Press Release (11 December 2018 ): Local Government Elections; Sarawak can show the way


Bersih Sarawak views with great concern the hasty announcement by Tun Dr Mahathir yesterday stating that the Federal Government does not intend to implement local council elections despite earlier the Minister in Charge of Housing and Local Government YB Zuraida Kamarudin stating that her ministry is currently conducting a study on the proposal to bring back local council elections.
The move has been today described by GPS leaders yet another U-turn or back-tracking by Tun M but as rightly pointed out by Sarawak’s Minister of Local Government and Housing Datuk Dr Sim Kui Hien, Sarawak have its own local government ordinances and was free to decide its own destiny.
Historically and through the pre-formation of Malaysia documentation namely the InterGovernmental Committee Report 1962* the autonomy to run its local government including that to conduct local government elections for its local authorities was amongst one of the powers retained by Sarawak upon its entry as part of the Federation of Malaysia. Local Government also appears as an item in the State List of the Federal Constitution to this day.
(*Paragraph 22 of the Report of the Inter-Governmental Committee)
Sarawak has the necessary experience in conducting elections to elect councillors to the Local Authorities going back to 1948 based on the Local Government Elections Ordinance, 1948 (Cap 118) and Local Authorities Ordinance, 1948 (Cap 117). We should have continued holding these elections as we have been holding the elections to the State Legislative Assembly and Parliament regularly. Our established system of electoral college was even lauded by the Cobbold Commision in its report. Lest we forget, the first Chief Minister of Sarawak, Stephen Kalong Ningkan, was elected a district councillor, then a divisional councillor, and finally a member of the State Legislature, and a member of the Supreme Council in 1963. These elections were abolished in the 1980s for reason(s) which were not widely known to the general public.
Bersih Sarawak is also of the view that having local government elections will strengthen grassroots democracy and participation in decision-making amongst communities that are often already bonded together by the local ties (ie.that of a particular district or even division). These kinds of elections would provide a good start and a good training ground for young people who aspire to be future people’s representatives at a state or national level. If they are elected councillors they would have already learnt about budgets, taxes and levies and other basics of good governance, accountability and integrity in the running of local government.
Needless to say, also, it would be beneficial for the rate-payers and citizens as a whole because nonpartisan local government elections would mean that councillors are accountable to the voters and rate-payers who voted them in. Issues and services close to the hearts of the residents and locals like low-cost housing, town/country planning including public libraries, recreation and other public amenities and public health, sanitation and the environment can be better aired and heard by those elected councillors and hence decision-making more reflective of the wishes of the locals. In other words, voters and rate-payers would overall be better served by bringing these elections back.

Having and effective and accountable local councillors and mayors would also free up the state assemblymen or members of Parliament to focus on policy-making and the business of law-making. As opposed to the current scenario where they will have to daily face complaints and handle issues that are within the purview of local councils and councillors.
We therefore call upon the State and the Minister in charge to show the right way and bring back local council elections in the state of Sarawak BUT of course not before having further consultations and debates with stakeholders and grassroots civil society and the merits of restoring these elections.
Issued by Bersih Sarawak.
Dated 11th December 2018
Media Contact person: Ann Teo – Chair for Bersih Sarawak 016-8604998
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