Assemblymen as local councillors

The Sun Daily
WITHOUT elected local councillors, it is common for state assemblymen to be involved in issues related to local authorities. It was, therefore, not surprising that Jawi assemblyman Tan Beng Huat was involved in the protests against the recent imposition of parking fees in his constituency. He wanted the fees to be deferred for at least three years.
What was shocking was his public declaration that he would quit the DAP and become an independent assemblyman if his demand was not met.
Although the parking fees were imposed by the Seberang Perai Municipal Council (MPSP), the imposition was approved by the Penang state government. Tan was not wrong to involve the state leaders.
But Tan must have a low opinion of Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng and state DAP chairman Chow Kon Yeow, who is also the state executive councillor in charge of local government and public transport, to assume that they would just cave in to his ultimatum.
Surely, Tan has the telephone number of Lim and Chow to appeal privately. He would probably get a brush-off, but he would not have to retract his threat and issue an apology. He should have kept his threat.
The Pakatan Rakyat government has 29 representatives in the 40-member state assembly. The DAP itself has 19. The loss of one would not have weakened the government.
Indeed, had Tan quit the party, he would have helped the DAP to gain the reputation of sticking to principles and not catering to a tantrum. Showing some backbone in the face of unwarranted demands by individuals is a rare phenomenon among political parties.
But there is no doubt that Tan was conveying the anger of his constituents. Like all state assemblymen, he has to deal with municipal issues even though he has no direct role in the workings of MPSP.
This is a major weakness of urban governance in Malaysia. Those who have a direct role, the councillors and mayors or presidents, have no legitimacy; while those who have legitimacy as people’s representatives, the assemblymen, have no role in running the councils.
But few voters know or care about the different roles of councillors, assemblymen and members of Parliament. They just expect their elected representatives to solve their problems, regardless whether these are municipal, state or federal.
As such, assemblymen have an unenviable job. Since most matters affecting the quality of life are under the jurisdiction of the local authorities, they invariably have to speak out against decisions already taken or even interfere in the workings of the councils.
Furthermore, since state governments have few responsibilities, compared to the federal government or even local authorities, assemblymen would have few opportunities to get into the news if they were to restrict themselves to only state matters. In politics, no news is not good news.
As such, until local government elections are restored, it is useful to consider appointing
assemblymen as local councillors, except those who are appointed state executive council members.
This is not a new idea. In Penang, Paya Terubong assemblyman Yeoh Soon Hin is a councillor in the Penang Island Municipal Council (MPPP).
The former Barisan Nasional government in Selangor appointed assemblymen belonging to its component parties to be councillors. Even state executive councillors, except the mentri besar and the executive councillor in charge of local government, were also appointed.
(It was wrong for state executive councillors to be appointed local councillors as they were the ones doing the appointment. It was unethical if not illegal for them to appoint themselves).
The appointment of assemblymen as councillors should also include those from the opposition parties. For example, the 24 councillors in MPSP would compose of eight PR assemblymen and eight BN assemblymen with the rest being appointees from the population at large.
Would MPSP be more effective and efficient? Would the interests of the ratepayers be better served with more than half of the councillors being elected representatives?
For example, if Tan were to be a councillor in MPSP, would he be able to persuade the council to defer the implementation of the parking fees? Would he see the rationale for such fees? But there will be at least a positive result. It will ensure that debates in the state assemblies are focused on matters of the state government and not on municipal issues as presently.
Dr Goh Ban Lee is interested in urban governance, housing and urban planning.