MOST ratepayers are unlikely to know this. But according to the Local Government Act, if a local council incurs a debt it cannot pay, ratepayers can be compelled to pay up instead. Section 45 of the Local Government Act states that should the local council default in payment of a loan for three months, the matter can be brought to court. And the High Court can order that rates be imposed on all ratepayers to help pay off the debt.
The issue here is not a hypothetical “what if”. The Petaling Jaya City Council or MBPJ has already been slapped with a lawsuit demanding millions of ringgit in compensation for an alleged deal that went sour. Suffice to say then that it would be prudent for ratepayers to know exactly what decisions councillors make on their behalf. After all, the wrong decisions could lead to a debt that affects ratepayers across the board.
But do ratepayers have enough access to the council’s decision-making? And do ratepayers themselves care to find out?
Information on local council decisions is limited. Some councillors even argue that because the public don’t ask for information, it need not be provided.
But the Local Government Act also states that the local council is a body corporate for all ratepayers. Technically, as a body corporate, the MBPJ should be producing annual reports and providing information to the public whether they ask for it or not.
Actually, the council did produce annual reports for ratepayers once upon a time. The last time an annual report was produced, however, was in 1992.
The report had each department list out the problems they were tackling and provided a statement on how these problems would be dealt with. Details like the number of billboards and the expected number of future development projects were stated clearly within the annual report. The report is an important aspect of being transparent that the MBPJ should reinstate.
There is further impetus to make public all contracts that the local council signs. A recent court ruling insists that the government cannot simply slap “sulit” on documents and contracts that are of public interest. And surely, local councils are all about public interest since the entire reason for their existence is to provide public services.
Bur regardless of how much some of us in government may demand for some things to be done, they are meaningless if the public does not also push for the same things.
Take for example my previous column about demanding for the local council’s meeting minutes, which the law actually allows for. To date, no one has bothered to test whether they can gain access to the meeting minutes.
What exactly are the people waiting for, I wonder?
Ignorance and apathy about the way things work allows those with ill-intent to dictate the way local government is run, even if it is contrary to public interest. For this reason, as a two-term councillor, I have sought to learn as much as I can about the local council and administrative laws such as the Town and Country Planning Act and the Local Government Act.
My findings and observations here in The Nut Graph may not be sensational. But local council issues and these administrative laws affect our daily lives and the public on a much wider scale than any political scandal. These issues may be mundane compared to the politics of the land, but they clearly deserve as much attention from politicians and the public if our society is to be governed well.
As the Selangor government has yet to formalise the appointment of councillors for the next one-year term, KW Mak is just another Petaling Jaya ratepayer at the moment. He still does not know how exactly councillors are vetted and chosen.
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