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Thread: The Sun: Hands off local councils

   
   
       
  1. #1
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    The Sun: Hands off local councils

    Hands off local councils


    ALL local authorities are autonomous bodies. They have appointed councillors who draw up policies for the benefit of ratepayers. Except for a handful of councils, many operate on a deficit budget and hence, depend on handouts from the state government to tide them over. Many are in debt – to the tune of millions – owed to service providers and suppliers.

    Against such a background, there’s always a tendency for the state and its officers to push their interests against the will of the council and its staff. Time and again, there have been allegations of interference by selected members of the state executive council, with a view to favour individuals or groups which they are associated with. This brings about charges of nepotism and abuse of power.

    The state must take cognizance of clauses in the Local Government Act which only empower it to give "directions which are general in nature". Members of the executive council in Selangor have given out letters of support to illegal hawkers, thereby foiling plans by the Petaling Jaya City Council to regulate the hawker trade in the city. Elsewhere, the Klang Municipal Council’s decision to take over management of hawker stalls during festive periods has been overruled by another exco member. The Selayang Municipal Council had to retract its "cease operations" order to a coffin retailer operating in a residential area on the express instructions of the same exco member. This does not bode well for an open government which is competent, transparent and accountable – the cornerstone of the manifesto on which this government was elected. Furthermore, it underscores the point that inexperience is taking its toll, especially in Selangor, where all the policymakers are new to their jobs. And their task has not been made easier either by civil servants who are supposed to be apolitical and independent. In short, after 11 months, there’s little to show.

    With the state lording over simple decisions on tenders, allocation of hawker stalls, renewal of licences and other petty issues, it can only lead to mismanagement.

    http://www.sun2surf.com/article.cfm?id=29627
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  2. #2
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    Re: The Sun: Hands off local councils - Let councils do their job

    Let councils do their job

    Updated: 01:50AM Mon, 19 Jan 2009

    ON New Year’s Eve, a group of councillors from the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) was summoned to the Shah Alam office of the exco member in charge of local government, Ronnie Liu. He wanted them to evaluate the presentation made by a party interested in extending the lease of the swimming pool in Jalan Sultan. What has Liu got to do with the council’s affairs and the extension of the lease? Why was it held at his office when it was a council matter? There’s no debate as to whether any decision made at the presentation is binding on the council because Section 9 of the Local Government Act states that "the state authority may from time to time give the local authority directions of a general character, (emphasis is the writer’s) and not inconsistent with the provisions of this act, on the policy to be followed in the exercise of the powers conferred and the duties…." So, while "a direction of a general character" may be acceptable, a specific directive (including the selection of contractors) will never be binding.

    In July last year, the Klang Municipal Council decided that all hawker and temporary licences and allocation of stalls and lots would be carried out by the council. It had worked well but last week, this policy was reversed. Instead, two individuals went around collecting RM200 from hawkers and issued them receipts which can be bought from stationery shops. There are no records to show that the council reversed its decision, but at a meeting last Wednesday, Liu said: "My men are collecting money but the stalls cost much more and they are topping it up to pay the council. The hawkers are not educated and they do not know how to fill forms and deal with the council."

    Then came the clincher: "I cannot trust my council staff to do the job because they lack experience … They cannot be relied upon to do the job and that’s why I got my people to collect the money." (The two people, incidentally, Liu admitted were his assistants).

    If the system worked well for Deepavali and Aidilfitri, why will it not work for Chinese New Year? Liu went into the intricacies and intrigues of allocation of stalls, saying each festival came with its own set of problems. "During Deepavali they fight over sites, the Chinese hawkers don’t have that problem because every year they know where they should set up," he said. However, the key question remains as to whether any individual exco member can overrule a council decision.

    Then Liu had this to say: "My council staff is being cheated by the hawkers. Instead of paying RM5 per day per stall for the pasar pagi, they are paying just RM1 and getting away with it." But if the stipulated rate is RM5, isn’t this tantamount to dereliction of duty unless of course they were given directives to accept less?

    As for the role of the councillors, Liu said: They lack experience… They are new..." So, is Liu suggesting that incompetent people have been appointed to councils? Section 10 of the act states that councillors should be people who "in the opinion of the state authority have wide experience in local government affairs or who have achieved distinction in any profession, commerce or industry, or are otherwise capable of representing the interests of their communities in the local authority area".

    So, are we to assume that this was not the criteria used when the councillors were appointed? And let’s not forget that Liu’s party championed local government elections as listed in its election manifesto last March. So if the councillors are not "capable of representing the interests of their communities", shouldn’t they be replaced with those who have wide experience in local government affairs?

    Liu has to also explain the rationale behind his directive to local councils that they appoint members of the Real Estate and Housing Developers Association to its one-stop centres? Although he has since clarified it was a mere "suggestion" (after vociferous protests from councils), the thought of having developers to discuss and approve applications of their brethren should have never crossed his mind. Is it another indication that the councillors lack experience?

    Having said that, can someone explain the actions of the Selayang Municipal Council which two weeks ago ordered the closure of a shop selling coffins following complaints from nearby residents. Some of them stay above the row of shops where this outlet is situated. But mysteriously, the council rescinded its decision? Why? Apparently it was done on the instructions of an exco member.

    If this is true, then here’s an appeal to our state authorities – please allow the councils to carry out their jobs without interference. Allow them to function as autonomous bodies which are tasked with implementing your policies which fall into the category of "directives of a general nature" but if you get involved in day-to-day operations, it spells doom for the system of governance. You can’t go on sloganeering "competency, accountability and transparency" when you don’t even practise it.

    R. Nadeswaran maintains that members of local councils must be elected, but short of it, competent people should be appointed – not bungling politicians or cronies. He is editor (special and investigative reporting at theSun. He can be reached at: citizen-nades@thesundaily.com
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