By Raveen Jeyakumar
One serious, widespread problem throughout Malaysia is the lack of funding to maintain and improve services at the state and local levels.
This leads to a lack of maintenance personnel and proper tools to carry out maintenance and routine checks.
So the problems affecting everyday basic services remain unresolved and pose safety risks to the people.
These problems include non-functioning street lights, faulty electrical systems and the poor upkeep of buildings and public property. Cleanliness is also affected as roads and drains are not swept or cleaned routinely. Lack of funding also results in inadequate clearing and monitoring of illegal rubbish dumps.
Some of these issues need to be resolved immediately because they threaten public safety and health.
Unfortunately, the local authorities only take action after a lengthy time or after receiving repeated public complaints.
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This gives a negative view of government services, especially if accidents occur because of serious unresolved problems with these basic services. Ultimately, voters’ support for the government drops.
The government could take a few steps at all levels to ensure it has enough funds to maintain and improve basic services throughout the country:
The government must act firmly and decisively to wipe out corrupt practices, such as patronage, rent-seeking, cronyism and nepotism, that have plagued the nation for too long and drained it of enormous sums of money.
One key measure: establish a stringent institutional system of checks and balances by setting up independent institutions in each state to oversee the awarding of contracts by local governments to companies, including government-linked firms and their subsidiaries.
For each state, the auditing process as part of this system of checks and balances must be conducted by a committee that is independent of the chief minister and the executive branch of the state government.
This process will ensure that local politicians and bureaucrats do not reap corrupt profits through such contract awards for basic services. It will also ensure that only capable firms are selected to carry out these basic services so that ratepayers get value for money.
These checks and balances must also cover the alienation (sale or disposal) of state land to companies for various projects. This is crucial to not only deter any form of corruption but also to ensure that the money gained from such transactions goes into public coffers, instead of ending up as kickbacks to bureaucrats and politicians.
With this measure, local and state governments will have more funds available to maintain and improve basic services.
Prioritise basic services
The government should prioritise funds to consistently maintain and improve basic services throughout the country, instead of channelling money to other commercial, tourism-related or other projects.
Although tourism is a key revenue source for the nation, it should not be at the expense of quality basic services, on which the people’s safety and wellbeing depend.
With these measures, all state and local governments across the country will have more funds to hire more workers, pay them decent wages and procure proper tools and equipment. This will enable these state and local governments to maintain and routinely inspect basic services effectively.
If state and local governments are caring and responsible, they must implement these measures to ensure they have enough funds to maintain and improve basic services consistently. These measures will help ensure the people’s safety and wellbeing.
Raveen Jeyakumar, an Aliran volunteer, is a 29-year-old based in Ipoh with an interest in social and environmental issues