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Uphill battle

illustration by Shieko - people protesting "not in my backyard"

ONE area in which the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) often faces conflict is with property developers. It is funny how developers think they can still perpetuate their errant ways when they clearly go against the rule of law.

Take for example construction work. According to the law, work can only be done between 8am and 6pm from Monday to Saturday, excluding public holidays. The rules are clear. Yet many developers continue to flout the law because they have deadlines to meet and investors to please.

All well and good, but as one resident puts it: That’s not my problem. You should have taken that into account when you started a project. That’s called project management.

In turn, the developers turn to local councillors to plead for leniency. One even had the cheek to tell MBPJ councillor Chan Chee Kong that construction work could be carried out till 10pm under the previous government. To which Chan replied: That’s why they are no longer around [in Selangor]!

Despite the MBPJ councillors’ solidarity in ensuring residents’ rights are protected, there are a lot of things that residents need to do before they can call on the council to take action.

Taking charge

Not in my backyard is a phrase coined to describe apathy, especially when a problem isn’t happening in one’s own backyard. But perhaps the phrase can be understood instead as a statement that residents will not allow for violations to happen in their neighbourhood.

By right, instructions for a stop-work order against a developer do not have to come from councillors. But from experience, residents do not seem to get the cooperation from the council officers tasked with the job. To ensure that action is really taken, go through the following steps:

First, residents need to have clear evidence and details of any wrongdoing. Take photographs and record videos. File a report with the MBPJ. Be sure to get the name and designation of the person the complaint is filed with. In the case of developers, it is the building department in the local council which is tasked with handling these matters.

If MBPJ does not take any action, get the neighbourhoods to sign a petition to the council to issue a stop-work order on the developer. The purpose of this is to show that the neighbourhood is indeed aware and upset with the developer’s wrong-doings.

Illustration of construction works making a lot of noise

Local councillors can then haul up the officer whom the complaint was originally filed with for an explanation. If no officer responded at all, the councillors can speak to the department director about having a proper complaints mechanism that ensures people’s grouses are attended to.

In one recent case where the residents gathered evidence against a developer, I gave the developer an ultimatum. Either deal with the residents’ request to fix damaged roads and provide them a letter of undertaking on other demands within two weeks, or I would accede to the request for a stop-work order.

The job of collecting evidence is not easy, however. Residents have to take time off and face possible retribution from onsite workers who may act like thugs. In such circumstances, I can only implore residents to be united when they go about taking photographs and gathering evidence.

It would also help immensely if the residents themselves are organised in a residents association. This would immediately give their complaints collective weight.

Association drawbacks

The formal resident association structure, however, is not foolproof if residents themselves don’t take charge of their own backyard. For example, residents who are loathe to join these associations may find that their association has been taken over by people with vested interests instead.

Carrot as bait
(© Nikolay Mamluke / Dreamstime)

In cases where an association is small, the developer can buy out committee members. Any individual complaint against a developer can then be snuffed out by the residents association.

There have even been instances when an association will defend a developer to the extent of giving a letter to MBPJ stating that they allow the developer to work till 10pm.

There will also be instances when the developer will not recognise the association.

These only demonstrate that the public must be on guard about their rights at all times. There is little the local council can do to interfere with the workings of a residents association once it is formed.

Power of associations

While not directly related to developer issues, I will draw the reader’s attention to a resident association in Lucky Garden, Bangsar which was involved in the decision by Kuala Lumpur City Hall to indiscriminately cut trees in May 2008.

two figures boxing
(© Shishkin |

Some residents, who were previously not involved in the association because they were unaware of its existence until the tree-felling incident, now find that they cannot join the association to make a difference.

The excuse given for preventing new members from joining is that amendments are being done to the association’s constitution.

Is the association allowed to prevent new members from joining in this way? Yes. Is it good for the neighbourhood? No. Can the association act as a rubber stamp for unwanted activities in the neighbourhood? Maybe, depending on how the public in the area responds to such activities.

Residents associations are politically powerful, as demonstrated by Petaling Jaya residents in the past. Already, political elements are seeping into these associations because of the influence they wield.

Local residents need to say, Not in my backyard!, for if local residents themselves do not take charge of a platform that gives them voice, it will be their backyards that will be trampled on.

KW Mak believes corrupt officers should be removed from office. But that cannot be done unless the public comes forward with clear-cut evidence of wrongdoing.

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