March 28 , 2017
By Dave Avran
AS part of the 210th Police Day celebration 2017 a few days ago, the Volunteer Smartphone Patrol (VSP) app was launched. The VSP initiative is one of the programs under the National Blue Ocean Strategy (NBOS), where PDRM is the implementing agency, through engagements with more than 11 million users of smartphones throughout Malaysia to beef up crime monitoring activities by involving the community as the ‘eyes’ and ‘ears’ of the PDRM.
Through the app, Malaysians can immediately send photos or videos of crimes, accidents and natural disasters, along with the GPS coordinates. Because details of the app users and the incident locations are available, the police can respond faster. Even better, VSP users can keep track of their input and follow-up on their complaints.
As someone who has been an activist in crime prevention and awareness, I am all for this app and congratulate PDRM for keeping up with technology. The introduction of the VSP app is a timely opportunity for the rakyat to contribute positively and collectively make Malaysia safer and better.
After all it is no secret that we are quick to complain about the rising crime rate, and even quicker to post unverified stories, pictures and videos of “criminal acts” and to freely comment on them on social media.
My worry however is that it all looks good on paper. Assuming that enough is done to create awareness of the VSP app, there are two main factors that will likely stand in the way of its success – the app does not work as well as it should, or it is not maintained and upgraded regularly.
Do you remember the popular MyDistress smartphone app for Selangor residents? It was unceremoniously shut down without any explanation and replaced by SaveMe999 which had nationwide coverage. SaveME 999 was developed by the Communication and Multimedia Ministry through the Malaysian Emergency Response System (MERS 999).
The MyDistress app was launched in August 2011 as a mobile application that sent out a distress signal to the police when its user activated it, and guaranteed PDRM reached the user within 7 minutes. It chalked up numerous success stories and even won the Malaysian government local and international recognition via the Asia Pacific Information and Communication Technology Alliance (APICTA) awards.
SaveMe999 was developed at a cost of almost RM1 billion of the rakyat’s money. The MERS999 emergency hotline is administered by Telekom and precious minutes are wasted by the operator’s vetting process before they decide to connect you to PDRM, Hospital, Bomba or National Defence, where the caller will again have to go through another verification process by giving name, identification number, address and nature of emergency.
Not exactly the experience we would want to have to go through when we are in a distraught and panicky state.
Also of concern is the fact that MERS999 which cost RM801.55 million to develop, has been accused of many shortcomings. The Auditor-General’s report 2012 audit findings revealed that the overall project management was particularly poor in contract compliance, contract administration, project monitoring, late execution on the development and installation of the MERS 999 system in 16 sites; and 34 sites were operated later than the timelines stipulated. The report also noted the continuous occurrence of drop calls.
Again according to the Auditor General’s Report 2012, MERS999 had a capital expenditure of RM596.25 million and an operating expenditure of RM205.3 million.
The report found that approximately 32 per cent of the total emergency calls to MERS999 went unanswered. According to the report, there were a total 23.6 million emergency calls from January to August. This works out to 32.4 per cent or 7.6 million unanswered calls.
Even if only a minuscule one per cent of these emergency calls were a life and death situation, the repercussions are truly alarming.
My question is – why spend almost a billion ringgit of the rakyat’s money on replacing something that worked perfectly well?
I pray that VSP does not suffer a similar fate as MyDistress or SaveMe999 and goes on to be a smashing success in keeping Malaysians safe.