By A. Jeyaraj
In the first part of a 3-part series, we looked at the roles of a City Councillor and in this second part we will look at the roles of a State Assembly Member (ADUN).
The number of members in each State Assembly varies between States. In Perak State Assembly there are 59 members. The Assembly sitting is managed and chaired by the Speaker who is appointed by the Assembly itself, nominated by the Menteri Besar (MB). The Assembly normally sits in session three times a year including for the tabling and debate on the annual State budget.
Each year’s session is ceremoniously officiated by His Highness the Sultan whose speech spells out his aspirations on the direction forward for the state. This speech is traditionally prepared by the government in place. His Highness does not normally stray far from the prepared text although there is no rule against it.
The Assembly then debates on the content of the royal speech. Each days sitting begins with Question Time where the Executive answers questions posted by members which have been submitted prior to the sitting.
These prepared questions are then followed by supplementary related questions. This is the interesting part of the session as it tests how well informed the Executive is on State related matters. Apart from oral questions, members can also submit questions for written answers from the Executive.
The State Executive Councillors (EXCO) are appointed by His Highness upon nomination by the MB. The MB himself is picked from amongst the ADUNs who have the greatest number of support. Likewise, the MB can be removed by the ADUNs in a loss of confidence vote during the Assembly sitting.
Each EXCO chairs a working committee for a specific area of state administration including land matters, agriculture, local government, religion, tourism and others. An EXCO may chair more than one committee. The number of EXCO members in each Assembly varies between States.
What are the areas of responsibility for the State and how does it not conflict with the Federal Government?
The States jurisdiction are clearly listed out in the 9th Schedule of the Federal Constitution which also includes the list of areas for joint cooperation.
Therefore, the main duty of an ADUN is to be the check and balance of the Executive. The ADUN monitors and questions the decisions of the Executive as and when required. It is also the duty of the ADUN to protect the interest of the residents in his constituency in relation to State administration functions.
The ADUN should monitor issues like land use, that is, land allocated for specific uses such as police and fire station, community halls, parks and green open spaces, etc. ADUNs should also look into land titles and State’s town planning. Abandoned projects would be another area for ADUNs to look at, turning these abandoned lands into good use.
There is an area of responsibility often neglected by ADUNs which is economic development within their constituency. The ADUN should look into improving the standard of living for constituents by generating economic growth. A good example of this is how the ADUNs of Kuala Sepetang (Perak) and Sekinchang promote Eco Tourism within their constituency. This generates new economic activity and transforms the sleepy backwater into an attraction while still maintaining its village charm.
During Assembly sittings ADUNs can also submit amendments to State laws and also propose for debate on new laws within the scope as listed in the 9th Schedule.
The other major responsibility of the ADUN is monitoring the State’s spendings. This of course begins by actively participating in the budget debates and monitoring the spendings during the course of the year.
The head of the Executive, the MB in most instances is also the party leader and heads the party at the State level. The state party leader is often the decision maker for candidate nominations during the elections. Thus he is the one person ADUNs try not to brush against making them a weak “check and balance” of the Executive.
Often ADUNs feel their areas of jurisdiction in the State administration as very limited. They feel that the Local Councillors are much closer to the electorate. This is not necessarily true. However, I agree that the results of ADUNs hard work are often slow to be realised and credit often goes to the MB or EXCO instead. Therefore, it is not uncommon to see ADUNs stepping into a local Councillors area of jurisdiction to gain publicity and to be seen.
A few ADUNs even take on Federal matters, jumping on the bandwagon of hot issues. This is a poor reflection on the party comrades in Parliament.
A. Sivasubramaniam, assemblyman for Buntong from DAP, informed that only BN assemblymen are given an allocation of RM300,000 per year to be spent for their constituency for small development projects including infrastructure upgrading and maintenance. The allocation can also be spent for welfare work amongst the constituents. He said that when the MB was asked what happens to the allocation for constituencies held by the opposition, he did not give a satisfactory answer. Sivasubramaniam does not know how the money is spent in his constituency. However, he said that all assemblymen are given RM4,000 per month to run their service centre.
It is sad to note that some of these funds are spent for programmes that does little for welfare but instead more on marketing of the ADUNs. An example of this would be the festive “open house”. This unique event was traditionally a time where our private homes are open to neighbours, friends and colleagues to come together to celebrate a particular festival. However, politicians exploit this unique cultural event for political purposes using public funds on the pretext of welfare.
I believe it is the duty of the ADUNs to report on how the state allocations are spent.
I tried to contact a few BN assemblymen and their receptionists said that they would call me. When I called the office of Kampung Manjoi assemblyman, the receptionist said that I must go to their office in Meru and fill a form requesting for appointment. I explained to her that instead of travelling 10km I can provide the information over the phone and she can fill the form. She agreed. I have not received any call from BN assemblymen for appointment. Elected representatives are there to serve the people and must be easily accessible.
ADUNs are not full time positions. Many still juggle with professional jobs. However, an EXCO appointment is a full time commitment. All ADUNs both government and opposition receive similar remuneration but amount differs between States. ADUNs are also entitled to pensions after their terms of service.
Having understood a little bit more of the duties of an ADUN, one can appreciate why the ADUN is not often seen. Unless a person is involved in associations, NGOs or other lobbying groups there would be little interaction with the ADUN.
However, this should not stop the ADUN from engaging with voters to listen to their grouses and opinions on current issues. Areas highlighted at these sessions can then be forwarded to the colleagues in the local Council or to the MP. When I complained that he comes to visit the people only during election time, Sivasubramaniam said that his service centre is open and people can lodge their complaints there. He is there often.
Having a little more understanding of the role of the ADUN, one should than make the effort to know who your representative is in the State Assembly. It is also important to periodically engage with him/her. Your engagement with your ADUN effectively ensures a win-win situation for both of you. I know my ADUN personally and upon my request he has visited my place to see the problems.
As responsible citizens we must make use of the services of our assembly person and let them know what we want.
By A. Jeyaraj