(Pic by leocub / sxc.hu) 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.
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.
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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