Who is my boss?

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kah chengMy boss is the Rakyat of Penang Island, not the State Government, says Penang Island Municipal Councillor Lim Kah Cheng in response to Chinese newspaper reports that criticised her.

The answer is obvious. My boss is the Rakyat of Penang Island, not the State Government, not the Chief Minister nor YB Chow Kon Yeow nor the Yang DiPertua of MPPP. The rate payers and the tax payers are my bosses. They are the voters and they are the reason why I agreed to serve in the council in the first place.

As an NGO representative whose loyalty is to the rakyat, I can act without fear or favour. When policies are formulated, decisions have to be taken, the main criteria is what is in the best interest of the rakyat, of the poor and disadvantaged, not whether I or my party will win votes in the next election.

No grudge against state government

I have no grudge against the current State Government whom I had helped campaigned and voted for. I speak up not because of any grudge but because I am duty-bound to report back to the rakyat my experiences in the local council and what I think needs to be done to remedy the wrongs done by the previous government and those by the present state government, if any.

When the new State Government came into power, it inherited structures, systems and procedures which had been engineered and emasculated over many years by BN to favour its cronies. If we continue with these same features, we cannot bring about improvement to the lives of the rakyat. In other words, we cannot continue with the same structures and ways of doing things. After all, the new State Government came into power on a platform of change and the Competence, Accountability and Transparency (CAT) principles which I support.

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After being sworn in as an ahli majlis (councillor) in 2008, among my first requests was for all meetings conducted by the council including those of the Committees to be made open to the public and for the minutes of the meetings to be made available to all. After all, Sections 23 and 27 of the Local Govt Act 1976 stipulates that:

“All meetings of the local authority shall be open to the public and to representatives of the Press unless the local authority by resolution at the meeting otherwise decides…” and that “…The minutes of all proceedings of the local authority … shall at all reasonable times be open to the inspection of any Councillor or rate-payer of the local authority area …, any of whom may at all reasonable times make a copy of any part thereof without fee.”

In my view, it is important that the distinction between the powers and jurisdictions of the local authority and the State Government be understood and respected. If the State Govt makes decisions which fall within the jurisdiction of the local authority, those decisions are null and void in law. For example, if the State Government takes it upon itself to consider and decide on specific applications for re-zoning, those decisions are not valid in my view. If the State Government takes it upon itself to decide which illegal structure within the local authority area should be taken down or spared or if it decides that a particular application for planning approval must be approved even after rejection by the local authority, these are legally wrong. Under Section 9 of the Local Govt Act 1976, “the State Authority may from time to time give the local authority directions of a general character…” only.

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A duty to keep rakyat informed

When the State Government requested MPPP to build the Penang International Convention Centre (PICC) on the grounds of the Penang International Sports Arena (PISA), I openly objected within and outside MPPP as my Boss is the rakyat and they should know and should have a say whether RM50 million of the MPPP’s budget should be spent for that project at the expense of other priorities.

I will speak up and continue to speak up not because of any grudge against the State Government but because I see it as my duty to keep the rakyat informed and to promote democracy. Of course there are other avenues for me to voice my views and suggestions and I have used them at every opportunity. In fact I sit in the task force created by YB Chow to help the State Government develop a road map towards local elections besides sitting in numerous other task forces. If I had been invited to assist the three lawyers to draft the legal opinion on the legality of having local elections, I may have done so because I have been involved in this issue for some time within the context of the Penang Forum and the task force mentioned earlier.

I wish to reiterate my call to the State Government that more NGO representatives (currently four in MPPP and three in MPSP) should be appointed as they can provide special expertise without fear or favour. In particular, there should be more women councillors because women form half the population and their experiences and needs as users of council services are different from those of the men.

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I must also praise the current State Govt for being receptive to criticism and wish to state that at no time has anyone from within the State Government told me not to say my piece.

I am fully aware that sometimes people who have some knowledge think that he/she knows everything. It is always better to find out more with an open mind and an open heart and to act with humility based on one’s conscience and not any political agenda.

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