VANDALISM poses a serious threat to our social fabric and well-being of the people.
Acts of vandalism occur almost every day, targeting various locations, such as lifts at housing flats, public parks, road signs, bus stops and other public amenities.
In some areas, even manhole covers and aluminium signs are not spared. These wanton acts are a stark reminder to the authorities that more effective action must be taken to tackle this menace in our midst.
Local authorities spend tens of millions of ringgit to repair public amenities and property that have been vandalised.
This menace is not only confined to Kuala Lumpur. Cities and towns throughout the country are facing similar problems and have to cope with them.
In many ways, Malaysians are a compassionate people. However, when it comes to public property, some individuals abandon good behaviour and leave a trail of destruction. This behaviour is disheartening, especially since it renders public amenities unusable.
While vandalism in Malaysia is not as severe as seen in many Western countries, the extent of the damage is still a serious problem that must be tackled effectively.
According to psychiatrists, there are several categories of vandals. These include teenagers influenced by negative peer pressure, graffiti crawlers who leave messages, frustrated groups that vandalise to vent their anger, drug addicts who engage in such activities to obtain items for sale and adults who have a history of vandalising since childhood.
Vandalism must be tackled via education, inculcation of good values, social responsibility and civic consciousness.
However, education alone is not sufficient. It must be backed by stringent legislation and strong enforcement.
The existing vandalism by-laws enforced by various local authorities are inadequate to rid the nation of this problem.
There is a need for new federal legislation to deal with this problem, which should incorporate compulsory community service to publicly shame culprits and provisions for caning habitual offenders.
It is imperative to introduce a Vandalism Act that allows deterrent punishment and mandatory community service. This can be undertaken given the amendment of Article 6 of the Federal Constitution, which formerly prohibited forced labour, several years ago.
The proposed Vandalism Act should provide for:
i. Those who commit any act of vandalism shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to compulsory community service in accordance with the number of hours to be determined by the relevant authorities.
ii. For habitual offenders (more than three times), those guilty of offences shall be liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years and shall also, subject to section 231 of the Criminal Procedure Code, be punished with caning.
While the prevalence of vandalism may not be cause for alarm, it remains a serious concern and warrants stringent laws to deal with the problem.
This should complement efforts to raise awareness and discourage vandalism through specific campaigns.
Given the challenges authorities face in apprehending vandals in the act, the public can play a role in addressing the issue by making a citizen’s arrest when they catch individuals in the act of defacing public property.
Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye