Wednesday, May 20, 2009

An article that I wrote for the NST - "Mat Rempit: The Need for a Balanced Approach"

There has been a lot of talk in the mainstream media of late about the “Mat Rempit” scourge. More often than not, these commentaries are preoccupied with demonising the Rempits rather than providing a long term solution. Stiffer penalties and jail time is all very well and good but it will not put an end to this serious social problem. Nevertheless, it would seem that everyone’s prayers have been answered. Just recently, the Malaysian Police have announced that no longer will these hooligans be called Mat Rempit, but now as Samseng Jalanan (Road Thugs) who face serious jail time if caught (as opposed to the usual practice of just fining them). To this end, the Police seek to amend Section 42 of the Road Transport Act 1987 to make jail sentences mandatory.

"One thug attacked Latha, splashing a can of 'Red Bull' energy drink on her face. The sweet-sour liquid stung her eyes, temporarily blinding her as the thug pushed her down, hit her with the drink can and snatched her gold chain and handphone"

Why are the Mat Rempit the way they are today? If we were to look back in history, we would notice that many civilizations had to deal with a counterculture movement at one time or another. The most recent example of this would be the hippie movement of the 1960s in America. A counterculture is a culture with values and mores that run counter to those of established society. According to Professor Rozmi Ismail, head of psychology at the School of Psychology and Human Development at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, the Mat Rempit number in the hundreds of thousands. So it would be fair to say that the Mat Rempit is a Malaysian counterculture movement. For example, its members go against social norms by refusing to observe the rule of law (i.e. snatching handbags) in order to get what they want, which is essentially a quick fix - why work towards owning an iphone when you can just steal one?

So who is to blame for this flawed sense of logic? Some commentators squarely put the blame on the shoulders of parents. They believe that the Mat Rempit are a product of large Malay families living in low-cost housing areas. Their parents are too busy putting food on the table and juggling jobs that their kids grow up with the wrong set of values. Cramped living conditions also means that the young prefer to spend their time outdoors, often frequenting shopping centres and street malls. In the process, they come into contact with other youths of similar background. Being young and naive, they are easily influenced by their new acquaintances and are slowly introduced to the life of the Mat Rempit. Lacking guidance, not excelling in their studies and unable to find steady work (some don’t even want to work) some resort to criminal activities in order to get what they want. The motorcycle then becomes a tool from which they can seek excitement, while at the same time, assists them in carrying out their evil deeds. This could be the main reason why the Mat Rempit have become such a widely documented problem – they are able to cover more ground and roam the streets in search of exhilaration and loot.

Immediately what comes to people’s minds is to clamp down hard on these out of control hooligans. Tighter enforcement by the police and more severe penalties might persuade some wayward youths to stop prowling the streets. Deterrence after all is the best policy when it comes to crime prevention but it doesn’t really stop the spread of a counterculture. In fact, it might actually make matters worse since the Mat Rempit have shown to be unreasonable individuals. Furthermore, sending large numbers of young people to jail would only swell the already burgeoning prison population and put a drain on taxpayer’s money. This will also create a prison culture, with its own set of problems (i.e. repeat offenders, hardcore criminals etc).

A Harvard Professor once said that “we cannot continue as we have been with respect to gangs, gang violence, and the communities most affected by both. Gangs and our response to gangs alike have grave implications. The lives of individuals and of a community can be destroyed by gang violence. But those lives can also be destroyed by the demonization of offenders and what follows in its wake”. The man who said these words is Professor David M. Kennedy, who developed and directed the Boston Gun Project. It was a ground breaking policing exercise aimed at reducing serious youth violence. Its chief intervention, Operation Ceasefire, implemented in mid 1996, appears to have been responsible for a 60% reduction in homicide victimization among those Bostonians aged 24 and under.

Kennedy’s approach is supported by a paper published in 2007 by Dr Margaret Shaw, a sociologist and criminologist and Director of Analysis and Exchange at the International Centre for the Prevention of Crime (“ICPC”). In it she states that “it is becoming increasingly clear that the escalation of punitive responses to youth violence in the United States, among other countries, is unsustainable. Viewing violence as a public health problem opens up a much greater variety of responses and there are good examples of effective prevention alternatives. Overall, the experiences of countries in the North have shown that carefully balanced and planned strategies can help prevent and reduce youth crime” (The article titled 'Comparative Approaches to Urban Crime Prevention Focusing on Youth', was published by the ICPC. It is a thematic analysis that looks at concrete approaches to urban crime prevention - especially in relation to youth and youth gangs - in a range of countries in the North and the South. These include both prevention strategies and programmes).

This is not to say that I am against the idea of being tougher with the Mat Rempit but there has to be a balanced approach. In 2005, the 11th United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice to Discuss Criminal Justice Reform developed new guidelines (contained in the Economic and Social Council resolution 2002/13) so as to provide a basis for the development of effective strategies for responding to youth violence and at-risk youth, including: (a) Inclusive approaches which reduce youth marginalization; (b) Participatory approaches; (c) Integrated multisectoral strategies; (d) Balanced strategies which include early intervention, social and educational programmes, restorative approaches and crime control; (e) Targeted and tailored strategies and programmes to meet the needs of specific at-risk groups; (f) Approaches which respect the rights of children and young people. If the government were to apply these five principles when targeting at risk youths among the urban and rural poor, they might be able to stop the growth and appeal of the Mat Rempit counterculture. Also, in the next paragraph, I will propose a restorative justice programme which can be implemented in lieu of imprisonment.

As I had mentioned before, large scale culling of the Mat Rempit population is going to overwhelm the carrying capacity of Malaysia’s prisons and create a new prison culture of young, vicious hardcore criminals (the kinds we see in American prisons). What we need is a balanced approach. In the event that a Mat Rempit is caught, it is my suggestion that the authorities should give the individual a choice - go to jail or perform public service and get paid for it. As a basis for such a programme, the government could look to what U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (“FDR”) did during the Great Depression. The Civilian Conservation Corps (“CCC”) was a public work relief program for unemployed men and it focused mainly on natural resource conservation efforts from 1933 to 1942. As part of the New Deal legislation proposed by FDR, the CCC was created firstly, to help reduce the high unemployment rate stemming from the Great Depression and secondly, to carry out large scale natural resource conservation programs on federal and state lands. Its members lived in camps, wore uniforms, and were subjected to quasi-military discipline. Not many of them had more than a year of high school education and few had work experience beyond the occasional odd job.

The CCC was one of the most successful of the New Deal programs and at its height, employed well over 2.9 million young men between the ages of 17 and 35. They were located throughout the US in over 2000 camps. The arrangement was that the men would sign on with the CCC for up to 6 months, be put into crews and carry out conservation projects in National Parks and Forests. They also built bridges, repaired dams, erected fences and implemented erosion prevention measures. The men received a wage of $30 per month, but they had to send $25 back to their families so that the money was made available to their loved ones. This measure helped boost the economies of the towns and cities that the men came from.

In the case of a Malaysian CCC, the Mat Rempit would have to sign on for a much longer stint. So instead of 6 months, it would last till the end of their prison sentence. Their pay would also have to be reasonable, perhaps the equivalent of the basic wage of a labourer. The types of work that they would carry out would be for example, shoring up our rivers and strengthening drainages, so as to prevent future floods. The government could also pass a law that compels local construction companies, to hire Malaysian CCC enrolees, to work on their building sites. This would reduce our country’s dependence on foreign labour and also give the Mat Rempit a skill from which they can find future employment. It should be noted that the success of FDR’s CCC was mainly due to the involvement of the United States Military, which supervised and maintained discipline among the enrolees. The Malaysian Armed Forces (“MAF”) could also perform in a similar capacity, thus providing a new platform from which the military can improve its social commitment to the country.

In conclusion, it can be said that there is a need to recognize the Mat Rempit dilemma as a public health problem and not simply treat it as a security issue. The Malaysian Police can only act so far as to prevent violence and lawlessness but it cannot stop the growth of a counterculture movement. This task must be accomplished by the government which needs to engage the problem at all levels. Whether it be improving counselling services in schools or organizing communities in low-cost housing areas to keep their teenagers off the streets and from loitering in malls, so much can be done to improve this predicament rather than relying on arrests and jail time. There is no shortage of successful public health programs, in other countries that we can learn from, in order to formulate an effective policy of our own. Hopefully it is not too late for policymakers to act because the longer they delay, the more serious the problem will be and this will have far reaching consequences for Malaysia.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Audi Q5 Test Drive

Actual Malaysian Base Model Q5 (Picture Courtesy of Motor Trader Malaysia)

I had the pleasure of test driving Audi's brand new Q5 this week, courtesy of the friendly people at Euromobil Glenmarie.


Standard Spec

Nett selling price RM 297,916.40 Registration & Inspection fees RM 650.00
Road Tax RM 433.60
OTR Retail Price without insurance RM 299,000.00

S-Line Spec (adds 19 inch five spoke rims, Milano full leather sport seats, sports steering wheel
with S-Line badging & headlining in black cloth)

Nett selling price RM 323,916.40
Registration & Inspection fees RM 650.00
Road Tax RM 433.60
OTR Retail Price without insurance RM 325,000.00

Colors Available at Launch:
Base model - Ibis White, Ice Silver, Phantom Black (by opting for the S-Line package, buyers will have more color options)

Optional Accessories
Bang & Olufsen sound system RM 6,000.00
Panaromic glass roof RM 10,000.00
Electronically opening & closing tailgate RM 6,500.00

Technical Information

The Q5 shares the same platform as the B8 A4 and is powered by a 155kw two-litre turbo engine (211 hps / 350 Nm of torque). The car does 0-100 100 km/h in 7.2 seconds. This engine is not an updated version of Volkswagen’s popular MKV Golf GTI 2.0 TFSI (147kw). It is actually a new power plant of the "EA888" generation of engines which powered the GTI Edition 30, a special model released to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the GTI. Also, unlike the front wheel drive Golf, the Q7's little brother comes with Audi's signature quattro permanent four wheel drive system. Another interesting titbit is that the Q5’s front suspension is borrowed from the A4 and its rear from the A6/A8 line. Lastly, the Q5's engine is mated to Audi's 7-speed S-Tronic twin clutch transmission.


Ever since I saw the car in the flesh at this year’s Melbourne International Motor Show, I always thought that the Q5 was a handsome car. This perception was only reinforced when I walked up to my test unit which was parked outside Euromobil's Audi hanger. From the car's futuristic LED headlight cluster, to the rakish design of its tail lights - the car just oozes masculinity. I did notice though that when looking at the Q5 side on, it looked a bit 'tubby' but this was probably due to the solid white color (Ibis White). I'm sure the S-Line version with 19 inch rims and a darker metallic paint option will sort this problem out!

Bottomline, I personally think that Audi's baby SUV looks much better than BMW's X3 (both the current & future model) and Volkwagen's Tiguan.

The Q5's LED Headlight Cluster & Rear Tail Lights (Picture courtesy of Motor Trader Malaysia)

Ibis White Audi Q5 at test launch - base model with 19 inch rims (Photo Courtesy of


The interior was bedecked with supple black leather and I was able to find a comfortable driving position, thanks to the Q5's electronic seats (complete with lumbar support). The red dials on the speedometer, a Audi trademark, is clear and quite pleasing to look at. Like most Volkswagen AG cars, the driver's information screen is sited between the rev-counter and speedometer. It always shows the current selected gear and the driver is able to access information about the car by utilizing the steering wheel buttons.

The Audi sales rep gave a brief demonstration of the MMI system by slotting a SD Card into the centre dash and played some music tracks at the touch of a button. The Malaysian model is equipped with Audi’s Symphony radio and sound quality was pretty darn good. The Euromobil employee also connected his mobile phone via the Bluetooth prep system and it was all rather simple and easy to use.

My previous ride was a Volkswagen and there is a marked difference in terms of cabin quality. The Audi felt more upmarket. This should be the case anyway since even though VW and Audi are under the same corporate umbrella, they target different segments of the driving public. Overall the cabin was just about right - airy and well built. The car's luggage capacity is 540 litres and spacious enough for the needs of a young family. The rear seats are comfortable as well, according to a friend of mine who came along for the ride. As for those people who love being in a position of control or authority - not to worry, the Q5's SUV height gives you a throne from which you can lord over other road users!

On The Road

Before leaving Euromobil, I had already begun to fiddle with Audi's Drive Select system. While making my way out of the tight small lanes of Kawasan Perindustrian Temasya, the Q5 in Comfort mode was supple and the light steering wheel setting, made for easy manoeuvring. There was little body roll, even during sharp turns. Pot holes and road irregularities were soaked up by the cosseting ride. Upon reaching Jalan Lapangan Terbang Subang Jaya, I switched to Auto mode and you could already feel a difference in terms of power delivery and ride - pick up had improved and the car felt more planted. The steering wheel began to feel 'meatier' too.

As I passed Saujana Golf & Country Club, I swapped to Dynamic and after making sure that there weren't any other road users near me, began to move the car from side to side while at cruising speed and the Q5 felt unbelievably solid. The steering wheel felt so direct and meaty yet never too heavy. You just had to point at where you wanted the car to go and it went! The ride was slightly more on the firm side, so some people might find it a bit too harsh for daily driving (but that’s what Comfort mode is for isn't it?). I reckon that Dynamic is just perfect for a blast down the highway or for some spirited driving on nice stretch of winding road. Prior to returning the car to Euromobil, I couldn't resist doing a standstill launch to see if the 7.2 seconds figure was accurate. Needless to say, thanks to the engine, the quattro four wheel drive system and the lovely gearbox, the car is capable of doing just that (not to mention making me smile with the sudden rush of unadulterated speed!).


Try to imagine the Q5 as a large hot hatch and you would probably have a good idea of what the car is all about. It definitely isn't an A4 on stilts. Despite weighing in at a hefty 1730kg (unladen), the car is fast, handles well (for a SUV - feels more like a premium sports sedan) and isn't so large as to make the task of driving it around town a chore (try parking a Q7 on a weekend and you'll see what I mean). Some people might argue that buyers are better off purchasing Volkswagen's Tiguan rather than spending RM50,000 more on the Q5. Having driven the Tiguan (which is based on the MKV Golf chassis - meaning its smaller than the Q5), I would say that if you could afford to spend fifty grand more, you might as well get the Audi. By doing so, you get the S-Tronic / DSG gearbox (Tiguan has a regular 6 speed transmission), a much more powerful engine (the VW's powerplant puts out 147kw and does 0-100 in 8.5 seconds) and the Q5 will have a longer shelf life since its European launch was in November 2008 (the Tiguan was launched in Europe in November 2007).

Saturday, May 16, 2009


Hey folks, as you might have already assumed from the domain name, this blog will be about cars - but it's more than that.

Much of the content will be automobile related but there will be a healthy sprinkling of politics, economics, football, comedy and entertainment. Just like life, a blog is not meant to be one dimensional.

I hope to update the blog as often as I can and that whomever drops by will find the entries informative and interesting.

Please feel free to make any comments for I greatly appreciate feedback and constructive criticism.


- J