Appealing For Justice

By Fathol Zaman Bukhari

It never occurred to me, and I believe to many, that there is an appeal board formed for the express purpose of arbitrating on cases involving rates payers and the local authorities.

The Perak Appeal Board, formed in 1996 pursuant to Section 36 of the Local Government Act 1976, is the second in the country. Most states in the country have established such a board to resolve disputes between the public and the local authorities. The most active to date are the appeal boards of Penang (421 cases), Selangor (320 cases) and Perak (109 cases). Perlis has yet to register a single case.

The establishment of an appeal board provides an avenue for the public to challenge decisions of local authorities, which they regard as lopsided.

The appeal board shall consist of not more than 12 members and shall be presided by a serving or former judge or lawyer. The president of the Perak Appeal Board for the 2010-2013 Session is Dato’ Shamsuriah Sulaiman, a well-known syariah lawyer and a former Perak Bar Committee President. Up to November 2013, she had heard and arbitrated over 53 cases. Presently, there are 12 cases at the hearing stage.

The majority of Shamsuriah’s cases involve disputes between individuals and the local authorities over issues relating to the rejection of planning permission, objections to the development of lands and properties, alienation of lands, imposition of fines, etc. Bread and butter issues which could have a detrimental impact on citizens’ quest for justice should the wrong decisions be made.

Here are two cases where Ipoh City Council (MBI) and Taiping Municipal Council (MPT) were the respondents. One concerns Lee Yew Seng whose application for planning permission was rejected without him being given the opportunity to present his side of the story. The board found that the decision by MBI was a breach of natural justice and proceeded to hear out the case in full. The appellant was allowed to continue with his project subject to conditions imposed by the council.

The second case concerns an application for the turning of a residential building into a food court at Taman Tasek in Taiping. MPT rejected the application on the grounds that there were objections from neighbouring owners. It was discovered at the appeal board hearing that only one occupier of the neighbouring lot objected. The appellant was never given a chance to present his case. Since there was a local plan in existence and the objector was someone who was not the owner of the neighbouring lot, the board found that MPT had “misdirected itself and had wrongly acted in constituting a hearing”.

There are many cases which are of interest to Ipohites but the conduct of Ipoh City Council over such matters leaves much to be desired. The proliferation of unfettered developments in Taman Canning is a case in point. Residents complained of owners renovating their properties beyond the scope of works approved. In spite of complaints made through numerous channels, the Council has adopted a tidak apa attitude and appears to condone the actions of these “rogue developers”.

Over in Bercham a property owner is in the process of converting his newly acquired house into a swiflet hotel to harvest the birds’ nests. Neighbours are up in arms over his insensitivity but are powerless to act, as he seems to be beyond reproach and has challenged residents to make a report. Should MBI, upon counselling, act in the guy’s favour, appealing against the council’s decision is the right way out.

A seminar to enlighten departmental staff regarding the working and conduct of an appeal board was held at the Kinta Riverfront Hotel on Monday, December 2. A number of papers were presented by experts conversant with the subject matter, including one by Dato’ Shamsuriah Sulaiman.

To lend credence to the occasion, the Director-General of the Department of Town and Country Planning Peninsular Malaysia, Datuk Fadzil Hj Mohd Kadir, officiated at the opening of the one-day seminar.

Unfortunately, the forum was only for the privileged few. Had it been opened to the public it would have generated a lot more interest and provided for a better understanding of the rule of law, especially those related to local governments, which affect every Dollah, Ah Chong and Muthu.

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