Independence for local authority. Are you serious ?
(Posted on 11.51pm May 28, 2001 )


In recent weeks, it has been a hilarious sight to behold, seeing elected representatives, appointed councillors, "self appointed voices of the people" and "lallang journalists" falling over each other trying to justify the need to maintain the independence of a local authority. They all want to set it free from Federal and State control!

Interference from the state or the federal government, and the local authority's performance will be affected. So said the Self-Righteous.

I wonder why, or rather who is the "black-hand" behind this well-financed plot, perhaps hatched in a crowded pub in Subang Jaya or Bangsar?

Look at these, how much harm a scribe can do to his profession nowadays. Continuous attacks on MPPJ, DBKL and the Malacca Municipal Council for two days each, in the name of self-righteousness, and contrasting apple-polishing of MPSJ on the seventh.

Firstly, whose felt needs and rights have been met by sucking-up like this? The happy contractor or concessionaire? The smiling civil servant? The local politicos? Or the journalistic black-hand?

It is a fact that several local authorities have created so much anger and tension among real citizen groups and communities that, if unchecked, the government of the day will suffer as the third level of governance - the local councils - have fumbled. It will have a bearing on the 2004 general elections.

The 2004 election will have a difference: There are no safe seats nationwide.

Those who dream in media dramas, sponsored letters-to-the-editors and pseudo-opinion pieces - all powered by 'people-friendly programs and donations' please take cover. You will be in for a shock!

Lunas showed us that this can work no more!

The sand has shifted. The local communities nationwide are upset with what they see as a disintegration of their fundamental rights. The wasting of valuable resources, the change in the neighborhood skyline with breakneck construction, all are done without consultation with the people.

Throw away the Town and Country Planning Act 1976 (Act 172), Sections 9, 13 and 21. Or Section 74 (3) of the Street, Drainage and Buildings Act 1974. All these seem to be the new gospel for the elected representatives, appointed councillors, politicians, policy-makers and self- enriching civil servants.

ASK NO QUESTION

Look around Subang Jaya today. The inexplicable change of a development order resulting in a huge 33-storey building allowed to be erected right in the centre of a residential area. The wasting of public funds on prestige projects only to boost egos of some politicians. Who cares whether there are huge cracks and sinking taking place hurting the residents and property owners!

By a stroke of a pen, various areas can be rezoned, and commercial projects planned in residential neighbourhoods. There is no thought being paid on traffic congestion and arbitrary increase of density, as if social and economic problems that arise thereafter can resolve by themselves.

Why a certain contractor is the favorite choice for several projects in one go? Ask no question.

Why should the local authority volunteer to be the main contributor and financier of certain privatized projects - making a "mother of all monkeys" out of all ratepayers! Ask no question.

When a developer fails to build access roads related to development projects, why must the local government, elected representatives and appointed councillors ask the ratepayers to foot the bill? Ask no question.

How could a developer get away with flouting a state exco directive over school land for 14 years? Why were the parties who championed the minorities' struggle not informed on the resolution process, but the "shameless politicians" allowed to hijack the glory of those who suffered? Ask no question.

Because, once these questions are addressed, you will be damned as persona non grata, self appointed do-gooders or non-residents!

Are the community members allowed to attend fullboard council meetings? Can those who do not apple-polish or suck up to the local-power-that-be be chosen into community pilot projects, zone resident committees? One wonders who is mightier than the Prime Minister at the local council level.

Several years ago, I called upon the government to initiate a program to get our local appointed councillors, elected representatives and local council heads to declare their assets! That, like many others, died a natural political death! But wouldn't it be a time when this can be made happen?

No one denies that the time is now right to review laws related to the functions and powers of the local authorities. Such clarion call for amendments is not unreasonable, after all the nation's constitution has also been changed several times over.

This cannot and should not be looked upon as "undermining the councils position"!

This is part and parcel of Local Agenda 21 and it is in line with the Prime Minister's desire to have a local governance system that is sensitive and open to the community needs and feedback. (This is certainly not the type that borders on choreographed sandiwara like the "zone leaders" programmes.)

If we fail to do a reality check right now by having the federal and state government assert their jurisdiction over the local authorities, mark my words, the 2004 results will be very unkind to the power-that-be.

I am advised that certain events are to take place soon. When they happen, they will cast an impact on local governance. They will be a referendum of sorts. Saudara-Saudari, we now live in interesting times. Let's keep abreast with the news for updates!

Dr. Jacob George
Subang Jaya