On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

City councils must relook their priorities

Unlike many of us, who merely grumbled, Panjang decided to
act on it. He did not ask for the publicity and, until now, does not even want
to reveal his real name.

But it is clear that the politicians, especially the city
councillors who love the media limelight, have not been able to deliver.

The JB City Council is not the only local authority which
taxpayers are increasingly fed up with because of their failure to fulfil their
basic responsibilities like efficient collection of garbage, maintenance of
roads and street lighting.

When Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk
Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil was made Acting Federal Territories Minister last
year, a group of editors joined her to break fast shortly after the news.

When she asked the journalists what her first priority
should be, the immediate answer was that she should check for herself the
deteriorating state of cleanliness in the federal capital.

I suggested to the minister to take a walk around the Sri
Hartamas area, without the presence of City Hall officials, to see how dirty
and smelly the area has become.

It's bad enough that the lack of parking space has caused
congestion and indiscriminate parking around the shops there, but the kerbs and
alleys where the eateries are located are also in horrible condition.

Regarded as a happening place in an affluent neighbourhood,
Sri Hartamas has been dubbed the Second Bangsar, but at the rate it is going,
it would soon lose its appeal to visitors.

One need only to stroll around the area to realise the lack
of attention given to the place by City Hall.

Then there is Petaling Street,
which is popular among locals and tourists, but it is common to see rubbish
piling up at street corners because there is simply a lack of rubbish bins

It is strange that local government officials often cite
shortage of funds and enforcement officers when confronted with these problems.
But they seem to be able to spend lavishly on their headquarters. Just take a
look at some of the council buildings in major towns.

They seem to be getting their priorities wrong. It doesn't
help that the Housing and Local Government Ministry is only responsible for
broad policies while these councils, with their vast power and autonomy, are
answerable to only the Mentris Besar and Chief Ministers in most instances.

Some Malaysians have proposed that elections be held to
elect these councillors. While it sounds attractive, there is little practicality
here because ultimately the civil servants would also wield greater power.

Worse, we may end up with councillors who spend more time
fighting with these civil servants, if they are from the opposition.

The sentiment of most Malaysians is that the services of our
local government have not improved.

Districts and towns seem to be more interested in securing
city status for prestige and political reasons when development in these areas
has not improved.

If councils cannot even be entrusted to perform simple,
basic tasks like proper collection of rubbish, general cleanliness and
maintenance of residential roads, then they should not even think of trying to
achieve anything bigger.

Having travelled throughout the country in the course of my
work, I must commend the Kuching North and Kuching South councils for their
excellent work in keeping Kuching clean.

Our local councillors and government servants need not have
to travel overseas, in the name of study tours, to find out how to improve
their work. Just take an Air Asia trip to Kuching.

Even the alleys in the city are well maintained and the
greatest achievement is, of course, keeping the riverfront clean, which must be
the pride of the people of Kuching.

The city may not have the same magnitude of problems faced
by KL or Petaling Jaya, but the lesson to be learnt is that Kuching has given
better attention to its planning, said to be picked up from Singapore
and Australian cities.

In fact, there is no reason why we should be shy to learn
from our neighbour down south. The fact is that they have done a good job
making Singapore
into a clean place. Why is there a need to travel thousands of miles on a

For me, like many Malaysians, it is becoming frustrating
driving on roads with potholes. Several times a day, I have to drive along
Lebuh Bandar Utama from Aman Suria, where I live, to go to work.

Despite numerous complaints to those responsible, there has
been no change. There are so many craters along the road that I wonder when the
elected representative and the council officials will act.

Maybe, I, too, must ride on a bicycle and start filling up
potholes with cement and stone patches while the council proudly proclaims that
it will take care of road works on a larger scale.

Panjang, you have done the small people in Malaysia
proud. The Johor Baru City Council may see your work as small but you have
certainly been mighty to all of us. Syabas!