Of Local Democracy and Governance 

By Mei Kuan

The Perak Academy hosted a 2-hour talk cum discussion with Dr Lim Mah Hui in conjunction with the launch of his book titled, “Local Democracy Denied?” recently.

The Zoom webinar also featured Victor Chew, a social activist and educationist as well as Chan Kok Keong, an advocate, solicitor and former Ipoh City Councillor as discussion panelists. Kenneth Cheng, a political columnist and member of Agora Society acted as the moderator.

Kicking the event off, Kenneth explained, “The organiser is hoping this will only be the first in a series of such webinars catering to local democracy and governance. We aim to organise many more webinars and this would serve as the first to perhaps catalyse or inspire ratepayers on how to reclaim their democratic rights in their local government. As the saying goes, ‘there must be no taxation without representation’.”

Dr Lim Mah Hui was a City Councillor in the Penang Island City Council for six years from 2011 to 2016 representing the Penang Forum. His professional experience included research and teaching in universities in Malaysia and the US, commercial and investment banking in US and Asia, and public service in Malaysia. He is also the author of “Ownership and Control of 100 Largest Companies in Malaysia” published in 1980 and “Nowhere To Hide: The Great Financial Crisis & Challenge for Asia” published in 2010.

His latest book, “Local Democracy Denied?” takes a unique and comprehensive approach in discussing local government. The 146-page paperback begins with the author’s personal journey to becoming a councillor as a representative of civil society. It illustrates how local government in Malaysia evolved from the election to selection of local councillors.

It then provides an examination of the structure of local government, its relationship with state governments, and some of the crucial functions it performs – planning, enforcement and provision of urban services. 

Brimming with real stories of how council decisions are made and implemented, as well as the frequent gap between the two, the book concludes with a call to revive local democracy by strengthening public participation in local government, empowering it and restoring local elections preferably based on proportional representation rather than first-past-the-post.

“There are three major reasons why I wrote the book. Very few books have been written on local government. To my knowledge, only three. One of the first ever written was by a British civil servant in 1949 who in its introduction says, ‘The man on the street knows very little about the functions of local government although its importance to him is very real and personal.’,” Dr Lim shared.

“It is to share my experience and put it on record since not very much has been written,” he added.

“This book is an inspiration. Those of you who want to be involved in the affairs of your town and city, this is a book that you must read. It is very well-presented, chapter by chapter,” Victor enthused. 

Meanwhile, Chan pointed out that despite not having a vote, one can make a contribution if one understands the Local Government Act and the history of local authorities in Malaysia.

Priced at RM25 per copy, interested readers can purchase the book from the Perak Academy which can be reached at 05 241 3742 or 016 412 3742. Ipohites are encouraged to pick up the book from the Perak Academy office located at 7-A (1st Floor), Jalan Tun Sambanthan, 30000 Ipoh (opposite Ipoh Padang). A postal fee of RM10 applies for delivery outside of Ipoh. For more updates, visit its website at 

Established in November 2002, the Perak Academy is an independent, privately-funded organisation with the primary objective of promoting interest in the state by encouraging discussion, scholarship and research.


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