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Managing change responsibly

THE media can sometimes be full of public sentiment calling for change. But few people appreciate the amount of work that needs to be done to effect that change.

I believe in doing things by the book to ensure that reforms are not arbitrary, and whatever action taken is fair to all. To do so requires not only meetings with all stakeholders but also consultation with legal experts. This can be a lengthy process.

Very often however, the public tends to view such an approach as being too slow, and if not thrashed out in the media, lacking in transparency.

Not so simple

theSun editor R Nadeswaran quoted one of my previous articles on transparency and good corporate governance to lament about the seeming lack of transparency and action against an illegal funeral parlour along Jalan Gasing in Petaling Jaya.

Nadeswaran argues his case and then accuses the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) of not being willing to “throw the law books” at the people behind the parlour. However, closer scrutiny would show that the issue is not as simple as the facts that were presented. Indeed, the law books would have been thrown back at MBPJ if the council had acted solely on the facts presented by Nadeswaran.

I am not at liberty to divulge the information related to the case because there are some sensitivities involved, but MBPJ will ensure that the funeral parlour ceases its services by the end of December 2008, and that it moves to a more suitable location.

The Sivan Temple atop Bukit Gasing is another sensitive matter, with the large illegal structure situated on unstable ground and looming over a condominium below it.

The danger of the unsteady slope was confirmed in an independent survey by Kumpulan Ikram Sdn Bhd, which also made recommendations for rectification works. A stop-work order from MBPJ was issued in 2007. That order was ignored and sadly, because of political influence then, the council did not enforce the stop-work order.

When councillors A Thiruvenggadam and Derek Fernandez highlighted the danger again recently and arranged for MBPJ to issue a second stop-work order, MBPJ was attacked. The temple authorities accused MBPJ of being non-consultative.

Despite these assertions, MBPJ has all the paperwork to prove otherwise. The local council will also be working closely with the Selangor government to ensure that the temple does not collapse and jeopardise the lives of temple devotees and condominium residents living below.

In both the cases of the funeral parlour and the temple, Bukit Gasing state assemblyperson Edward Lee, from the DAP, took the initiative to meet with the committees of both religious organisations. With MBPJ officers in tow, Lee did the necessary fact-finding to understand the complexities of the cases instead of playing them out in public through the media.

Some quarters have accused Lee as being too lenient, but the local council needs to be absolutely sure that when it acts in the public’s interest, all legal issues are taken into account. Thanks to the groundwork that was done, MBPJ can now take the necessary legal action against the committees of these organisations.

Dangers of ill-preparation

One other case I would like to highlight is the Bandar Mahkota, Cheras toll issue that escalated into street demonstrations, which were reported extensively in May 2008.

Residents of the area clearly suffered due to the closure of the slip road that would help thousands of motorists bypass a tolled road. But without doing proper homework, the new Pakatan Rakyat-led Selangor government announced a populist move to open up the slip road. The decision was based on one fact alone — that the barricade was located within Selangor’s borders, not Kuala Lumpur’s.

Although the state government did not remove the barricade, the announcement set the stage for a confrontation between the people and the private toll concessionaire. In one such confrontation that turned ugly, mechanic Chang Jiun Haur, 23, was allegedly beaten up by Federal Reserve Unit personnel.

While the entire episode played out somewhat in Pakatan Rakyat’s favour, it could have ended up really ugly had Chang been killed.

On hindsight, perhaps a legal team could have been assembled to study the case. The case could have been taken to court to determine if the toll concessionaire had the right to close the road. In the meantime, an injunction against the road closure could have been filed which would have resulted in the peaceful removal of the barricade.

The results would have been the same as it now stands, minus the spectacle.

New to the job

Allowing sensitive issues to be played out in the media before a government body does the necessary homework can lead to unfavourable consequences.

Even I have made mistakes during my first four months as a councillor. In my quest to implement changes that I thought were necessary, I have instead placed MBPJ in a lawsuit, due to a legal technicality that was not observed. The mistake will end up costing taxpayers several thousand ringgit in legal fees, which I regret. As much as I would like to see change, I have learnt that I must be responsible for my actions.

Let’s face the fact that many Pakatan Rakyat elected representatives are new to the job. They, too, need to learn how government works.

It is learnt that effort is under way to equip the elected representatives with legal and administrative knowledge of how government works. This would enable them to better address the issues faced by their constituents.

This would be infinitely better than watching politicians from both sides take pot shots at one another for their respective mistakes.

A lot of work is obviously needed for a local government system that needs fixing. That requires learning on all levels. Unfortunately that learning may take time before meaningful changes happen.

KW Mak is a DAP member and party-appointed MBPJ councillor. He apologises to his girlfriend, family and cats for not spending more time with them, and appreciates their support and understanding.


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