Sunday, 25 November 2012

Importance of local government elections

Going the Distance (Selangor Times)
23 November 2012


THE Batu Caves condominium project has raised some interesting talking points. The most obvious of these, the one taken up by the many comments I have read on the internet, is the sheer bald faced cheek of the BN government.

For the Prime Minister to promise the ending of an unpopular project if his party is elected into power beggars belief when it is the local authority which was appointed by his very own party which gave the approval in the first place.

Then for the MCA to chip in by saying that the Pakatan state government was at fault for not stopping the project themselves is akin to a thief saying the theft is the fault of the victim because he did nothing to stop it happening.

But then, this level of ridiculousness is to be expected. Let’s look at something a bit more constructive than the shamelessness of some politicos.

For me, this whole fiasco serves as greater proof that there has to be a complete overhaul of our local governments.

Firstly we need to bring back local government elections. The current system of appointment of councillors by the state government is simply not democratic.

There is also the danger of councillors being beholden to the ones who appointed them.

Instead they really should be beholden to the people who live in the area.

Furthermore, although I know there are many local authorities and councillors who work very hard and make themselves accessible to their “constituents”, what is truly needed is the institutionalising of a system where they are structurally answerable to the people.

There are far too many cases of local authorities acting in a high handed manner simply because they know that ultimately there is very little that the ordinary folk can do. The argument that you indirectly select your local government by the state government you vote for does not hold water.

This is because the job of the state government is very different from the job of the local government. There are broader political and policy issues that come into play when choosing your state representative. A local representative need not even be affiliated with any party.

What people want are councillors who are dedicated and work hard on local issues. State-wide, let alone national issues, does not come into the equation of tree trimming, drain clearing and garbage collection.

But even the reintroduction of local government elections is not enough. There has to be a total review of the Local Government Act with all undemocratic and un-transparent provisions removed.

As it is local governments can work in secrecy and this is because the Act allows them to.

The Selangor State’s introduction of the Freedom of information Bill is a good thing but by itself it is not enough.

The entire local government machinery has to be opened up as much as possible so that there can be close scrutiny by the public.

At all levels of government in Malaysia, Federal, state and local, what is clear is that the future depends on the opening of democratic spaces and the democratisation of government machinery.

Too many cases of corruption and incompetence have been coming up. People are people, they are fallible, they are greedy and they are weak.

What we need is a system where they can’t succumb to temptation without being discovered and without being punished for their transgressions.

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