I HAVE been retained as a councillor in the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) by the-powers-that-be and have agreed to continue serving for a third year. The following are my personal thoughts about being a councillor for the past two years.
Petaling Jaya residents are often quick to organise themselves to stand up for their rights against large corporations. These can be anything from the management of a condominium to a developer of a proposed project next door.
The effectiveness of such protests usually hinge on the residents’ unity and the sacrifice the group’s leaders are willing to make, as the challenges that await these protesting residents are many.
In many instances, I have witnessed resident groups starting the fight with bravado, only to see their numbers dwindle as the defamation lawsuits fly their way.
The tools at a large corporation’s disposal aren’t limited to legal threats: I have also witnessed intimidation by gangsters.
Subtler but no less effective is the reported attempts of bribing resident leaders to keep them quiet. This leaves the protesting few that remain easily branded as troublemakers. It also makes trusting your neighbour all the more difficult.
Helping residents avoid being caught in such sticky situations is where I come in, as the local council is a regulating body for many of the issues that residents protest against.
To be an effective intermediary, I must have all the relevant information at my fingertips. Sadly, working in an environment where transparency and accountability isn’t a standard, getting access to all the information I need is sometimes difficult, even through official channels.
Indeed, my experience with certain government departments includes:
- Lengthy response time – about a month or more – to my inquiries.
- No reply forthcoming despite repeated reminders.
- A reply with only a portion of the questions answered.
- A reply with answers to questions I did not ask.
Thankfully, I am not without resources, and contacts made during my many years as a journalist have been able to help me piece together the information I need. With limited resources and having multiple threads of issues to follow, information gathering takes time, and people with no patience often accuse me of being useless or corrupt.
Those who understand the difficulties I face as a councillor are appreciative and thankful, and I draw inspiration from their gratitude to continue doing what I do.
Fear and faith
Sticking my nose into the issues residents face also subjects me to the same threats and bribe offers the resident groups encounter. To assure the public that I will not sway, I often state my stand in letters to the residents and in my column on The Nut Graph.
In making these public statements, I am often asked: “Aren’t you afraid?” The question stems from the fact that I do not hide behind the veil of anonymity when I voice my opinion, and any offended party can easily single me out for persecution.
I do not have unlimited resources, or fantastical fighting skills if confronted by gangsters. But I do have a sound mind to work out solutions for the problems I encounter, and faith in the Almighty for problems that are completely beyond my ability to manage.
Another often-asked question is: “How do you make ends meet with the RM1,800 to RM2,000 per month the local council pays you?” Well, I do complain about it, but that is just human nature.
It isn’t difficult to survive with the money I earn, but it is difficult to save. Again, having faith matters, as there are times when I do need extra money for emergencies. And somehow, God provides.
MBPJ councillor KW Mak would like to someday return – via legal means – to an income bracket that allows him to pay taxes, as the benefit of having free parking in Petaling Jaya as a councillor is really overrated.
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