling this story like this, but what would you have me say? I have followed Sugumaran’s problem all these years and no one has been able to help those 276 buyers, some of whom have already passed away.
What’s 276 votes anyway in Petaling Jaya?
BN failed them. Pakatan failed them even more. This is just a sad story and I have no stereotypical Indian story to tell.
So, what was politics about again? Helping people?
Additional reading if you want to read what’s been written about their plight (in chronological order):
Mak Khuin Weng is a former journalist with The Star and a former MBPJ councillor. While a councillor, he took an interest in learning about Petaling Jaya’s history and interviewed many elderly residents to get an insight into how the township was founded and also learned a lot about the founding of Malaysia. After leaving MBPJ, he was involved in protesting massive development projects in his hometown of Petaling Jaya, the most famous of which involved the proposed KIDEX highway.
The views expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of New Malaysia Herald.