Where’s the change at local government level?

Cleaning up of the government, as constantly harped on by many Pakatan Harapan (PH) politicians, is meaningless when the realities on the ground have not changed at all.

The promise to improve the three levels of government – federal, state and local authorities – must be kept.

One may argue that the PH government suffers on the basis of bad publicity or wrong perceptions.

Unless one can see the changes taking place, especially at the local level, the status quo will remain.

Cleaning up of the government, for instance, can be interpreted in so many different ways.

At the state and local authority levels, it can mean many different things too.

Cleaning up of the previously corrupt government procurement systems can be one of them. Has that been done at the local authorities’ level?

Cleaning up of the approving system (i.e. how the government decides on certain budgets and project approvals) is another.

Cleaning up corrupt practices, such as the manner in which certain land development projects are evaluated and approved, for example, is also of prime concern to many RAs.

The Kiara land development proposal, adjacent to Taman Tun Dr Ismail, which became a hot issue during GE14, is a classic case in point.

Residents expect the PH government to improve traffic flow and tackle traffic congestion, something that has so far received scant attention and scrutiny at the local authorities’ level. Taking ownership of their local congestion problems and looking at ways to improve them will go a long way in improving the image of the PH government.

Yet, simple things such as cleaning up the streets, freeing clogged drains and getting rid of rubbish in areas within the jurisdiction of the local authorities, have not been addressed satisfactorily.

Whether in Selangor, the state that has been managed by PH for a third term, or in Negeri Sembilan, Melaka, Johor, Perak and Kedah, many of the local authorities have not shown any sign of improvement in services to the public who pay local taxes. This state of affairs has obviously affected the image of the PH government.

Services at the local authority level are something that people can easily observe. Knowing that these authorities are now managed by the PH government, any improvement no matter how small, will be attributed to PH politicians and their nominated councillors.

Similarly, when service levels deteriorate, the PH government will be blamed.

Many residents’ associations, including the one under my chairmanship, are now asking, where are the improvements from the PH-led government?

The councillors in these local authorities are from PH component parties or non-members appointed by PH. But they do not hold any executive power.

Even to undertake a “gotong royong” to clean up a street within a constituency requires an agreement from the executive.

The executive power within a local authority lies with the mayor, in the case of a city, or head of the council (or Yang Dipertua Majlis) in the case of a local authority. This is followed by their respective heads of department and their staff.

Mayors and YDPs are administrative and diplomatic service officers sent by the Public Service Department (or JPA) for a fixed term of office. They are certainly not specialists in managing local authorities; neither do they have a proper understanding of the nitty gritty of a particular local authority which has a myriad of local issues and problems.

How can a general administrator be capable of tackling technical issues within a local authority, as demanded by local politicians and their respective RAs?

Staff in local authorities are local civil servants too. They include the heads of departments such as planning, engineering, landscape, solid waste, public health and so forth, who, in theory, should be able to advice the mayor or YDP who should take the cue from local RAs or appointed councillors.

At the moment, the heads of department and their staff seem divorced from local issues and problems. They are on government salary scales and they are not transferable to any other department or agency.

They execute their duties as desired by the administrative and diplomatic services trained officers and their KPIs are not translated into solving local issues. Their performance leaves very much to be desired.

The PH government should re-examine this management framework and introduce a new formula in the staffing and recruitment of local authority’s personnel. It is certainly not about the election of councillors or the mayor himself.

Local authorities need specialists, not administrative and diplomatic services officers to lead them.

At the RA level, as much as we are fully aware that local authorities are not functioning well, we are never called in to assist. By right, we should, as we represent the bulk of the residents and understand their predicaments.

We are also fully aware that one of the major issues that is deeply entrenched is none other than corrupt practices itself.

The establishment of a one-stop centre in many local authorities was meant to weed out corrupt practices among its personnel but how far this has been achieved is still a big question mark.

These are some issues and problems the Federal Territories Ministry and the Ministry of Housing and Local Government should look at seriously and rectify, and they have to move fast.

Otherwise, the year of the pig (2019) will confirm that the non-halal practices are continuing even under PH!

Gong Xi Fa Chai.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.