By A. Jeyaraj
New councillors have been appointed to MBI and of the 24 councillors, except for two, the rest are political appointees. The public perception is, it is new wine in old bottle. Business would be as usual.
In the so called New Malaysia, the government is saying that the public are the driving force and things would be done differently. I am suggesting the changes I’d like to see in MBI.
I am always reminded that it is taboo to talk of the glorious days of Ipoh during the fifties when Ipoh was the trend setter for the country. I was a school boy then and whenever I hear of any incident in town, my friends and I would cycle to the place to find out what happened. By the time we arrived, D.R. Seenivasagam (DR), President, Ipoh Town Council, would be there, getting first-hand information. DR can be seen all over the town. Since the boss was working, the subordinates had go to find out what was happening.
I wonder how often the current Mayor comes out of his office. The Mayor must go around the town by himself and see the situation. He can experience the parking problem and traffic jam.
I wanted to see the Mayor and asked his Secretary for an appointment and she told me he was busy for the next two months. I wonder whether he was eating and sleeping during that period. The Mayor must reserve the last hour of the day to meet ratepayers. He is appointed to serve the people.
When Dato’ Hj Roshidi and Dato’ Hj Abdul Rahim were Mayor and Secretary, there was no problem in seeing them. Most of the time their door was open and I could say hello. Why the problem now?
Full Board Meeting
I used to attend the Full Board Meeting. The meeting is held once a month to approve the decisions made by the various sub-committees. I found that it was a waste of time and stopped attending. You are only an observer.
The normal agenda of a full board meeting begins with the Mayor’s opening remarks which usually reports on any special activities since the previous meeting.
This is followed by the minutes of each department to be endorsed by the full board. The councillors read the titles of the files and they are approved without any debate. The observers present at the meeting have no idea what is being approved.
The meeting ends with the adjournment speech by one of the councillor’s. Most of the time they talk about problems and not solutions. Councillors are paid to solve the problems, not to highlight them.
Instead of expecting people to attend the meeting, the sitting can be broadcast live so that anyone interested can see it from home. With modern technology, this should be no problem.
Councillor Sub-committee Meeting
Ipoh City Watch, a NGO, has been asking that the public must be allowed to attend this meeting, but permission has not been granted. It is during these meetings that important decisions are made. The public have the right to give their views and also participate in the discussions. Public must have their input in preparation of specification for contracts.
There is a flaw in the current specification for grass-cutting contracts. The person cuts the grass at road shoulder and the grass falls into the drain. It is not the responsibility of the grass cutter to remove this grass and the drain gets clogged and stagnant water become breeding ground for mosquitoes. The contract must be complete. The person cutting the grass must be responsible to remove it. The workers cleaning the drains also leave the garbage behind.
MBI has LA21 Programme which includes the Role of Stakeholders and under Community it is stated:
“Members of the community comprising people with diverse interests and backgrounds. Representative members of the community will forward their respective views in the LA21 partnership and to bring LA21 revolution back to the community and their respective neighbourhoods”
How can the public state their views if they are not allowed to attend the meetings?
My friend visited Melbourne and just walked into the local council meeting and asked questions. The authorities asked about his particulars and said he was welcome to take part in their discussions. This is how first world works.
I read in the papers the Mayor announcing the amount of revenue collected and the amount spent. It is a balanced budget. It is said that about 70 percent of revenue collected is spent on salary and operating costs of MBI. Only about 30 percent is spent on the well-being of the ratepayers.
The Mayor must inform us what is the total amount of assessment to be collected and how much is actually being collected. If the accounts are not under OSA and MBI employs qualified accountants and there is nothing to hide, then the accounts must be made public.
Few years ago, members of civil societies made a survey about councillors. More than 90 percent of the respondents said they did not know who their councillor is. The situation is still the same.
Unlike MPs and assembly persons, the councillors are not elected and we cannot expect the people to know them. A photo of the councillor and his/her contact number must be placed in every zone. Then the people will know who their councillor is. It is the responsibility of the councillors to introduce themselves to the people.
Being political appointees, councillors do not know their responsibilities. A handbook must be given to councilors detailing their duties.
Councillors also have their limitations. During one of the Full Board Meetings, a councillor complained that when he called a MBI staff and said that he is councillor so and so, the response was, so what. This is not an isolated case. Councillors need the co-operation of MBI staff who are responsible to carry out the job.
The bottom line is we must be able to elect our councillors so that they would be accountable to the voters.
With the new government in place, I hope the public would be given the opportunity to have their say in the running of MBI.