(Background image © Kristina Afanasyeva / sxc.hu; Datuk Ahmad Fuad pic courtesy of DBKL)
REPORTS on Datuk Ahmad Fuad Ismail’s appointment as mayor of Kuala Lumpur (KL) on 12 Dec 2008 have generally been favourable. The long-serving civil servant and former Housing and Local Government Ministry secretary-general has been touted as people-friendly, efficient, and fair to all parties.
Nevertheless, having an appointed — as opposed to an elected — mayor poses interesting questions, especially post-March 2008. In the 8 March general election, KL saw an unprecedented rise in anti-Barisan Nasional (BN) sentiment. 10 out of 11 parliamentary seats in the federal territory fell to opposition parties.
Kuala Lumpur was declared a federal territory on 1 Feb 1974, after local government elections were abolished four years earlier. Groups such as the Coalition for Good Governance and the DAP have since been calling for the reinstatement of these elections.
But local government elections aside, with growing political consciousness, the mayor faces more public scrutiny than before. Basic questions are being asked. For example, what exactly does a mayor do? And what powers does he or she have?
To commemorate Federal Territory Day, which is annually celebrated on 1 Feb, The Nut Graph speaks to KL’s new mayor in an exclusive phone interview.
TNG: What are some of your immediate plans for 2009 as the new mayor of KL?
DBKL building on Jalan Raja Laut (© Two hundred
percent; source: Wikipedia) People want to see improvements, in road resurfacing, good drainage, upkeep of public parks, safety and security. So I must go all-out and ensure we meet these standards.
We really must ease traffic congestion as well, but we cannot do anything too drastic at the moment. I will try my best. The main thing, to me, is that we need to ensure that we have a sound system in place to deliver on the public’s needs. Right now we are trying our best with the Integrated Traffic Information System that we have.
What sort of executive or legislative powers do you have as mayor?
There are several acts governing DBKL. DBKL itself has the power to plan building projects and licensing, but we do not have absolute power to run the city. And there is the Draft Kuala Lumpur City Plan 2020, which we must follow.
There are also by-laws that are not within our jurisdiction. For example, we are not the ones catching people for indecent behaviour in parks — it is the police and the religious enforcement officers.
What do you think would be your biggest challenge in office?
Dealing with traffic congestion. We all want to avoid traffic jams, but then our national car industry must also survive. One solution is to increase public transportation, but that falls under the purview of the Transport Ministry.
And this brings me back to the point that a lot of things do not fall under DBKL’s jurisdiction. For example, if you want to increase safety and security, then it is the police that have to increase their patrols. As far as DBKL is concerned, perhaps we can set up more CCTVs, but that’s about it.
We can cooperate with resident associations in gated communities, but again we cannot tell them to build or not to build gates and so on. We can only tell them not to block entrances and exits when they do so.
How would you rate KL residents’ awareness of what DBKL does?
It varies depending on the area. In the more affluent areas, of course people are more aware. Overall, I think it’s okay. On our part, we need to pay attention to areas that have been neglected, for example Chow Kit, Petaling Street, Pudu, and Kampung Baru. There is very old and neglected infrastructure in these areas, and this is where kutus and illegal immigrants will merayau. We must look into this.
(Image source: wilayahkini.blogspot.com)
For the first time in history, 10 out of the 11 parliamentary seats in Kuala Lumpur are now held by the opposition. How does this affect the integrity and credibility of your appointment by the BN federal government?
People have the right to choose their representatives in a democracy. But I am an appointed mayor because that is the system in this country. The mayors of other cities here are appointed too.
My job is to deliver good services to the people, and I need to follow the government’s instructions. DBKL needs good governance to earn the public’s trust. The system needs to be equitable and efficient. KL needs to be a liveable city. And the city’s image and identity must remain intact.
If I hold to this, and make the running of DBKL transparent and accountable — such as implementing International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) requirements, benchmarking and so on — I’m doing my duty.
Some people argue that this would work better if the mayor was elected, but that is yet to be tested.
Former Kuala Lumpur city hall in Dataran Merdeka (© Two hundred percent; source: Wikipedia)
There have been several quarters calling for the reinstatement of local government elections, and this includes electing the mayor of KL. What are your thoughts?
It really depends. In the states now governed by Pakatan Rakyat, they had this as their election manifesto. It’s up to them to lead the way by example.
Any election will cost money. And even overseas, there is actually very low turnout in local elections — only around 20% to 30%.
Besides, mayors in Malaysia are appointed by an elected government. I myself have had 33 years of experience working in the government as a civil servant. I have seven years of experience working with the Subang Jaya Municipal Council (MPSJ).
And mayors in other countries have chief executive officers to administer the city. The mayors merely look after protocol. The responsibilities of mayors in Malaysia are very different.
So we must study this carefully. In Malaysia, we need proper representation — of race, gender, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), professionals, and so on. So far, the appointment system works.
But if we want to bring back local elections, then let the people decide. There are many who think we are not ready for it.
Since the position of mayor remains an unelected office, how can the public hold you accountable to your responsibilities and duties?
How much more accountable do you want us to be? There are strict procedures that DBKL has to follow. We are audited internally and externally. We have to submit our report to Parliament. We are implementing the ISO. We have an advisory board that oversees us. And we meet with opposition MPs from time to time.
The people’s perception is that we are so powerful. We are not.
Do you think there is room to cooperate with Pakatan Rakyat MPs from the Kuala Lumpur constituencies to address the population’s grievances about the city’s administration? How?
Well, they requested to meet with me, and I thought, why not? We have a cordial relationship with them. Our first meeting was on 21 Jan 2009. The very next day, I received a call from Wee Choo Keong (Parti Keadilan Rakyat Member of Parliament for Wangsa Maju), [who] gave me feedback about the meeting.
Do you plan to include NGO and civil society representatives in discussions on budgets, traffic, and public policies?
Even the previous administration of DBKL did this. Of course we are including these sectors. They need to be informed.