Know your Government – Councillors

By A. Jeyaraj

Election is around the corner and as responsible citizens, it is our duty to elect the right candidates. I think it is good to know the structure of our government to make the right decision. Our country has three tiers of government – federal, state and local, each with very separate areas of responsibility. They each complement one another to achieve a common goal: the betterment of society.

In this first part of three series, we will look at the roles of a City Councillor or Ahli Majlis who is the link between ratepayers and MBI.

Currently, this position is an appointed one by the state government. Ipoh is divided into 24 zones and each zone has a councillor. Each appointment is normally for a two-year term and is extendable. The council is headed by the Mayor.

The full board of the council sits once a month to approve the decisions made by the various committees that would have met prior to the board meeting. The committees are made up of the heads of the relevant departments plus a set number of councillors. The committee is normally chaired by the Mayor or a Councillor. The minutes are sent to the full board to be endorsed. The public can attend full board meetings.

The normal agenda of a full board council meeting begins with the chairperson’s opening remarks which usually details or reports on any special activities since the previous meeting. It would also detail any State Government instructions given to the council. This is followed by the minutes of each department to be endorsed by the full board council meeting. As minutes of each department had already been made available to each Councillor prior to the sitting, this formality is normally completed quite quickly unless there are issues or questions raised.

The full board sitting normally ends with the adjournment speech where each Councillor has the opportunity to express his thoughts and ideas to be deliberated by the relevant committees in the coming month. This is important as the thought and ideas could well be endorsed as a local council by-law.

More often than not, the Councillors do not speak and if they speak it is to express or rather lodge a complaint that a resident may have voiced out. The adjournment speech is certainly not the avenue to voice complaints. The adjournment speech is normally not debated nor interrupted but contents are discussed in the committee.

It is the role of the Councillor to ensure that the decisions made at the committee level are done properly in accordance with the legal provisions. The Councillor who is not a member of the committee can raise questions and comment or seek clarification on decisions made by the committee.

Thus for this area of responsibility, a Councillor has to be knowledgeable and hands-on to know and understand the pulse of the ratepayers. This is where the bulk of the real duties and responsibilities of a proper Councillor is measured.

Where and how would a Councillor get his feedback and understand what the local residents and ratepayers expect? Councillors normally get feedback from the Residents’ Associations. For Lim Garden there is a WhatsApp group for the residents to voice their concerns and the councillor is a member of the group.

It is necessary for a Councillor to also meet up with local businesses and other social groups to ensure a sustained and improved living environment.

The Councillor’s responsibility includes being able to bring together opinions and ideas from across the board and get them together. There must be continuous economic growth and development within the community so that it will not end up as a dead “cowboy” town. At the same time the quality of life for residents must be respected and protected. Similarly policies to bring in continuous income in the long term to the council cannot be set aside as the future depends on the financial strength of the council.

Therefore a Councillor’s scope of duties and responsibilities would mean a practically full time job. However, this is not so, as all are appointed on a part-time basis.

The Councillor is paid a fixed monthly allowance and also an attendance allowance. He also enjoys overseas holidays.

Understanding the role and responsibility of a Councillor is necessary and important for one to get the best value for the rates we pay to MBI. Clean drains, regular rubbish collection, functioning lamp posts and traffic lights, clean, safe and peaceful environment are our basic requirements.

It is important to know who your Councillor is and to periodically engage with him/her. Your engagement with your Councillor effectively ensures a win-win situation for both of you.

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