On enforcing rules with compassion

ENFORCEMENT officers from the Penang Island City Council (MBPP) clamped the car of a woman for using an accessible parking bay earlier this week. Ooi Chee Lin, 40, had taken her mother Teoh Ah Hon, 72, who had become immobile due to Parkinson’s disease and was in a wheelchair, to a bank. Her vehicle did not have a council issued parking sticker to use the bay nor did her mother have the Kad OKU, which must be displayed on the dashboard in the absence of the sticker.

In a video of the incident that went viral on Facebook, bystanders at the scene were heard chiding the officers for the hard stance. The officers stood their ground and refused to unlock the clamp unless the fine was settled. It was only after a staff member from the bank came out to pay the RM50 fine on Ooi’s behalf that the clamp was removed.

I am all for the enforcement against people who misuse accessible parking bays. They deprive others with genuine needs from using them. I do not fault the enforcement officers for clamping the vehicle and issuing the traffic summons. They were doing the job entrusted to them without fear or favour and that is laudable.

There are rules governing the use of these parking bays. They can only be used by vehicles with a sticker issued by the MBPP. These stickers are issued to disabled persons registered with the Welfare Department (JKM). Parents, guardians and caregivers can also apply for these stickers on the condition their wards are registered with the JKM.

The Persons with Disabilities Act 2008 recognises the importance of accessibility to the physical environment, among others, in enabling disabled people to fully and effectively participate in society. It also stated that there should be reasonable accommodation to ensure disabled people are able to enjoy or exercise quality of life and wellbeing on an equal basis with other people.

To be able to participate in society, disabled people must be able go out. Accessible parking bays are an important component of this process as the larger dimension allows wheelchair users to get in and out of the car safely and conveniently.

In view of the incident, there are some pertinent questions we have to ask ourselves. Was Ooi misusing the facility because her car did not have the council issued sticker? Are vehicles carrying someone like her mother, who has no Kad OKU, allowed to use accessible parking bays?

In a press conference the following day after meeting Ooi and Teoh, Penang Mayor Datuk Maimunah Mohd Sharif stated the standard operating procedure for usage of the 60 accessible parking bays around the island which are painted in blue. Vehicles must display the sticker issued by the council. In the case of those without the sticker, the Kad OKU must be placed on the dashboard for identification purposes. Enforcement officers will clamp the car and issue a traffic summons without either document displayed.

The current procedure does not allow the enforcement officers to unlock the clamp without the fine being paid. Maimunah admitted that there could be room for improvement in this area and the council will review the guidelines. In that process, it would be good if MBPP could empower its officers with some leeway for clemency for genuine cases. It would also be useful for the officers to acquire soft skills to handle and diffuse tense situations.

Rules were drawn up to ensure there is no abuse of these parking bays. There should also be mechanisms to allow people who do not have the sticker or Kad OKU but need these bays to use them. These include those who are temporarily or recently impaired and do not have the required documents but need to run errands or be out and about. Otherwise, where would they park their vehicles?

The reason for accessible parking bays are to accommodate the needs of disabled people and ensure their social participation as mentioned in the Act. Ooi’s mother fulfilled the above criteria although she did not meet the rules set by MBPP. Is that considered misuse deserving of a penalty?

Enforcement officers should have more empathy. They could have used their discretion to cancel the traffic summons when it was obvious a disabled person was being ferried in the car. If they had no authority to do that, they could have called up their superiors to apprise them of the situation and ask if the summons could be cancelled.

Not having a Kad OKU should not decrease one’s rights as a disabled person. Do humans need to carry a card to say they are humans to have human rights? Rules and regulations are there to draw a line between what we can and cannot do. In this case, they are in place to ensure people who need the bays are able to use it.

At the same time, rules and regulations should not make us lose our humanity and be used as a tool to penalise people who really need reasonable accommodation but fall short of the requirements we set. We should not be so bound by the rules that we become blind to the real needs of people in disadvantaged situations. Let’s all practice more compassion and be less judgemental. Those are the fundamentals of a caring society we have always prided ourselves with.

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