THERE were congratulations aplenty when I was appointed councillor for the Petaling Jaya City Council, or MBPJ. I was happy too, but not necessarily for the same reasons people were congratulating me.
For some of my contacts, it was a chance to be associated with someone “in power”. Sad to say, the only “power” or privilege I have is free parking within Petaling Jaya.
Granted, I have access to a yearly development fund worth RM50,000 for small projects in the areas I oversee, and already there are contractors asking me if they can carry out any work. But I prefer for residents to be the ones requesting for funding for community projects, so I shall not be handing out any awards until I familiarise myself with their needs.
There’s work — loads of it. Within the first week of being sworn in, I met with five residents associations on issues involving the formation of the Joint Management Body (under the Building and Common Property [Maintenance and Management] Act 2007, which transfers the powers of managing stratified properties from the developer to residents). There was also a dispute between residents and a developer over a project in Section 19.
There is a lot of reading to do, especially on the application of laws and the council’s processes and procedures. These were contained in a nice leather briefcase given to us on the day of our swearing in before the Mayor.
MBPJ briefcase containing a yellow tie, several
law books, and a schedule of official council
meetings. Not shown are the parking sticker and
400-page Budget 2008 book The law books in the briefcase were the Town and Country Planning Act 1976; the Local Government Act 1976; the Streets, Drainage and Building Act 1974; Standing Orders (Meeting) (Petaling Jaya City Council) 2007; and — my least favourite — the Official Secrets Act 1972, which allows for government documents to be arbitrarily declared an official secret.
There is also a 400-page book on the council’s 2008 budget, which we have to read because the council’s debate on the budget for 2009 and 2010 is due after a public briefing in late August.
The workbag also contained a yellow MBPJ tie, a parking sticker for free parking in PJ, a car crest with the MBPJ logo and the words “Ahli Majlis MBPJ”, a directory of all council department numbers, and a standing order for councillor conduct.
Councillors are divided into working committees for different functions within MBPJ such as traffic, finance, town planning and licensing. Quite a bit of reading needs to be done of the minutes of previous meetings; policies are debated by these working committees, and decisions are presented at the full council meeting for endorsement.
Work aside, there’s the matter of party duties and responsibilities. During a meeting on 23 June at the Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah Building involving several top DAP state leaders and the six MBPJ party councillors, myself included, we were told we could not disobey party directives: whatever our disagreements, once a decision is made, all councillors have to follow it. A party whip has been appointed from among the councillors whom the DAP leadership will deal with exclusively.
We were also made to sign away our first month’s allowance (RM500 plus RM150 for every official meeting we attend up to a maximum of seven meetings, which adds up to RM1,550) from MBPJ to the DAP. This is a new party requirement as it’s the first time the DAP has had councillors in local government.
It is not peculiar, however, to the councillors themselves, as DAP state assemblypersons and MPs are required to sign away 15% to 25% of their monthly salary to the party, depending on whether they are full- or part-time. This has been standard practice since the party’s formation as it is one of the party’s few sources of income, aside fundraising dinners and donations.
I have much to learn as a first-time councillor and newbie in politics. Already, the learning curve is steep, and time has become more precious than ever. But here is an opportunity for me to walk the talk. As a journalist, I was critical from the outside; now I am on the inside, and perhaps can make a difference from this vantage point.
KW Mak was a reporter for nine years before becoming a councillor in July 2008. He wants to stress that there are only four people within the council who can cancel parking fines. He is not one of them.