By Joachim Ng
State governments need to get real: unless they empower local residents to manage their own neighbourhoods, Malaysia’s hygiene and ecological score will stay at the bottom half of the Asia-Pacific ranking of nations. City councils should not micro-manage, as their officials have time to make only sporadic visits to your neighbourhood.
The consequence of absentee management is a litany of complaints stacked cloud high: cigarette butts everywhere, drains clogged with garbage and grease, abundant litter on grass patches, stagnant water for mosquito breeding, overflowing dustbins, broken pavements, flood-prone roads, unrepaired potholes, vandalised playgrounds. Such neglect to this day has led to financial losses, toxic poisoning, wider spread of influenza and dengue fever, as well as deaths.
Checks show that neighbourhoods with active residents associations (RAs) or diligent management committees (MCs) far outperform “tidak-apa” housing areas in maintenance, public hygiene, and care for the environment. It’s a no-brainer why this is so: who are more expert at neighbourhood governance than a band of dedicated people on the ground where they live?
Another key reason for the sterling performance of most RAs and MCs is that they are politics-free without racial consideration in electing the committee. As long as you serve well, nobody cares whether you are Malay, Indian, or Chinese. However, RAs and MCs may get lethargic because they receive zero money from city councils. This is ironic because half a city’s revenue comes from assessment taxes levied on ratepayers such as you.
Convince your MP/ADUN to propose amending the Local Government and Housing Act for neighbourhood zones to be formed by statute and given a maintenance budget drawn from the neighbourhood’s assessment tax collection. Thus, RAs and MCs become neighbourhood committees governed by stringent financial rules for transparent and prudent spending.
“Local government” should be redefined to mean neighbourhood governance and not city governance. Cities with half a million people radiating many kilometres beyond the centre aren’t local in any practical sense. “Local” means a neighbourhood of up to 15,000 people including babies. It’s the size of a big kampung. Ipoh should have about 50 statutorily established neighbourhood zones.
Non-partisan democracy begins on the street where you live. Your neighbourhood committee members are the local “wakil rakyat” with a chairman who is the “ketua kampung”. Only non-defaulting ratepayers are entitled to vote and the system must forbid involvement of political parties, as they will play the race card. The committee must be empowered to install surveillance devices in the neighbourhood, and to impose deterrent penalties on litterbugs and polluters.