Turun padang, or justify your overseas trips !(Posted on 02.39pm May 09, 2001)

It was really hilarious to read about the Selangor government issuing guidelines to local authorities which are planning for overseas trips.

According to the news report, the state government will impose "new conditions" which include the following:

• The state government must be given two months' notice for any overseas trip;
• Trips must be supported with detailed information on itinerary, delegates' meeting schedules, areas of study and    benefits to be derived;
• The number of officials going abroad will also be controlled;
• There must be comprehensive reports after making the trips, detailing the lessons learnt and plan for implementation;
Overseas visits considered "alright" include those aimed at studying foreign country's computerization programme,    waste management, housing, recycling and landscaping.

So, is there anything new apart from giving lame justifications to making such overseas trips? Are these trips really necessary when we continue to hear of inactive, incompetent appointed councillors warming the seats in the local authorities, insensitive to the public's grievances?

Instead of making overseas trips, why not they pick up the lessons learnt during the recent Kampung Medan incident and follow through with the 'turun padang' initiatives and improve the wellbeing of the deprived population?

Eighteen years ago, I started writing about the local authorities' blatant disregard to transparency, accountability and commitment to the community. In 1983 and 1986, I wrote against such practices by both the MPPJ and MPSP which were published in The Star.

In the 80's, the local authorities have chosen venues such as New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, Thailand, Brunei and the Philippines for their "study trips".

Countless overseas trips have been made since then, but look, both Penang and Butterworth are filthy as ever! Ferry terminals on both sides of the strait, the bus-stand, the business districts of Penang and Butterworth, Jalan Bagan Luar, Fetties Park, Jalan Mengkuang, Jalan Raja Uda, just to name a few!

It's almost the same case with many other local governments.

Judging on the timing the Selangor government chose to announce the so-called 'new guidelines', one can expect interesting developments.

I guess it is that season again! It's summer in certain countries, beautiful spring in others and with the FA Cup, UEFA and other "Bola Finals" coming - it may be perfect time for a large group to prepare a long list of countries for "study trips and trade investment promotion".

No one has asked whether these are after all duplications and unwarranted expenditure, more so at a time our financial resources should be carefully managed.

After all, we already have competent Ambassadors from the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, the Ministry of Tourism and our Ministry of Foreign Affairs "selling our nation and its resources" adequately oveaseas. So why the duplication during these trying times?

It is also rather strange why nearby countries which offer trillions of learning lessons at relatively cheaper cost are not chosen at all. Singapore, for example, boasts of near-perfect achievements in computerization, waste management, housing, recycling and landscaping programmes. You simply don't find flash floods, stinking streets and sinking roads in this Bandaraya!

But then again, this is not the first time the issue of local governance being discussed and debated actively. The local authorities continue to plan trips, spend taxpayers monies on projects that have absolutely no relevance to "basic needs and wants" of the rakyat.

To be frank, guidelines set up by state government are after all, guidelines!

Has anyone ever asked what transpired during a trip made last year to Europe, or Germany to be exact. What has been implemented after the "German Exposure" trip led by our Exco member? To uplift our standard of living or taraf kehidupan kita?

I am advised another trip is being planned for a large delegation in the coming weeks, despite the economic slowdown and growing grassroots dissatisfaction with local authorities and their appointed councillors!

Our roads, built according to "international standards" are still flooding. Even our homes are not spared. Breakneck construction and the rape of our green lungs continue unabated, our garbage uncollected.

Our drinking water inexplicably colored despite huge bills and added costs borne by consumers. The sight of purifiers installed outside each home clearly portrays the benchmark of our present quality of life! In time, we will know the toll consuming this water has on our human body!

But then again, we live in a political atmosphere where the local politicos roamed free and "cakap tak serupa bikin!"

They, or their political godfathers, will find all the excuses needed to avoid responsibility!

Heed our beloved Prime Minister Dato Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and Deputy Premier, Dato Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi who continue to urge and appeal to elected representatives and civil servants to change their mindsets, to be proactive and progressive, to spearhead a positive and caring community support system.

But is anyone listening out there?

So until and unless there happens a political conversion by our local politicos - these trips will continue. They will be packaged by experts as essential initiatives to promote the country, and to adopt ideas from these advanced countries for the benefit of the nation, the state and the local authorities. One wonder whether the rakyat are really of their prime concern today!

Perhaps, a referendum may shed some light?

Dr. Jacob George
Subang Jaya