JANUARY 4 — Give up 12 annual leave days and save democracy in the Klang Valley.
Sounds like a plan? Then read on.
Forget the general election and the political parties, for citizen groups can affect change on their own terms.
There is only one place in our adolescent democracy where participation is rife, speaking to power is within touching distance and news travels at alarming rate inside the resident associations (RA).
It does not get any livelier.
Yet their usefulness is dampened by their need for co-operation from local councils. Almost all issues involve the third tier of power.
Therefore, demand from the 12 local councils in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur’s City Hall an observer’s spot for each RA at respective council’s full board meeting.
What is a full board meeting?
All local councils’ substantive issues are decided at these meetings, at least 12 in a year.
No buts, no ifs.
If every RA inside a local council sat in for these meetings chaired by the local council president (or mayors) the tone of the meetings will radically change.
Find out which mall has been approved, and whether the business viability has been considered. Realise the stretches chosen for the annual Ramadan bazaars and if enough consideration has been taken for the traffic madness caused by them.
Understand why they chose to change the timing for the traffic light across to where your mother-in-law lives. Listen as they list down the cleaning up carried out to reduce the dengue epidemic.
Discover the rationale for vehicle clamping on an empty streets and inaction over parked buses in busy thoroughfares. Learn about the distinction between their decisions and instructions from the mentri besar’s office.
Instead of guessing how governing works, see it in motion.
Is this possible? Not only is it possible, it was supposed to happen.
Malaysia’s Local Government Act 1976, (Article 23, Part IV):
“All meetings of the local authority shall be open to the public and to representatives of the Press unless the local authority by resolution at the meeting otherwise decides:
Provided that this section shall not apply to any Committee of the local authority unless such Committee by resolution otherwise decides.”
Not just RAs, but regular folks can access unless specifically ruled by the board that they don’t want us riff raff among them. That we are not kosher enough for their cultured selves.
If that is the case, let them write back to RAs’ official requests to attend board meetings. It would be brilliant to see in print with the council’s letterhead and the president’s signature that they have passed a resolution to bar the rakyat from council board meetings.
And even if the councils reject, surely Mentri Besar Azmin Ali with his repeated stance that the people must be prioritised in Selangor, as in Peduli Rakyat (Care for the people policy), will politely inform the councils to allow RA representatives to attend the meetings.
After all, all 24 councillors for each council — 288 in total — are appointed by him, and he has the prerogative to remove every council president even if they are seconded to their posts by the federal government.
I’ll be wishful about Kuala Lumpur City Hall, that the Federal Territories Minister Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor will extend the same courtesy.
Firstly, when attending these meetings, be prepared to be bored. If university lecturers are suffocating, these will be mind-numbing. RA office bearers can alternate, so perhaps more bearable, no?
But pay attention, key decisions must be passed in these meetings. The president is disallowed from arbitrarily deciding outside these meetings. Wait especially for the annual budget session where details of expenditures will be available.
There are so many wins from the sheer presence at these meetings.
Right off the bat, RA representatives can speak at resident meetings with greater authority about decisions made by the councils. It is not guesstimates or based on the body language of the town planning director when bumping into him at the cinema. The power of first person accounts is immense.
Some councils may argue they have too many RAs, probably in the hundreds and it is not feasible for them to fit into a meeting room. Sharp point, then use any number of empty halls at the disposal of the council. Taxpayers would be most happy to accommodate a better sound system so the proceedings are heard loud and clear. Even the recording of them.
And don’t politicians enjoy an audience? The councillors will feel more duty bound to speak about issues if they are cognisant those affected by the issues are present. There will be no place to hide. Plus, some councillors who find themselves in the minority on issues, can lean on the presence of the rakyat in the room to push for lost causes.
Council presidents will be less inclined to shut down dissent from councillors when so many eyes are on him or her.
There is the tiny worry of not getting notice about the meetings, but surely the respective councillors will be eager to share immediately with all the WhatsApp groups they have been added to when they get an invite. Surely.
The sessions often start late and they most certainly won’t invite observers to the board meeting refreshments, so RA representatives can make friends with each other. Exchange emails and Facebook contacts. Go to town with Instagram. The network of RAs can lead to greater cohesion and purpose for the council, a dollop of democratic camaraderie.
Though, the greatest gift of access is that the aura of mystery surrounding political decision making is dispelled. It is only X number of individuals in suits approving or rejecting a bunch of documents. The next guy can do it, in fact he’d be bolder to aspire.
Woody Allen said that 80 per cent of life is showing up, and how much more life-affirming can it be than to sit and observe how so many things critical to our lives are being decided? Most Malaysians are confused about military procurement, but there is no household disinterested in filthy drains.
It has personal value. Any of the RA reps sitting through these board meetings will possess a different perspective when he or she drives in the municipality thereafter.
“That’s the snooker hall which had to wait longer for a fire department approval because the previous owner had an illegal extension. Look the mamak is opened after paying the fine and forcing all its workers to get typhoid jabs. Oh wonderful, the park is cleaner now the old vendor’s contract has been cancelled.”
It personalises local government and further it alerts political pundits that if all real change comes from the bottom up, then notice has been served.
I believe it is akin to handing to the pitchfork over to the rakyat.
It’s not theory, it’s change.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.