ONE might think that as a Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) councillor, getting answers from local authorities and government departments would be relatively easier. It is, in fact, one of the biggest challenges I face. Indeed, even when I receive “answers”, they are seldom satisfactory and instead pose more questions, which, then again, go unanswered.
Take the open letter I wrote to MBPJ mayor Datuk Mohd Roslan Sakiman in March 2011 on the Paramount View condominium development. This was a follow-up letter to one I wrote in November 2010 which went unanswered.
In my letters, I pointed out what seems to be serious discrepancies over MBPJ’s approval of the Paramount View development. I stated that MBPJ’s 2005 approval seemed to be granted based on land titles registered in 1993. However, a 2003 government gazette had revoked all land titles for the area for the purpose of building low-cost housing, calling into question the validity of the 2005 approval. There is also the existence of a new 2007 land title for the area that obviously postdates the 2005 approval.
The mayor’s office replied me in April 2011, but it didn’t answer my queries for clarification on these issues. It merely stated that the 2003 government gazette sets aside the land for low-cost housing under the Program Perumahan Rakyat (PPR). Then, it said the 2007 land title for a residential building does not conflict with MBPJ’s 2005 development approval. It did not explain how approval was granted when the land had been set aside for low-cost housing. Neither did it say how the land title for residential housing could be issued after approval was granted.
So five months after my first letter, I’m still stuck without an adequate answer on how MBPJ’s development approval for Paramount View is valid.
This experience, however, is not unfamiliar to me. I encountered similar responses when I queried the council’s billboard policy, and when I raised the issue of the senior government officers owning low-cost flats.
How to reply letters
The Panduan Pengurusan Pejabat book, a set of office guidelines for government departments, has details on how to treat letters received internally. The following excerpt is self-explanatory:
“Semua surat yang diterima hendaklah diambil tindakan segera. Sekiranya surat itu memerlukan jawapan segera, ia hendaklah dibalas dalam masa yang singkat.”
It goes on to state: “Sekiranya jawapan segera tidak dapat diberikan, penulis surat itu hendaklah dimaklumkan melalui surat akuan terima yang menyatakan bahawa jawapan yang lengkap akan disusuli dalam satu jangka masa yang dinyatakan.”
The book’s introduction states that the contents are to be adopted by all government departments and agencies from the time they were issued. From an organisational perspective, this is akin to a head office giving instruction to all branch offices to follow a set of instructions.
Of course, regardless of what the introduction on the book says, a policy is not valid until the local council formally adopts it at the council’s full board meeting. I am uncertain whether the council has adopted these operation guidelines, since the council management does not seem to view the slow and vague responses as a disciplinary problem.
So why did the officers not reply me with a proper answer complete with references of how they reached their conclusions? Perhaps it is because they cannot answer, as the next example illustrates.
While I was dealing with the collapsed river wall of Ken Damansara 3 earlier this year, I found that the development’s planning permission layout plan states that the building would be 22 storeys in height. Yet, somehow, what was on site was a 24-storey building. Under the Town and Country Planning Act, the planning permission is the first step in the development process, and subsequent documentation must comply with it.
In attempting to explain the discrepancy, a building department officer said there was nothing wrong with the additional floors because the plot ratio for the land was not exceeded. The officer also explained that one of the additional floors housed utilities and therefore did not count towards the floor limit. He added that another floor was half a floor in the basement and apparently also did not count.
When I enquired where such an interpretation could be found, the officer said the policy was from the town planning department, but added that this was only told to him verbally. I asked the officer for written confirmation of what he had told me. I have not heard anything yet.
As a councillor, I am not directly empowered to discipline officers, so perhaps the effects of not answering me promptly and adequately are possibly inconsequential. But councillor or not, I believe that the public should expect its council to be able to provide adequate explanations on matters within its purview.
Meanwhile, as councillor, I am answerable to the public that raised these issues for me to investigate. For now, I am yet unable to answer many questions until I receive proper replies from the council.
MBPJ councillor KW Mak took a walk in Kuala Lumpur on 9 July 2011. He is proud to have walked among fellow Malaysians and happy to have met so many wonderful people along the way.