SOMETIMES, I get accused of playing hero when I go public with issues. The accusations stem from the notion that I supposedly do not go through official channels to resolve matters and that I’m only interested in the publicity that the issue generates.
Are such accusations true? Perhaps the best way to answer this is with a story of what happens when I try using official channels to resolve issues.
Billboard site inspections
In January 2009, I was asked to inspect proposed billboard sites with Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) technical officers and a billboard company representative.
The request came via phone, and I was made to understand that councillors participating in these site visits were part of a sub-committee known as the billboard site-inspection committee. One such visit, which was done the following month, was reported by theSun‘s Terrence Fernandez.
Being relatively new to the job then, I did not suspect anything amiss and went for two such site visits. It was only when I started learning more about how council proceedings worked that I realised the so-called billboard site-inspection committee was suspect.
Despite checking through meeting minutes, I could find no record that a billboard site-inspection sub-committee was officially formed. The records only show that a billboard sub-committee was agreed on in October 2008. Councillor Derek Fernandez was listed as chairperson but there was no mention of who the committee members were.
It was after I discovered this that I declined further invitations to conduct site visits and argued about the committee’s legality in mid-2009.
I was then told that the reason the committee did not need to be officially established was that councillors were meant to voluntarily conduct these site visits.
My insistence that this was improper led to the formation of an official billboard site-inspection sub-committee with the members clearly named. I declined to be part of this committee.
In October 2009, however, I received a RM300 cheque as payment for the two site visits I conducted. I returned the cheque and queried why the council was paying me when the site visits, prior to the sub-committee’s official formation, were supposedly voluntary.
The long wait
After waiting four months for a reply, I sent out a reminder in February this year that I was still waiting for an answer to my previous letter.
Deputy Mayor Puasa Md Taib replied a month later, with a new cheque attached since the first one had expired. He stated that there was nothing wrong with the payment because I was considered a member of the billboard sub-committee “formed” in October 2008, which essentially had the mandate to conduct such site visits.
I once again returned the cheque. This time, I stated in very clear terms that I was never part of the billboard sub-committee, was never invited to any of the meetings, and never received any of the meeting minutes from this sub-committee.
I also asked for evidence that stated where and when I was appointed into this committee and for all the billboard sub-committee meeting minutes as my attendance or absence would be recorded if I had indeed been part of this committee.
This time, I was given documents pertaining to the site inspection visits I conducted back in 2009. I replied that my request was for the billboard sub-committee meeting minutes of 2008 and not documentary evidence of our site inspections.
There was no response again for months.
Alas, tired of the wait, I formally requested for the meeting minutes at the MBPJ full board meeting in July 2010.
With my request now out in the open, the officers took three weeks to give me two CDs that contained the video recording for two public hearings on billboards that were conducted in late 2008. Again, this documentation was not what I had asked for.
I went back to the MBPJ full board in August and said I wanted the meeting minutes while brandishing all the letters I had written on the matter.
It was then that the former MBPJ town planning department director Sharipah Marhani Syed Ali revealed that there were no minutes for the 2008 meetings.
It is evident that more questions remain unanswered each time I get an official response. Clearly, there is no assurance that a satisfactory official response is ever forthcoming, or even a response in many cases. Hence following up month after month becomes an exercise in perseverance and/or futility.
I tell this story not because I want a public answer to my question about the billboard site-inspection sub-committee and the use of rate-payer’s money to pay councillors for “voluntary” work in an unofficial committee. I tell this story in response to critics who think that going public about an issue is about playing hero.
MBPJ councillor KW Mak loves comic book superheroes. He would like to be like Superman but that, like his critics’ jabs about him, is just wishful thinking.