Categorised | Columns

What’s the policy, please?

THE following are my observations on local council matters. The views are entirely my own. They may not reflect the actual policy that a local council would adopt, as policies are determined collectively and not by any one individual.

Due process

On 9 Oct 2009, The Star reported on a minor landslip in Puchong, supposedly caused by a property developer’s carelessness. The Subang Jaya Municipal Council (MPSJ) supposedly gave the developer one day to fix the problem or face being slapped with a summons.

There is a problem with the statement of action. A summons isn’t just a fine that can be issued as and when a local council likes. A summons is issued after investigations are done and conclusive evidence proves that a particular person or party was responsible for a breach of requirements, guidelines or laws.

Insisting that investigations be done and summons issued only if the evidence is conclusive isn’t about fault-finding or nitpicking. Going through due process ensures that the mishap is not a symptom of a larger problem, and it builds up a case against repeat offenders. And if investigations show that the mishap was not the developer’s fault, it ensures that the developer is not unfairly penalised.

Due process also removes the temptation for corruption. After all, officers who are given the discretion to decide what to investigate can be tempted not to investigate with the right incentive.


Damage caused by the Bukit Antarabangsa landslide of December 2008 (Pic courtesy of Raj Kumar)

In the long run, such stringent measures could very well prevent bigger tragedies similar to the Highland Towers and the Bukit Antarabangsa landslides. I would also like to clarify that I have personally not gone to the site in Puchong to know the facts of the case, and am merely commenting on the propriety of the statement made in The Star.

Lack of guidelines

Going through due process should be standard practice. But there are times when the local council overlooks imposing a policy on things that clearly needs regulating. For example, the construction of large unipole billboards.

When the issue of a billboard being constructed in Damansara Utama was first reported in June 2009, the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) was quick to issue a stop-work order. The stop work order was pending an investigation that the billboard operator was violating the council’s ban on new billboards.

The billboard operator has since clarified that it was all a misunderstanding. It wasn’t a new billboard he was building, but a replacement of his old billboard that was rusting. He tore down his own billboard and rebuilt it without informing the local council. This led the public to believe that a new billboard was being built.

The billboard operator was apologetic for the confusion. But he did point out that in the past, there was no such requirement to inform the council when he did refurbishment. He added that if this was the council’s new policy, he would inform the council in future of any refurbishment exercise.

Council officers have confirmed that there is no policy requiring billboard operators to submit plans for replacing old billboards and to inform the council. Indeed, the proof of this is that the council has no blueprints and details of billboards at all. The MBPJ only has records of billboard licences issued to operators.

Perhaps the misunderstanding was a blessing in disguise, as it exposed a gap in the council’s billboard construction policies. The MBPJ must correct this as there are numerous concerns like public safety and possible damage to public utilities if billboards are erected without proper consultation and supervision from the authorities.


(Billboard by ilco / sxc.hu)


MBPJ councillor KW Mak was walking around his condominium compound recently when he saw a neighbouring landowner build a house with an extension that placed a wall right next to the condominium wall. Knowing that building guidelines stipulate a distance between such walls, he messaged the MBPJ building department to inspect the house. He will be taking another walk around the condominium compound next week.

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One Response to “What’s the policy, please?”

  1. Andrew I says:

    Talking of extensions, there was a time when having a nice big compound and a driveway with a compatibly-sized house denoted living a comfortable life. It still does in most countries. Most.

    Try putting a watermelon in a fruit basket and see how nice it looks.


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