New Housing and Local Government Minister, Zuraida Kamaruddin recently shared that local government elections will be implemented in three years’ time – let’s take a look at why this is relevant to homeowners.
Providing reasoning for the 3-year projection during a Parliamentary session held on 31st July, Zuraida said that such elections can only be done after the nation’s finances and economy stabilises. Also, for local councillors to be elected, several laws will have to be amended, including reintroducing of the Local Government Election Act 1960. In the meantime, the respective local councils will continue with the current system of appointing 24 local councillors from among community leaders.
Local council elections were actually a common practice during Malaya’s early days, but it was ended in the 1970s. Local elections were stopped because there was too much political involvement, but take note that Malaysian society is much more mature today. – Dr Hamidin Abd Hamid, Universiti Malaya Centre for Democracy and Election director Associate Professor in a NST interview, dated May 15, 2018.-
Many Malaysians are still a bit lost regarding the relevance of local governments to daily life. In fact, many of us are not even clear about how the government functions in Malaysia. In this article, we will take a look at:
- The Malaysian government system and how local councils fit into the picture
- The function of local councils
- The role of a councillor
- Importance of voting for the right person
Let’s dive right into it:
1. The Malaysian Government is a three-tiered system
When the nation goes to the polling booths during Election day, they know that they have to elect an assemblyman (known as Ahli Dewan Undangan Negeri or ADUN in Malay) for the state government and an MP (Member of Parliament) to represent them at the Federal Government level.
In this case, the Federal Government is the highest level of government. All MPs belong to the Dewan Rakyat, which is a part of Parliament. These MPs have a responsibility to debate and pass policies covering areas that affect the whole nation. These include education, health, foreign trade, defence, national security and more.
Certain MPs from the winning coalition or parties will be picked by the Prime Minister to become Ministers and Deputy Ministers. Their main job is to implement the laws and policies passed in Parliament and into the daily running of the country.
At state level, you have the second level of government which is the state government. Their jurisdiction differs from the Federal government. Many Malaysians make the mistake of thinking that the State Government is like a ‘branch outlet’ and the Federal Government is the ‘company headquarters’. In actual fact, they are quite mutually exclusive.
The Federal and State level governments do have joint jurisdictions, including over community welfare, town planning, scholarships, wildlife protection and others. However, the State Government has exclusive rights over Islamic laws, land usage, forestry and agriculture, water, river fishing, archaeology and heritage, among others. There are currently 13 State Governments in Malaysia, with the exception of Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and Labuan which are Federal Territories and directly administered by the Ministry of Federal Territories.
Right now, the State Government is directly responsible over the Local Governments. This makes the Local Governments the third and lowest level of government. The names of local governments depend largely on how developed the area is, and how densely populated it is. Developed areas like Kuala Lumpur have a City Hall ( Dewan Bandaraya) while suburban areas like Subang Jaya have a Municipal Council ( Majlis Perbandaran).
You would have heard of names like DBKL ( Dewan Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur), MPSJ ( Majlis Perbandaran Subang Jaya) and MPPJ ( Majlis Perbandaran Petaling Jaya) if you live around the Klang Valley. In more rural areas, Local Governments take the name of Majlis Daerah (District Councils), such as Majlis Daerah Hulu Langat and Majlis Daerah Kuala Langat in Selangor.
2. What do Local Governments do?
Local governments are actually pretty visible in your everyday lives. You see their cleaners on the road sweeping up dried leaves, clearing drains and trimming overgrown trees. That is because all these are part of their jurisdiction. To lay it out clearly, here are the main duties of the local authorities:
#1 Sanitation and cleaning services, such as sweeping up roads, disposal of rubbish, waste management and the like.
#2 Maintaining local clinics and dispensaries to provide affordable health care for the public.
#3 Being caretakers of public health, working with the Ministry of Health to contain disease outbreaks and putting into effect preventive measures as well as raising awareness.
#4 Providing affordable public housing, like PPR flats.
#5 Maintaining and building recreational facilities for the public including playgrounds, sports centres, parks, swimming pools and event halls.
#6 Manage vendors and market stalls to ensure that they comply with local standards.
#7 Enforce local traffic rules such as issuing summonses for unpaid parking fees and erroneous parking.
#8 Build and maintain public water supplies and pipes.
#9 Maintenance and repair of local roads as well as signage, such as lines of the road, signboards and traffic lights.
#10 Collect taxes in the form of assessment tax.
#11 Grant licenses for businesses, vendors, public events and the like.
#12 Regulating building construction and renovations to ensure safety in accordance with a set guideline.
3. What does a councillor do?
All local governments are headed either by a Mayor (Datuk Bandar) in urban areas or a President (Yang Di-Pertua) for rural districts. They are assisted by a team of councillors (Ahli Majlis Tempatan). All of them are elected by the state government. The number of councillors for each local government differs according to its size and population density.
Councillors are responsible for planning and implementing local improvement programs. These can include upgrading traffic flows for smoother traffic, beautification of certain areas, introducing laws to reduce pollution, designing new recycling programs and so on. Another important role of the councillor is to attend to the complaints of local residents with regards to structural and physical issues in the area.
Right now, many councillors are assistants or aides of ADUNS and MPs. Not all, but a sizeable majority. Some political parties practise the system of electing junior party members that they feel have potential to become future leaders to the position of councillors as sort of a ‘training ground’ so that they learn the administrative system and gain maturity in dealing with the public.
Examples of these include YB Rajiv Rishyakaran (ADUN Bukit Gasing), the late Eddie Ng Tien Chee (former ADUN of Balakong) and Jamaliah Jamaluddin (ADUN Bandar Utama). Other councillors are elected for their extensive experience in certain fields, like engineering or architecture, while certain ones are elected to represent minorities like the disabled or Orang Asli.
4. Importance of selecting the right man/woman for the job
New Housing and Local Government Minister, Zuraida Kamaruddin has promised that local government elections will be implemented in three years’ time and a complete study is now being carried out. If things go according to plan, Selangor and Penang look set to be the first states to have local government elections. Otherwise, it will be done in stages.
It remains unclear whether voters will only get to choose a Mayor/President as head of the local government, or whether they will be allowed to vote in councillors as well.
Electing local councillors will be a step forward for democracy, as many believe that councilmen and women will be accountable to their constituents, and not the party leadership that elected them to the position. The current system of putting party members as councillors or as Mayors/Presidents is seen as political patronage and area governance is not transparent enough as they only involve internal party decision-making.
Secondly, local government elections will increase your engagement with councillors regarding the issues that affect you and your property. These include issues like sanitation, cleanliness, traffic flow and health. When you have the right to vote, you will also be better heard
For now, the majority of us do not even know who to call or where to go when the drains in front of our houses overflow, or if there is a fallen tree blocking our neighbourhood entrance. Personally, my only real interaction with the local government has been paying my parking summonses. Hopefully, as we progress to having this third tier election, more channels of communication will open up.
Edited by Reena Kaur Bhatt