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The public’s demands

                                                      (Pic by leocub /
AFTER the March 2008 general election, a smartly dressed couple approached a Pakatan Rakyat (PR) Member of Parliament (MP). They told the MP that their son had scored 10 As for his PMR exams, and they expected the MP to purchase a laptop for him.

The MP’s reply was priceless: “Don’t privatise your responsibility as parents to me.”

That’s just one of the examples of the kinds of demands that are made on politicians. However, there are other demands on serious issues that affect the public, and that have no easy answers, which do require parliamentarians’ attention.

Real concerns

The following are examples of what urban voters approach their parliamentarians about — some of which I am involved in and trying to sort out — that do not have a clear-cut resolution:

Strata title for high-rise property owners. Despite the law requiring strata titles to be issued nine months after the developer hands over a property to the buyer, this isn’t necessarily enforced because of numerous technicalities. Among these is the fact that the development did not follow the project’s approved plans.

Illegal property development on land allocated for a public facility. The construction of a commercial building on such land pits buyers against existing residents who want the public facility.

Former squatter residents who were polled and promised low-cost apartments, but who were not allocated any unit after a project is completed. At the same time, local council officers somehow manage to purchase low-cost units meant for the poor.

The continuation of these problems often results in threats of voting for the other party during meetings between the local government and residents.

Legal loopholes

These problems I have highlighted involve property developers in one way or another. The technical departments, by right, should be collating the complaints and presenting the solutions to the local councillors for us to debate. However, the residents’ complaints are often symptoms of a more complicated issue that cannot be addressed administratively.

When these problems are eventually debated in-depth, we discover a lacuna in the laws that are exploited by property developers. There are also other equally crippling legalities that prevent action from being taken by the respective government agencies.

Information leaks, coupled with the lack of standard operating procedures within the local council, makes it a frustrating exercise to track down and punish the officers responsible for putting the government in such a legally vexatious position.

It doesn’t help when the developer sues politicians and residents midway through attempts to negotiate and resolve the problem. The process then gets stuck in a legal battle that can take years to resolve.

What are our MPs doing to plug legal loopholes?

Elections and promises

The urban electorate does not see the separation of powers between the local, state and federal government, even if they understand it conceptually. The common viewpoint is that an MP has the power to tell a lower-ranking state assemblyperson and local councillor to get things done. This also accounts for residents’ love of name-dropping.

Thus, whether an MP likes it or not, he or she must get involved in matters relating to the state and local government. If the MP does not, the public will ask the politicians a simple question come elections: “Why haven’t you resolved our problem?”

This isn’t an entirely negative thing. A hands-on MP would be able to understand the technical legalities affecting the government’s function. The MP would then be able to recommend, as a political leader, the institutional changes that need to be done within government. Additionally, the MP could push for legal reforms in Parliament to ensure that the laws cover the loopholes that are exploited.

That is, of course, the ideal theoretical concept. The reality remains that the PR lacks a clearly defined structure between the various political parties beyond the upper-tier leadership. This has resulted in communication breakdown and misunderstandings.

Additionally, the parliamentary process remains dominated by rhetorical argument instead of actual debate on how current laws do not enable government agencies to function. In view of all these, MPs may just have to continue making promises to the electorate they can’t keep in order to win their seats.

MBPJ councillor KW Mak wishes he could take the public and reporters into meetings so they can hear for themselves and understand the mess that our government is in.

Read previous Ampersand columns

See also: What is an MP?

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5 Responses to “The public’s demands”

  1. Mikazuki says:

    The idea of asking the MPs to buy a laptop for their children’s achievement is just ridiculous. What were they thinking? But it’s not wrong for the public to ask for more [logical] demands from their selected parliamentary representative. It’s their right to be able to approach the MPs and ask for help in certain matters..

    Most residents have no idea how the laws function in our daily [lives], and that can be a problem as the legal situation with our premises is mind bending to say the least. But if the laws aren’t helping the people, I think it’s time for a total overhaul of our legal system. For that to happen, the term “working together” applies to each and every person who seeks better change for Malaysia.

  2. Cadraver says:

    Midway through attempts? Wouldn’t you say that some actions would be deemed as too late, such as in the case of Kg Buah Pala, where the Penang government tried to play it in favour of the residents there, but failed because of transactions in previous administrations?

    But then, in the case of strata titles and so forth, is it really the prerogative of the MP to attend to matters of council, or the ADUN’s? Or am I getting mixed up here?

  3. thokiat says:

    Kalau ada prk (pilihanraya kecil), pengundi tersebut pasti dah boleh dapat komputer idaman anak daripada BEnd.

  4. Neptunian says:

    The real beef about errant developers, of which there are many, is simply corruption.

    Even without corruption, the problems will be many, especially in high-rise development. Malaysian laws have not caught up with the times and with how city development has changed. Of course, this also boils down to corrupt practices. Having ill-defined laws is always advantageous to government officers in the position to make some “corrupt” bucks.

    It does not take a genius to develop development laws, as we are not on the forefront of innovation when it comes to development. We can simply take the law books from Singapore or any advanced country, throw out articles that are not relevant to us and presto, we have a comprehensive set of development laws that should cover most development types. However, instead of doing it the easy way, our government insists on being on the forefront of innovative corrupt practice.

  5. KW Mak says:

    @ Cadraver

    My point exactly, is that it isn’t the prerogative of the MP to get involved in local government matters, but that they get dragged in because the public does not know who else they can turn to if not the politicians.

    In the example of strata titles, the Strata Titles Act required developers to get the strata titles issued within 9 months. Under the previous government, this was never complied with, which was why the Federal Government had to come up with an interim law called the Building and Common Property Act in 2007 that forces all developers to hand over management of a building within 12 months.

    However, the Building and Common Property Act fails to rectify the reasons why the land office refuses to issue strata titles in the first place, which is due to any number of reasons, some of which includes an illegal approval of development on land gazetted as green space.

    Are there elements of corruption? Perhaps. Fault finding aside, the problem persists, and without laws that can adequately deal with the situation, you will have a lot of people persistently angry without ever understanding why they cannot get their strata titles.

    All these laws come from our Parliament. If our MPs don’t take the effort to get involved in the implementation process of the law, they will never understand why things are screwed up, and why things remain screwed up.

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