KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 8 — Prominent lawyer and activist Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan accused the federal government of “picking” on Bersih 2.0 by forcing the polls reform group to pick up the RM65,000 tab for the capital city’s clean-up after the mammoth two-day Bersih 4 rally last month.
Ambiga, president of the National Human Rights Society (Hakam), pointed out that many other events have also been held in the city and asked if the government had ever billed their organisers for the clean-up afterwards.
“Why were they picking on Bersih? I want to know which other organisations have gotten a similar bill,” the former Bersih 2.0 chairman said during a roundtable talk here.
“I find it so churlish and petty for the government to dump a bill, just to make a point, just to needle it. I don’t know what the point is apart from being extremely difficult,” she added.
Ambiga was not alone in questioning the government action on billing Bersih 2.0.
James Nayagam, a member of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) had earlier also asked if other event organisers had received similar clean-up bills.
Bersih 2.0 steering committee member Thomas Fann told the roundtable discussion that some 1,300 volunteers were recruited for logistics purposes during the rally, including ensuring clean streets and distributing water.
“It’s not just picking up rubbish, but sorting rubbish,” Fann said, adding that volunteers had even told rally-goers to separate the trash according to the material type into garbage bags of different colours.
They were speaking at the “Right to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly: Lessons from Bersih 4” roundtable talk, which is jointly organised by the Global Movement of Moderates (GMM) and the Association for The Promotion of Human Rights (Proham).
Yesterday, government representatives delivered the RM65,000 bill to the Bersih 2.0 group, with Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Abdul Rahman Dahlan warning the Bersih 4 rally organiser to pay up.
“If Bersih refuses to pay, next time Bersih holds another illegal demonstration in Kuala Lumpur, perhaps I should dump the rubbish in front of their office” he said in a statement, saying that the RM65,000 bill will not cause a dent in the RM2.4 million fund that Bersih 2.0 had raised for the rally.
Abdul Rahman has been vocal in criticising the Bersih 4 rally organisers, accusing of the group and its supporters of dirtying and even urinating in the streets during the 34-hour civil disobedience demonstration from August 29 to 30.
Bersih 2.0 chairman Maria Chin Abdullah had previously said the group will not pay the clean-up bill because it was Kuala Lumpur City Hall’s job to clean the streets.
She had also pointed out that the group and its team of volunteers had done their best to tidy up and pick up trash after before heading home after their two-day rally ended at midnight on the eve of Merdeka Day.
After the rally, volunteers were said to have left several dozen bags of rubbish on the sidewalk of Jalan Tun Perak that were later picked up by Alam Flora staff.
The rally saw tens of thousands gather at the fringes of Dataran Merdeka throughout the weekend while hundreds remained to sleep on the streets of Kuala Lumpur overnight.