Sssh (Pic by ehlert / sxc.hu)DING Jo-Ann‘s commentary about the government’s policy of silence got me wondering if the same holds true for the Petaling Jaya City Council, or MBPJ. Do we practise the same deafening silence?
I shall answer that question with a story.
Not mine to give
Once, a group of Section 19, Petaling Jaya residents demanded for the building plans of the development project next door to them. I did not see any harm in the request, so I promptly requested for the building plans on their behalf.
To my surprise, I was told that my request could not be granted. No explanation was given. But I was informed that the residents could go to the council, with me accompanying them, to look at the plans. I pursued the matter at the council’s full board meeting, and got consensus from my fellow councillors and the state assemblypersons for the documents to be given to the residents.
I argued that the Town and Country Planning Act required that residents within 20m of a proposed project must be consulted before approval was given. And if the residents of other areas could get the building plans, I could not understand why the council officers were so reluctant to release these documents.
I thought the matter was settled.
But once again, I was told that I could accompany the residents to have a look at the plans but they could not have a copy of it. This was purportedly because under the Uniform Building Bylaws, the building plans were the developer’s property.
Council officers refuted my arguments with regard to the Town and Country Planning Act by saying that the layout plans were earlier given out voluntarily by the developer as part of their attempt to get the project approved. Therefore, the developer would now have to voluntarily give the documents to these residents, too. Except the project had already been approved and the developer did not want to expose themselves to further protests.
The dispute between the developer and the residents has since been resolved, as I managed to get both sides to mutually negotiate their demands.
Conflict (Pic by Rolffimages / Dreamstime)The point of this column is not about the dispute between developer and residents. What I want to highlight is that the arguments back and forth occurred over two months. In that time, the MBPJ was essentially silent on the matter. The reasons for not releasing the documents were made known to me but not to the residents. As a councillor, I could not answer questions about the delay. This fuelled the anger and frustration of the residents, who were only demanding their rights.
Guilty by association
As the issue played out, the residents turned to the media to highlight their frustration with the MBPJ. At the Malaysian Bar Council website, where the news was reproduced, a commenter asks: “Of what function is this specific councillor if he or she cannot answer the following questions?”
But how am I, or any other councillor, supposed to answer these questions when everything the council talks about has the word “Sulit” slapped on it? How am I to represent the residents’ interest openly when I am required to swear by the Official Secrets Act upon my oath-taking as a councillor?
It didn’t matter that I was trying to help the residents behind the scenes, I was guilty by association. While some of the residents understood my role and limitations, there were others who were more inclined to call me useless and corrupt because of the council’s silence.
The issue of accessing information from the MBPJ is made more complicated by certain double standards that are in place. In a case that I am presently investigating, a property developer somehow managed to obtain confidential council investigation reports on a residential unit which had done renovations without council approval.
(Pic by spekulator / sxc.hu)The investigation was launched after the developer complained about the unit. The developer then used the council’s reports to sue the owner of the residential unit.
Regardless of whether the unit owner was right or wrong in doing the renovations, the report should have been kept between the local council and the unit owner. Penalties or warnings could have been issued to the owner according to procedure. Instead, however, the report was somehow made available to the developer so that it could take legal action against the unit owner.
In the face of such situations, which smack of double standards and a lack of accountability, it is hard to blame the public for having the kind of perception it has of government.
MBPJ councillor KW Mak wonders if he will be told off, yet again, that the articles he writes are too controversial.
Read previous Ampersand columns
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