Community self-governance without politics


By Joachim Ng

Before you raise your hand to swipe that killer Aedes buzzing at your ear, stop and think: are you legally empowered to kill the mosquito? Have you been duly elected? Malaysians have become so vote-dependent that they must cast a ballot to decide who should rightfully look after them.

A massive industry has developed that solemnly vows to take care of us. That industry is called Politics and its practitioners assure voters that they have a solution for everything that’s bothering us.  So… isn’t it puzzling why many roads are still punctured with accident-causing potholes, drains stay clogged till the next flood, sidewalks are decorated with unpicked litter, and mosquitoes send our loved ones to hospital or mortuary? But politicians aren’t going to swipe mosquitoes for you or pick up litter: you have to govern your physical environment and not leave it to them.

As voters, our role in politics is to perform a 5-minute drill at the polling station once every five years. Of course, the queue time may drag an hour, but that doesn’t count. Having cast our ballot we go home and… that’s it. Job done. But politics and governance aren’t the same thing: politics is about taking power in society, whereas governance is about taking care of society. The connection between politics and governance is often broken.

Is democratic governance a British or Greek invention? Neither. Explorers have long observed primitive folks living in the wild (including our Orang Asli and Orang Asal) holding consultative sessions in which many adults participate, and this widespread practice suggests that democracy has been the norm for most of human existence. It’s natural for adults to voice their opinions, because human beings are talkative and want a say in decision-making. Democracy is a result of the human ability to speak.

Primeval democracy, lasting a good 200,000 years, ended with the rise of civilisation almost 10,000 years ago as swelling populations, social inequity, gender discrimination, and military dominance tilted societies towards autocratic rule. However, Athens revived democracy around 500 BCE and it lasted for almost 200 years. These Athenians gave us the compound word ‘democracy’. It comes from ‘demos’ in Greek language that means ‘the people’ and ‘kratia’ that means ‘rule’. But ‘demos’ also means ‘district’ giving the idea that the people living in a district should rule that district. In modern times, what the Athenians called ‘district’ would mean the neighbourhood.

A semblance of this original democracy has come to Malaysian cities including Ipoh through the Strata Management Act 2013 (Act 757) & Regulations. The Act governs strata-titled property developments that are a mix of private holdings and common areas. It requires all owners in the development to govern the common areas such as recreational facilities, roads, and drains through a management corporation. Owners fulfil this responsibility by electing a management committee that engages a professional management company to run daily operations.

Act 757 (and its earlier superseded versions) is a revival of primeval self-governance reconnecting the people to one another, as all must share responsibility to maintain a common fund and upkeep the area. Thanks to Act 757 we have oases of good management nestled within larger neighbourhoods. There is an irony though: you can have several dengue-free, litter-free, crime-free, and pothole-free gated and guarded developments within an often dirty, littered, crime-hit neighbourhood.

To remove this anomaly, there should be a Neighbourhood Management Act 2018 as a logical extension of the Strata Management Act 2013. Establishing a legal basis for neighbourhood management will restore the primeval art of governance by all the people for all the people in a locality.

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