Persecuting the Mat Rempits is counterproductive and a suggestion on how to deal with them. This is the slightly edited version. It was published in edited form in the ‘Comment’ section of the New Straits Times (Malaysia) on 17 October 2006.

Putera UMNO recently committed itself to rehabilitating the Mat Rempits, people who enjoy racing and doing stunts on their motorcycles, into responsible political citizens that would in time, they hope, perpetuate its political hegemony. The police have decided that it is their national duty to assist Putera UMNO to not just arrest but to wipe out this societal scourge. As if almost on cue, the Federal police traffic chief Senior Assistant Comm (II) Nooryah Md. Anvar was reported to have said, ‘From now on, we will be going all out to put a stop to them.’ Further, in a rare moment of transparency, SAC Nooryah also revealed that the police’s aggressiveness was because: ‘We find that they are just too reckless and are not bothered about their own safety and that of others as they flout the law.’ No doubt there were those amongst us who were overjoyed at these announcements. These people clearly appreciate that the misfortune of Mat Rempits are an evil worse than perhaps even snatch thieves.

Whilst I am unjustifiably appreciative of the efforts taken, I think those in authority are approaching this in a counterproductive manner. Instead of prosecuting them, the government should give these Mat Rempits a place of their own and encourage them to refine their skills in a safer, regulated and encouraging environment. This would not be inconsistent with the government’s policy in promoting motor sports. After all, the Sepang International Motor Racing circuit hosts the F1 race every year since 1998 and just recently hosted the Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix 2006. Malaysia also holds a rally championship every year as well.

In fact doing tricks and stunts with a mode of transport is not without precedent. Doing tricks on the skateboards, rollerblades and BMX bicycles have already hit the mainstream. The stunts that they do are no less painful upon failure or dangerous. Take for example the stunt known as ‘grinding’ commonly done by rollerbladers. After a short run up, the rollerblader is supposed to jump on to a stair railing (for example) and glide down the railing using their hands and the midsoles of their rollerblades. If done improperly and without safety gear, a practising rollerblader can be seriously injured. There is an annual competition for these skaters, bladders, BMX bicyclists to show off all their stunts and tricks and compete against each other. It’s called the X-Games. And Malaysia itself hosted the Asian X-Games 2006 in earlier this year.

Since we have a national policy of encouraging motor racing, and stunts and tricks on modes of transport, naturally the development would tend towards a synthesis of the two: stunts and tricks on motor vehicles. And there is nothing inherently wrong about such things. Robert Craig “Evel” Knievel Jr. made a famous career out of public displays of long distance, high altitude jumping on his motorcycles since the 1960s. His achievements not only brought him fortune but records as well, he is in the Guinness Book of World Records for breaking a record 40 bones. With our obsession with petty records, one would have thought our government would be only too happy to pour money into projects that would culminate in Knievel’s broken bones record being broken. In America and Europe, motorcycle stunt competitions are held all over, every year. What is more the prize money and winnings are not to be scoffed at.

What the government should be doing is encouraging the burgeoning sport by providing accessible, affordable and well maintained areas where these Mat Rempits can hone their craft. The Ministry of Youth and Sports should be teaming up with Motorsikal Dan Enjin Nasional Sdn Bhd (MODENAS) to design, build and manufacture motorcycles that are safer and cater for a Mat Rempits needs. This would enable spin offs into niche market products: Mat Rempit line of motorcycles, accessories and protective gear, competitions, etc. After all MODENAS was established for the purpose of capturing transferred technology and developing the motorcycle manufacturing industry locally with the hope of eventually enabling the country to proudly produce indigenous motorcycles for ultimately worldwide distribution.

Taking this approach would not only result in less alienation of the marginalized segments of society (Mat Rempits are generally from the lower-middle income group), develop the local fledging motorcycle design and manufacturing industry, and finally it is in keeping with the government’s policy of developing and encouraging motor sports in a meaningful fashion.

Fahri Azzat practices the dark arts of the law. Although he enjoys writing and reading, he doesn't enjoy writing his own little biographies of himself. Like this one. He wished somebody else would do it...