On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Fiascos built in the name of art

To be fair, such wastage of public funds by the local governments is not confined to the Penang Municipal Council. Malaysians who have travelled around the country would attest to similar fiascos in the name of art.

In Petaling Jaya and Kuala Lumpur, one can find fountains that no longer function, presumably because it is just too expensive to repair them, or just a case of plain negligence.

The Subang Jaya Municipal Council, easily one of the richest councils, spent RM3mil more than three years ago to put up the Millennium Park in SS13 despite much criticism.

The council promised that it would be a top-class attraction but the park predictably became a top-class fiasco within two years after it was built in 2001.

A check by The Star in January found that the ponds had become stagnant, the Balinese-style cascades had run dry and the once-golden bird statue had turned drab grey. Worse, the toilets were filthy. The multi-purpose hall was littered with construction debris and looked more like an abandoned place.

The ratepayers have been proven right. Because of poor maintenance and the fact that residents largely ignored it, the park had to be closed down.

The council has handed the park to a private company with promises of turning it into a "happening place" which will also include a food court.

Well, as Subang Jaya assemblyman Datuk Lee Hwa Beng said, at least the council would be able to collect rental from the company but I have my reservations about the project.

But the damage has been done. The RM3mil could have been used for more useful projects including improving roads, pathways and installing more street lights.

The council did not get its priorities right and RM3mil has gone down the drain as a result of poor planning. I doubt whether any official has been hauled up to give an explanation for the dismal failure.

Over the past few years, local governments have come under scrutiny from ratepayers who know their rights better. They want to exercise their rights and they expect the councils to perform their duties effectively.

Running a council is not an easy task, especially in major towns, but civil servants entrusted with the responsibilities have to implement good governance.

Instant beautification projects are seldom successful. According to those familiar with the approval of such projects, they are often the decisions of the executive officer, the landscaping committee or councillors who propose the ideas.

The ideas are seldom brought up at the full council meeting and, as a result, even the councillors may not be aware of such projects until it is known to the media, which may highlight it. Or worse, after they are implemented.

They could be projects recommended by landscape companies or ideas borrowed from overseas after a study tour by council officials, who assume they can be equally appealing here.

But in all fairness, there are also good ones. The two City Halls in Kuching have impressed many Malaysians who visited the state. The streets and even the alleys in Kuching North and South are clean and properly maintained.

Our councillors do not have to travel far to study good ideas. They can get basic ideas, with plenty of common sense, from Kuching.

That is why I was a little disheartened when a retired senior Kuala Lumpur City Hall official told me recently that he had never visited Kuching.

We expect our Datuk Bandar and council presidents to be sensitive to the needs of the people. Ratepayers are not stupid. They know how to appreciate a municipal or a city that is well run.