Selangor is moving full speed ahead with its Smart Selangor initiative, using technology and street smarts to tackle long-entrenched problems such as waste collection, recycling and river pollution.
Dr Fahmi Ngah, CEO of the Office of Selangor Economic Advisor, has his work cut out for him. But he has already started to show results, even though the initiative is fairly recent.
“The idea is to allow Selangor to achieve Smart State status in 5 to 10 years from now. It was mentioned for the first time during the state budget announcement in October 2015 and we formed the Smart Selangor Delivery Unit in April last year. It was only then that we had the legitimacy to move and behave like an organisation,” says Fahmi.
His first task was to come up with a blueprint for what the whole Smart Selangor initiative would look like and to run four pilot projects. He kicked off with the waste management project.
“After April, we did a lot of surveys and engaged something like 10,000 respondents throughout Selangor in different demographics, from the locals to the state officials, agency heads and government-linked companies. We were trying to find out what they wanted to see within Smart Selangor and they came up with a whole bunch of initiatives,” he says.
“From there, we looked at developing suitable business models to run these pilot programmes because you need to know if the programmes are scalable, beneficial … stuff like that.”
First and foremost, the people of Selangor wanted to have a better waste management and waste collection system. Annually, RM400 million to RM500 million is spent on this area alone.
“The people said they wanted cleaner streets and areas. We looked at the problem, dived deep into it and I think there is a theory behind it,” says Fahmi.
At the time, the state believed that if it engaged enough large contractors to collect the rubbish, it would take care of the problem. “But we contested that idea. We said, ‘If you have the same areas of operations and enlarge those areas for the bigger contractors, it does not mean that it would get clean. Your costs could escalate, but you might not get the level of cleanliness that you want,” he points out.
“It all boils down to a simple mathematical problem, whereby an area should have more collection capacity than the level of waste generated. So, if you are generating 10 tonnes a day in your area, your collection capacity must be at least 10 tonnes or more.”
The state officials were far from pleased to have some young punk tell them how to do their job. “They said, ‘If you are so clever, I will give you Klang’. A lot of people asked me, ‘Why Klang?’ I said it was because they wanted me to fail,” says Fahmi.
“Klang is the most difficult area to deal with. It has a lot of crows, so you know it is dirty. But the second challenge is the demographics. You have rich people living in big bungalows, but you also have the kampung folk who are very poor, so poor that they do not even pay assessment tax.”
Fahmi was stumped. How would you manage an area with this kind of composition? “The money has to come from the assessment, right? But the state said, ‘Take Klang’, so we went to Klang on July 1 last year and deployed technologies such as the [iClean Selangor] app, with which you can report uncollected rubbish and someone will deal with it within 24 hours.”
This was during the Hari Raya Aidilfitri period and most of the kampungs, according to Fahmi, looked like war zones. “We had a command centre that allowed people to complain directly to us. At the time, we were receiving 40 to 50 complaints a day through the app, calls and email,” he says.
Three months later, the number was down to, at most, two a day. “Here is the thing. Essentially, it is about deploying enough collection assets. Second, you have to ensure that they collect. We did that through real-time tracking and monitoring of the lorries that go out to collect the rubbish,” says Fahmi.
Monitoring extended to the enforcement officers as well. “These enforcement officers are supposed to ensure that the collectors do their jobs. So now, they all wear trackers and we can see where they are in real time.”
This solved quite a few problems. “Before, we had this problem of people sharing lorries in the state. So, a company might be servicing an area in Klang and once they have done the collection there, go to Shah Alam to do the job because they want to save on the capital expenditure of buying two lorries,” he says.
“Now, we track them so you can see that they go into the collection areas at the stipulated times and carry everything to the landfill, and that’s it.”
This kind of monitoring reinforces the system and it is all done at a minimal increase in cost to the local authorities. “If you consider [the cost of] variation orders, I think it is less than what the local authorities in Klang have been paying,” says Fahmi.
There were some heartwarming turnarounds that came about because of this “smart” approach to trash collection. “There is a kampung in Klang called Kampung Delek, which does not pay assessment because that is a state policy from the second half of last year. When we came in and taught them about the app, they realised that if you complain through the app, these folks will come and make sure that the rubbish is cleared within 24 hours,” he says.
“They began using it in droves. They got groups just to go around the kampung to monitor the rubbish levels.”
Two months later, this particular kampung went from being one of the dirtiest in the state to one of the cleanest. It entered a competition and won the award for being the cleanest kampung in Klang. A while later, it became the runner-up for the cleanest kampung in Selangor.
“So, that is one aspect of a government-led initiative. But what I think is even more astounding is the fact that we were collaborating with the people through the app. You can just go into the app, iClean Selangor, snap a photo and it goes to the command centre. And we know exactly which contractor is responsible for the area,” says Fahmi.
He adds that the contractors will now be penalised for not responding to complaints on time or not collecting the garbage according to schedule. The penalties are the same as before, but the monitoring has stepped up considerably, which will help guard against complacency and the tendency to do shoddy work.
Fahmi maintains that Selangor’s greatest strength is its citizens. “There are a lot of smart citizens here. Even the people in the kampungs are very smart. When they know there is a functional system, they use it to their advantage.”
This was Smart Selangor’s first successful pilot project and this year, the state has allocated more money to deploy the same solution to four other local authorities.
The other pilot it did had to do with the rehabilitation of the Klang River. “The river is a manifestation of dirty Klang. So, we launched the pilot project in February last year. And until October, we collected something like 6,000 tonnes of floating waste,” he says.
“The reason we managed to collect this waste was because we trapped it. Before, the waste always travelled from upstream to downstream and then into the Straits of Malacca and maybe into Sumatra. Now, we capture everything before it even reaches Klang.”
Initially, this waste was sent to the landfill. Then he realised that it could be monetised. “We are collecting a bunch of plastics, polysterene, you name it. We are working with an off-taker who really wants it. So, it will take these things and recycle them, or even export them, or convert them into diesel or something. There are a few off-takers in the state,” says Fahmi.
Now that it has put in place the collection portion of the clean-up of the river, it wants to reactivate a recycling programme for the residents of Selangor. “It is centred around the model that I grew up with, which is essentially, people coming to the house and offering you money to buy your recyclables,” he says.
“If you can do that again today, through an app, that would be fantastic. We want people to have the simplicity of advertising what they have here for people to come over and pay them directly.”
He is looking at a minimum of five categories of off-takers — e-waste, cardboard, plastic bottles, glass and aluminium. “This is stuff that should not go into the landfill because they take ages to biodegrade. We should kick off this programme by this month and anyone who wants to be an off-taker just needs to come and see us,” says Fahmi.
The third pilot project is a collaboration with Google Waze. “It approached us through the Chief Minister’s Office to say it has a feature that allows people to report the location of potholes.”
But his problem was that the state government could not guarantee that the potholes would be repaired. “Believe it or not, we have four types of roads in the state and four groups managing these. But when you are using Waze, you do not care whose road it is. You just want the problem fixed. For us, the value of the app is the data it allows us to collect,” says Fahmi.
“You actually have a record of the roads repaired and you can learn if a particular road gets repaired too frequently. The problem could be either there are too many cars or heavy lorries using it or the repairs were not done properly.”
This data can be provided to the state as feedback, allowing it to prioritise its expenditure. “The budget for road repairs is even larger than the one for waste collection. With this information, we can better allocate that money. So, we are building that middleware facility,” he says.
The fourth initiative looks at development. “Since we are in Klang, we are looking at coming up with a pilot transit-oriented development project in nearby Klang city by the river. There will be a transport hub; there is the mass rapid transit cutting through, the light rail transit 3, the KTM commuter service and I think there are highways coming up,” says Fahmi.
“So, we want to build a transit-
oriented development there. But that is still conceptual and it involves us working with the likes of KTM Bhd and Railway Assets Corp, which owns KTM’s assets, as well as federal entities.”
In all its initiatives, the state government is trying to groom as many local talents as possible. “I don’t think there is an off-the-shelf solution for any of our problems. It has to be co-developed with the problem owner, the state,” says Fahmi.