Open up local council meetings to public

By Liew Chin Tong

Budget 2018 has been debated for nine days at the committee stage in Parliament, and MPs are giving their views on the details of each ministry’s budget.

When I debated the budget for the urban wellbeing, housing and local government ministry, I emphasised that local councils must perform their role in a manner that is open, transparent and credible.

This includes making the local councils’ budget publicly available to taxpayers, opening up the city halls for public hearing sessions and making the full board meeting of municipal councils accessible to the public.

In Johor, there are at least 10 city halls and municipal councils that do not have public hearings. Even elected state legislators who are concerned about local issues are being prevented by the local government from doing so.

This violates the provisions of the Local Government Act 1976. The housing ministry must instruct and ensure that all local councils allow for public hearings in accordance with the law.
Taxpayers who pay assessment rates to local councils should also have the right to know how the councils are utilising their tax revenues.

Therefore, the annual budget estimates of local governments must also be uploaded to the internet for public inspection. This is so the public can know that the taxes extracted from the people are being used for their benefit and to upgrade local facilities.

For 2018, the allocated operating expenditure for the housing ministry was RM2.98 billion, of which RM1.25 billion was allocated to the National Solid Waste Management Department (JPSPN), together with RM892.2 million to its implementing agency, the Solid Waste Management and Public Cleansing Corporation (SWCorp). Hence, more than 40% of the ministry’s expenditure was spent on the agency responsible for the waste management in areas such as Johor, Pahang and Kuala Lumpur.

Malaysia’s solid waste management must undergo a paradigm shift. The billions spent on rubbish disposal could actually benefit both the country and its people. The key is that the labour policy must prioritise Malaysians and also invest in automation for equipment such as garbage trucks.

The example has been set by Penang. The Seberang Perai Municipal Council (MPSP) uses automation and technological upgrades in waste management, coupled with higher wages and benefits for its workers. By offering a total package of RM1,900, they are able to encourage Malaysians to engage in 3D (dirty, difficult and dangerous) vocations, hence reducing dependence on foreign labour.

When we change the way we handle our solid waste management, we can create a rising tide that lifts all boats, leading the way to a model of high skills, high wages, and high productivity industries. In other words, workers in different industries also benefit from such policies. This is also the model employed by most advanced cities, and Penang, which should be emulated by the federal government.

I want to remind the ministry to pay heed to the climate change that has caused the worst floods to hit Penang in decades. Global metropolises such as Houston and New York have also faced floods. As cities around the world grapple with this new reality, Malaysia’s local governments need to be prepared to deal with unforeseen disasters.

In addition, I would like to bring attention to the fire in Johor Bahru’s Sultanah Aminah Hospital, which occurred on Oct 25, 2016. One year later, the housing ministry and the Fire and Rescue Department must have learnt their lesson from this incident.

There is a need to work with the hospitals to take adequate fire prevention measures to ensure that this tragedy does not repeat itself in other hospitals. I urge the housing ministry to forgo the intention to take over the Malaysian Volunteer Fire Rescue Association, and to focus instead on how to encourage concerned citizens to join the association.

Credit companies and pawn shops under the purview of the housing ministry should also be included under the jurisdiction of the finance ministry, and monitored by Bank Negara so that these companies and shops can be governed under the policies of the finance ministry and Bank Negara, otherwise the country may easily fall into a financial crisis.

Liew Chin Tong is Kluang MP and DAP central executive council member.

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