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Monday, March 8, 2010

Bureaucratic obstacles to local government initiatives

KUALA LUMPUR, March 8 —The MBPJ’s list of success stories since March 2008 is long.

For the past two years, the Pakatan Rakyat-controlled (PR) Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) has introduced radical measures to protect public interest, but it is now facing major obstacles from within.
The MBPJ’s jurisdiction covers an area of almost 100 kilometres square, situated just outside the Kuala Lumpur city centre.
The council is also among the richest local government in the country with annual revenue of round RM250 million, more than half that of Penang state.
It became the first local council to form an audit and corporate governance committee to look into misuse of public funds.
It has also opened up the process of drawing its annual budget to the ratepayers for objection and comments — a practice unheard of in local governments controlled by Barisan Nasional (BN).
MBPJ also made changes to the guidelines for outdoor advertising which, says councillor Derek Fernandez, will bring in additional revenue of RM5 million annually.
But the council is now hindered by “unfriendly” civil servants and complex bureaucratic procedures.
For Fernandez, the human resource management of the local authorities needs to be severely overhauled.
“Some of it will require Federal government co-operation, the mechanism for hiring and firing staff who don’t do work is not there,” he said.
Fernandez believes that the local council needs a full time chief operating officer and competent officers to run the day-to-day operation of MBPJ.
“At the heart of this is the inability to make substantial manpower changes to local government such as the recruitment of capable, dedicated, professionals to serve the public,” added Fernandez.
He cited a case where the council approved a plan to build a public car park costing RM500,000 in Jalan Gasing, but it did not take place.
“Project approved, budget approved, mayor announced it, yet after one year, the person responsible for implementing it did not do so, resulting in the budget for the project being cancelled,” said Fernandez adding that no action was taken against those responsible.
Another MBPJ member Latheefa Koya also admitted that the council is powerless in handling disciplinary cases.
“Sometimes we recommend actions to be taken but normally nothing happens,” she told The Malaysian Insiderin a separate interview.
But Latheefa considered MBPJ to be lucky, as the councillors are united and are strongly supported by the mayor Datuk Mohamad Roslan Sakiman, whom she described as a team player.
However, both the councillors share the same fear that despite the new administration’s policy to weed out corruption, the small allowances received by MBPJ members may lead to abuse of power.
“Presently the councillors are totally overworked and underpaid, having to micromanage a local authority with a RM750 per month allowance. Some of them spend five days a week at the local council,” said Fernandez.
“There must be acceptance that a city cannot be managed by part-timers on allowances, but should be managed by well-remunerated professionals who must perform and justify their wages and bring in more income to the local authority without burdening the ratepayer. And improving the service expected by the public living in a city in the most developed state in Malaysia,” he added.
Latheefa, who is a lawyer by profession, spends about three to four days a week at her service centre in Petaling Jaya Old Town and attends about 10 meetings per month at the MBPJ headquarters.
“On top of that we have to deal with threats, including death threats from contractors who are not happy with MBPJ’s decision,” she said.
“There is a need for decent salary for councillors to serve full time and to also to prevent corruption,” said Latheefa.
For now she is happy with the council’s ability to implement PR’s agenda.
“For example in the fight for freedom of information act, people realise the importance when they know that through this law they can access the files related to development projects affecting them,” said Latheefa who is also the PKR information chief.
While Fernandez now gets fewer text messages from Petaling Jaya residents who complain about basic services such as garbage collection in their area, he said, “I hope people will see the small things, the small changes and the tremendous effort it takes to execute them under these less than ideal conditions.”


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