By Joachim Ng
The hour is coming when you can make a big change — not change the Government but change the manner of government. As political parties get ready for GE15, they will try to sell you their choice of Prime Minister to look after the nation. But while he looks after the nation, who looks after your neighbourhood?
From one Premier to another, your neighbourhood has stayed the same: clogged drains, overflowing trash bins, potholed roads, broken playgrounds, overgrown bushes, unpicked litter, missing cleaners, dengue.
Like Oliver the pauper, we cry out for “more service, please.” And what did Oliver get? Don’t keep begging your mayor to do something; he’s got other duties. You should make the correct move with your vote at GE15. Vote for a Premier who is willing to empower your neighbourhood to self-govern, using funds rolled back from the property assessment taxes.
Make your vote work for you, not work for the politicians. If you keep focusing on which politician can do the work for you, it means that you are looking for a tooth fairy. Ahead of the November elections, American voters are now feeling that they have lost control as the people they vote for will be accountable only once every four years.
Americans are tired of the system, tired of the neglect. You should be too. Politicians want your vote so they can be empowered to make democracy work for themselves, but not necessarily for you. Americans are waking up to this bad dream. When are you waking up? Tell the politicians that you want them to empower your neighbourhood to run itself.
Do you know who is Malaysia’s greatest urban folk hero? It’s that neighbourhood guy, Panjang, who has done the work of 3 mayors over a span of 15 years. Panjang, with his long record of voluntary community service, has demonstrated that the people can self-govern their neighbourhoods. Panjang began his “mayoral work” at age 64, cycling around the neighbourhoods in Johor Bahru to fix road potholes and clear the drains. Now at age 80, he’s still patching up the town.
Your neighbourhood is the only part of Malaysia where you can make a difference. But the people take democracy to mean they don’t have to do anything as the politicians will do everything. So, your neighbourhood will stay the same with its clogged drains, overflowing trash bins, potholed roads, broken playgrounds, overgrown bushes, unpicked litter, missing cleaners and dengue risk.
The basic principle of government is that neighbourhood decisions should be taken at the neighbourhood level where interest and responsibility are the highest. You know your drain better than anyone in city hall, and you have a direct interest to keep it flowing. No one else has this interest. Not your MP, not the mayor.
Chances are high that you have never seen the mayor, the MP, the assemblyman, the councillors, or the area officers patrolling your neighbourhood. Walking the beat is not their routine as they can never be as community-oriented as you wish them to be.
Unless you want your neighbourhood to begin looking as neglected as a ghetto, you should use your vote to press for neighbourhood governments to be established with an elected committee that excludes persons who are active members of any political party.
It should be a non-partisan ratepayers’ committee that is empowered to engage service contractors, using a budget derived from the property assessment taxes that the neighbourhood pays.
The Local Government and Housing Ministry should be tasked with drawing up a common set of standard operating procedures and key performance indices so that it is easy to compare the service quality of all contractors. Supervision of contractors must lie with the neighbourhood committee, assisted by a small team of full-time city hall officers seconded to the neighbourhood and spending their working day in the neighbourhood.
The committee must decide every contractor’s work scope as there are now situations where the grass cutter doesn’t pick up grass that has fallen into the drain, and the drain cleaner doesn’t clear rubbish lying by the side of the drain.
If service delivery isn’t any city hall’s cup of teh tarik, then what can it excel in? It can be the financial watchdog scrutinising the flow of money and the award of contracts so as to ensure there is no corrupt practice by the neighbourhood committee members. The City Hall should also be the officiator for the annual committee elections, laying down the qualifying criteria for candidates.
Your neighbourhood is the place where you can make the difference you want to see. Know what you can do to make life worth living there.