Ketua Pusat Perkhidmatan MCA Seri Kembangan 马华史里肯邦安服务中心主任 Setiausaha MCA Seri Kembangan 马华史里肯邦安支会秘书
Just another Chinese New Village in the 1950s, Seri Kembangan has since grown rapidly into a booming urban centre.
NST RED talks to Datuk Yap Pian Hon, who has been living in Seri Kembangan since its inception in the 50s
In June 1948, the threat of Communist insurgency led the British government to declare a state of emergency in then Malaya. In response to the threat, General Sir Harold Briggs, British Army Director of Operations in Malaya, strategised a plan to cut off the Communists from a potential base of support among the public. Named after him, the Briggs Plan was put into action in 1950.
The plan was simple enough – resettle a chunk of the population, mainly Chinese, to 452 new villages scattered throughout the country. These Chinese New Villages were often located at the fringe of town centres. In the following years, some 500,000 people were relocated, accompanied by the British army.
Serdang Federation of Associations president Datuk Yap Pian Hon, who grew up in one of the new villages, shares what it was like for the settlers.
STARTING ANEW: When the Chinese New Villages were created, Yap was just a small boy living near Sungai Besi with his family. They then moved to what is today known as Seri Kembangan.
“At that time, it was called Serdang Bharu,” remembers Yap, commenting that “when we moved there, there was nothing — just a piece of land.”
Serdang Bharu was the second biggest new village after Jinjang, with 2,200 new houses built. The only entry into the settlement was a wooden bridge over Sungai Kuyuh, while the rest of the village was surrounded by barbed wires to keep the Communists at bay. In Selangor alone, there were 42 new villages.
“Back then, none of the Chinese could speak English, so we got a Chinese affairs officer to act as translator,” says Yap, adding that the villagers drew lots to determine who got which land lots.
To help the villagers rebuild their lives in the new settlements, the Malaysian Chinese Association organised financial aid for the settlers. Each family moving to a new village received 100 Malayan dollars, which could be used to buy construction materials and other necessities. According to Yap, the aid was funded by selling lottery tickets to the public.
HARD TIMES: The majority of the villagers were rubber tappers and mining workers, with some traders in the mix. Most families were very poor and poverty was the biggest problem for the new settlement. Yap recalls how life was difficult then.
“When we resettled in 1950, I was seven years old. It was a very difficult life,” says Yap
“Back then there was no water or electricity supply, and there were no paved roads, just dirt roads. We had to use kerosene lamps.”
“Rice was rationed depending on how many people there were in the house so that there was no extra to support the Communists,” reveals Yap. “There was also little freedom due to the ongoing conflict. Even the rubber tappers’ packed lunch was checked.”
“There was also a curfew everyday between 7pm and 5am,” adds Yap, further saying that after 7pm, families would knock off for the night as any lights in the house after that hour would mean trouble.
The strict security measures extended to monitoring members of each household as well. According to Yap, the number of people in each family was closely tracked.
“If you say you have four people in a house, they would put four pictures on the wall. Whenever the army came by, they would check again, and if, for example, one person was missing or there was one extra person, they would question you. If you could not provide a reasonable explanation, you will be in trouble.”
“So if you have a relative visiting for example, you have to report it to the authorities first to avoid trouble,” explains Yap.
POST-EMERGENCY: In 1962, the state of emergency ended. The barbed wires were dismantled and Serdang Bharu was declared a white area, free of Communist threats. Seven years later, Yap was elected as an assemblyman. In 1974, he discussed with Datuk Seri Harun bin Haji Idris, the then Chief Minister of Selangor, on how to develop the area.
“As part of the development, we changed the colonial name from Serdang Bharu to Seri Kembangan,” notes Yap, explaining that it was inspired by the Malay word “kembang” which means grow. “From the early 1970s, we had a masterplan for the area.”
In light of the poverty issues plaguing the community, the main objective was to develop the socio-economic conditions of the villagers. To do so means creating more job opportunities to keep the population from migrating out in search of better economic opportunities elsewhere. Yap stresses that industrialisation based on small and medium industries (SMI) was the answer.
“The first housing estate in the area was Taman Sri Serdang which was about 300 acres, of which 80 acres were industrial land,” says Yap, adding that the 1977 development was a joint venture by Seri Serdang Sdn Bhd with the state government, the first housing joint venture in Selangor.
“Next to it was the 400-acre Taman Serdang Jaya which had 100 acres of industrial land which was developed by Perbadanan Kemajuan Negeri Selangor (PKNS).”
“The cottage industries grew very fast, especially shoe factories. In the early 1980s, 60 per cent of Malaysian shoe products were made in Serdang,” says Yap, remarking further that “at one time, we also had a whopping 13 different banking institutions in the area due to the phenomenal growth of the SMI.”
After the industrialisation of Seri Kembangan, Yap says that having more job opportunities available led to vast improvement in the villagers’ lives.
“For example, housewives were able to undertake part-time contract jobs at home for the factories, like making shoes and bags,” continues Yap, noting how the additional income led to a lot of improvement in terms of quality of life. “Today, less than five per cent of Seri Kembangan villagers are under the poverty line.”
Yap also notes how Seri Kembangan created a little history.
“In 1982, I proposed to the state government to form a Jawatankuasa Kemajuan Kampung or Village Progress Committee (JKKK). Three years later, the state government endorsed it and it was immediately formed,” says Yap. “It was the first time in Malaysian history that a new village has an official JKKK.”
By 1990, the number of industrial areas in Seri Kembangan grew to seven from the original two. The same period also saw the growth of new housing areas such as Taman Universiti Indah, Taman Muhibbah, Serdang Raya, Serdang Perdana and Bukit Serdang. Seri Kembangan was fast growing into a big township.
PICKING UP PACE: Yap claims that Seri Kembangan has grown the fastest among the 452 Chinese New Villages throughout the country. The area does not lack in infrastructure — Yap proudly notes that there is the Pasar Borong Selangor and Serdang Hospital nearby, higher learning institutions like Universiti Putra Malaysia and SEGi College, a fire station, and even a branch of the National Registration Department in Seri Kembangan in addition to schools and shopping centres.
“Launched in 2011, our Universiti Perdana will be built in Serdang in collaboration with John Hopkins Medicine Hospital,” offers Yap as a further example. He adds that their temporary office is located at the MARDI office in Serdang.
In addition to SMI activities, the food industry in Seri Kembangan has also flourished. Yap states that there are about 200 restaurants in Seri Kembangan today, from small outlets to bigger enterprises.
“One of the factors is the presence of Universiti Putra Malaysia nearby, with about 35,000 staff and students,” says Yap, explaining that “if say 20,000 come here to eat and one person spends RM10 per day, that amounts to RM200,000 per day or RM6,000,000 per month.”
Yap points out that there are also professional workers from both local businesses as well as the surrounding areas like Cyberjaya and Putrajaya who are attracted by the array of good food offered by local restaurants. “Some travel agencies even bring tourists to Seri Kembangan to eat after touring Putrajaya, for example,” notes Yap with a smile.
The early 1990s saw a hastening of pace in the development of Seri Kembangan. The catalysts were the Equine Park and Bandar Putra Permai developments, followed by further developments such as the opening of Aeon shopping centre in July 2006 and the opening of the Giant hypermarket in October 2010. Yap notes that the rapid growth is in no small part due to the strategic location of Seri Kembangan between Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya.
PROPERTY HOTSPOT: Offering easy access to Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, Cyberjaya and Kuala Lumpur International Airport via numerous highways, Seri Kembangan is emerging as a property hotspot due to its very strategic location. With development land becoming scarce and more expensive in the city, Seri Kembangan’s relatively cheaper land cost is drawing more and more developers to the area. Some of the latest developments include Zeva @ Equine South and The Atmosphere.
Infrastructure growth also led to population boom from those looking for cheaper alternatives to the ever increasing living costs in the city. In turn, developers are also tailoring developments to meet the demands of the population. The domino effect is driving further growth for Seri Kembangan.
Indeed, some are including Seri Kembangan as part of the Golden Triangle of the Southern Corridor of the Klang Valley, together with Puchong and Cyberjaya.
Commenting on the effect of the rapid growth on the new village community, Yap says the newer generation is mostly buying houses in new developments nearby while the older generation is staying in the older village area. It appears that the objective of improving socio-economic conditions of the villagers to avoid outward migration has succeeded. Rapid development however has led to other issues.
NEW CHALLENGES: One notorious issue associated with Seri Kembangan in recent years has been its traffic congestion problems, especially during peak hours. According to Yap, it is not necessarily due to an infrastructure problem.
“Because of the boom in population growth, there are a lot more vehicles on the road,” says Yap, commenting that there seems to be a lack of clear planning for the overall traffic system. “With the number of housing developments being built around Seri Kembangan, why is all the additional traffic still lining up through Jalan Besar?”
Yap surmises that the traffic issues are in part due to human factors. “Jalan Besar is a two-way road and is quite wide. The problem is that many road users double-park their cars, which is convenient for them but slows down others,” regrets Yap, adding that “outside of peak hours, it is quite okay.”
In response, the government recently announced a new elevated highway project to connect the main road in Seri Kembangan to the Maju Expressway via a tiered interchange. Costing an estimated RM90 million, it is expected to complete in 2015. Yap is optimistic about the development.
“It will help alleviate the [traffic] issue,” says Yap. “After it is completed, we can travel to Kuala Lumpur in 15 minutes as opposed to about one hour now.”
Another issue that is causing unhappiness among the new villagers is the thorny issue of renewal of leaseholds. In light of recent policy changes, many households are struggling to renew their leases.
“Before 2008, it was simpler,” explains Yap. “If you apply for 60 years renewal, you only need to pay RM0.50 per sq ft.”
“If you apply for 99 years, then you need to pay RM2.50 per sq ft.”
After renewing their leases, the villagers can take out a loan from banks to rebuild or renovate their houses. However, recent policy changes have made things difficult.
“Now you need to apply for the leases based on the market price,” says Yap, adding that “some [lease renewal fees] are even at RM60,000 per house — how can the villagers pay that much? It is ridiculous.”
“If you pay for occupancy [Temporary Occupation Licence (TOL)], it’s cheaper, but you cannot use the land title for loans.”
Despite the announcement of a RM100 million fund by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak in July last year to provide soft loans for new villagers to cope with the land premiums and lease renewals, Yap feels that it is insufficient.
“Since the premium is so high, the fund cannot help much,” says Yap. “So instead, the villagers ask for funds for house repairs while some even apply for business purposes, such as hawkers.”
LOOKING AHEAD: Despite the rapid growth of Seri Kembangan from its humble beginnings to the booming township that it is today, the new villagers are still facing some challenges, mostly to do with adapting to the onslaught of the new developments.
Yap comments that even during his time as state executive councillor in charge of new villages, there has been some resistance to change as Seri Kembangan grew, but “we cannot please everyone”.
Yap feels that for progress to proceed smoothly, the local authorities should take more pro-active measures. Citing the flood-prone sections 5 and 9 areas as an example, Yap notes that the nearby Sungai Kuyuh has not been cleaned in four years and poses a worry whenever it rains.
“Private sector investments can only do so much. The local authorities must also help in terms of upgrading of the infrastructure to keep up with the growth,” says Yap. “For example, after houses are completed and handed over to buyers, the local authorities now run the show because homeowners pay assessment tax.”
“Proper planning is crucial and local leaders need to sit down and discuss how it will be in the next 20 years, say. The villagers must be part of the plan,” stresses Yap with regards to his hometown’s future.
31 August 2012