Wujudkan kerajaan tempatan yang lebih responsif, akauntable (Malay/English)

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Photograph: egadget.com.my

[ENGLISH VERSION BELOW] Kita harus mengembalikan semula semangat kerajaan tempatan dengan pihak berkuasa tempatan yang demokratik, decentralised dan berotonomi, ujar Chee Heng Leng.

Baru-baru ini, satu penerbitan oleh Think City dan World Bank mendapati bahawa rakyat negara kita semakin tidak puas hati dengan perkhidmatan awam kita, dan wujudnya persepsi yang berterusan bahawa kepentingan awam tidak diambilkira apabila keputusan yang dibuat oleh kerajaan mengakibatkan kesan pada peringkat tempatan. [Shahridan Faiez and Vijayendra Rao (2019) The Demand-side of Public Service Delivery and the Strengthening of a New Malaysia, Urban Policy Series, Issue No. 1, April.]

Mengikut kajian ini, sebab utamanya perkhidmatan awam kita tidak dapat memenuhi keperluan awam adalah kerana peruntukan sumber, perancangan, dan pembangunan dilaksanakan dengan cara yang berpusat dan “top-down”.

Adalah diiktirafkan bahawa pemilihan kerajaan tempatan adalah sesuatu yang diperlukan bagi meningkatkan akauntabiliti kerajaan tempatan dalam sesebuah demokrasi. Walaubagaimana pun, isu ini bukan sesuatu yang kita boleh tentukan pada peringkat ini.

Maka, pada sementara waktu, apakah boleh kita lakukan supaya tadbir urus tempatan boleh diubahsuaikan untuk menyediakan perkhidmatan awam yang dapat memenuhi keperluan rakyat dengan lebih sempurna? Dengan kata lain, bagaimanakah pihak berkuasa tempatan kita boleh menjadi lebih bertanggungjawab ataupun akauntable kepada rakyat dan ratepayer?

Antara pelbagai caranya untuk mencapai tujuan ini, saya ingin menyorot satu mekanisma yang majlis kita sendiri boleh lakukan. Mekanisma ini adalah partisipasi awam, public participation.

Partisipasi awam yang berkesan mempunyai banyak faedah:

  • Melalui proses ini, kita boleh mendapati feedback yang boleh membantu kita dalam perancangan dan perlaksanaan program
  • la mewujudkan ketelusan tentang akauntabiliti dan tanggungjawab agensi awam dan boleh mencegah dari korupsi dan pembaziran
  • la boleh meningkatkan mobilisasi sumber bagi melaksanakan program awam secara berkongsi.
  • Akhirnya, ia boleh menggalakkan innovasi apabila komuniti berkerjasama dengan kerajaan untuk menyelesaikan masalah tempatan.

Di Malaysia, prinsip partisipasi awam dinyatakan dalam pelbagai dokumen perancangan dan pembangunan. Walaubagaimanapun, implementasi dan amalan jauh dari memuaskan.

Kita perlu memperkasakan struktur dan proses institusi kita supaya partisipasi awam dilaksanakan secara bermakna dan tulen.

Saya bercadang supaya majlis mewujudkan wad, zon ataupun kawasan tertentu dan melantik ahli majlis untuk berkhidmat di setiap kawasan mengikut kriteria dalam Akta Kerajaan Tempatan. Mengikut sistem yang sediaada pada masa sekarang, ahli majlis berkhidmat mengikut formula yang ditentukan oleh kerajaan negeri dan parti politik dalam gabungan yang memerintah.

Saya percaya bahawa kita harus mengembalikan semula semangat kerajaan tempatan, dengan pihak berkuasa tempatan yang demokratik, decentralised dan berotonomi. Pihak majlislah yang harus mengagihkan peranan dan tanggungjawab kepada setiap ahli majlis, dan ianya harus disiarkan secara meluas kepada awam.

Mengikut Akta, setiap ahli majlis berkhidmat untuk seluruh Pulau Pinang, tetapi perkhidmatan ditumpukan kepada suatu kawasan tertentu. Di dalam setiap kawasan, ahli majlis melibatkan dan berkomunikasi dengan persatuan penghuni, rukun tetangga, majlis pengurusan komuniti kampung (MPKK), sekolah, organisasi yang lain, ratepayers dan orang awam pada keseluruhannya.

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Mengikut visi ini, ahli majlis kurang menyerupai seorang ‘pembekal perkhidmatan’ dan lebih menyerupai seorang fasilitator ataupun pengantara antara rakyat dan kerajaan.

Ahli majlis menghormati ahli dewan undangan negari (Adun) sebagai wakil yang dipilih oleh rakyat dan berkhidmat mengikut polisi kerajaan negeri. Tetapi, mereka mempunyai fungsi pentadbiran sendiri, dan keutamaan diberi kepada fungsi fasilitator dan pimpinan di kalangan komuniti dalam proses partisipasi demokratik.

Kita boleh bermula dengan mempertingkatkan partisipasi komuniti dalam proses pembentukan rancangan tempatan dan pelbagai rancangan kawasan khas. Lalu, kita boleh mempertingkatkan penglibatan komuniti dengan menggunakan proses participatory budgeting untuk bajet majlis keseluruhannya.

Participatory budgeting melibatkan proses perbincangan yang sistematik di kalangan orang awam di mesyuarat-mesyuarat awam di mana rakyat boleh berdebat dan berbincang tentang apakah perkara yang harus diberi keutamaan apabila menentukan peruntukan dalam bajet awam secara keseluruhannya.

Ahli majlis harus berdialog secara berterusan dengan rakyat di dalam setiap kawasan. Tujuannya ialah untuk membina konsensus untuk rancangan tempatan dan bajet.

Rancangan tempatan dan bajet yang telah siap harus diikuti dengan perlaksanaan program, dan rakyat tempatan boleh mengikuti perbelanjaan seterusnya dan memberi feedback tentang perkhidmatan awam.

Adakah semua ini perlu? Ya! Baru-baru ini, majlis menerima lebih daripada 50,000 bantahan (17% daripada ratepayers) terhadap revaluasi nilai tahunan cukai taksiran. la menunjukkan bahawa kita tidak menjangka tahap kemarahan dan perasaan tidak puas hati yang ditunjuk oleh ratepayers itu.

Sesuatu majlis yang selalu melibatkan partisipasi awam akan memulakan dialog sejak satu tahun yang lalu, menjalankan program pendidikan awam, membetulkan salah faham, mendapatkan feedback dan membuat perubahan untuk menyesuaikan keadaan yang berbeza di kalangan ratepayer yang pelbagai.

Tanggungjawab ini sebenarnya tanggungjawab ahli majlis. Sebagai ahli majlis, tanggungjawab utama kita adalah kepada ratepayer dan orang awam.

Jika kita boleh pastikan ahli majlis sebagai pencipta polisi tempatan adalah akauntable kepada rakyat dan berkhidmat demi kepentingan rakyat, maka kita boleh membina mekanisma yang membolehkan rakyat untuk membuat perancangan, permintaan dan pemantauan terhadap perkhidmatan pegawai kerajaan tempatan, dan ianya akan mencapai tahap akauntabiliti dan tahap puas hati yang lebih tinggi.

Diharapnya, kita dapat melihat kemunculan dan perkembangan demokrasi partisipasi tempatan di Pulau Pinang dan di Malaysia.

Saya mengakhiri dengan satu petikan daripada seorang timbalan menteri kita dalam Bahasa lnggeris:

“Today, local authorities are effectively subjected to the control of state governments, from the appointment of councillors and mayors to the hiring of staff and the approval of budget as well as other policy and proposals. There is obviously a deviation from the spirit of the Report which envisioned democratic, decentralised and autonomous local authorities. Obviously, more participatory space and stronger autonomy need to be returned to our local authorities. It is not merely about having local elections, but it is also about greater consultation and transparency in our local authorities.” [Steven Sim and Koay Su Lyn,2015, Revisiting the Athi Nahappan Report Part II, REFSA Quarterly, Issue 1.]

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English version

A call for more responsive, accountable local government

A recent publication by Think City and the World Bank in April 2019 found that our citizens are increasingly dissatisfied with our public services, and a perception persists that government decisions felt at the local level are not being made with the public interest at heart. [Shahridan Faiez and Vijayendra Rao (2019) The Demand-side of Public Service Delivery and the Strengthening of a New Malaysia, Urban Policy Series, Issue No. 1, April.]

According to the study, one reason why our public services are unable to satisfy public needs is that the allocation of resources, planning and development are designed and implemented in a manner that is highly centralised and top down.

It is widely recognised that a necessary condition to improve local government accountability in a democracy is to have elected local governments. But, leaving this question aside for now, let us focus on other factors.

In the meantime, how can we adjust local governance to provide public services that are well­ matched to the needs of citizens? In other words, how can our local government be more accountable to citizens and ratepayers?

Out of the various ways in which this may be achieved, I would like to highlight the one key mechanism that our own council is empowered to employ – public participation.

There are many benefits of effective public participation (borrowing again from the cited article):

  • It provides critical information feedback to help us plan and implement programmes that address priority issues
  • It makes transparent the lines of accountability and responsibility of public agencies, thus acting as a deterrent against corruption and wastage
  • It can enhance resource mobilisation especially for the co-management and co-funding of public programmes
  • And finally, it spurs innovation as communities work together with governments to solve local problems

In Malaysia, the principle of public participation is provided for in various planning and development instruments. However, the implementation and practice leave much to be desired. We need to strengthen the institutional framework to make public participation more meaningful and genuine.

I would like to suggest that the council create wards or zones and appoint councillors to serve in each ward in accordance with the criteria in Article 10(2) of the Local Government Act. Presently, our system assigns councillors generally according to a formula set by the ruling state government.

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I believe we should return to the spirit of local government, with democratic, decentralised and autonomous local authorities. The council should assign the roles and responsibilities of the councillors which are then widely publicised to the public.

Legally, each councillor serves the whole of Penang Island, but focuses on a particular ward. Within each ward, the councillor communicates and engages with the resident associations, the Rukun Tetanggas, the village community management councils (MPKKs), schools, other organisations, ratepayers, and the public as a whole.

In this vision, the councillor is less of a ‘service deliveryman’ and more of a facilitator and interlocutor between the citizens and the government.

The councillors respect the state assembly members as elected representatives of the people and work within the policies of the state government. But they have their own administrative functions, which are primarily to facilitate and lead local democratic participation in decision-making.

To begin with – heightened community participation in the shaping of the local plan and various special area plans. Second, participatory budgeting and involvement in the whole council budget.

Participatory budgeting involves systematic processes of public deliberation via public meetings where citizens debate and discuss priorities to determine the allocation of public budgets.

Councillors in these wards would be in a continual dialogue with citizens. The main idea is to build a consensus on local plans and budgets. These plans and budgets can then be matched with sources of funds and implementation programmes, and citizens are able to keep track of expenditure and provide feedback on public services.

Is this necessary? Yes, the recent exercise of assessment rate revaluations, where we received more than 50,000 written objections (from 17% of ratepayers) show that we were not prepared for the level of anger and dissatisfaction from ratepayers. A participatory council would have started at least a year-long dialogue, educated citizens, corrected misunderstandings, got feedback and made changes to suit the different circumstances of a diverse ratepayer base.

By ensuring that our local councillors as local policymakers are accountable to and serve the interests of the people, we can hopefully create a mechanism which gives citizens the ability to plan, demand and monitor the work of government officials at the local level, leading to better accountability, and higher satisfaction.

Hopefully, we will then see the emergence and mushrooming of participatory local democracy in Penang and in Malaysia.

Let me end with a quote from one of our deputy ministers:

“Today, local authorities are effectively subjected to the control of state governments, from the appointment of councillors and mayors to the hiring of staff and the approval of budget as well as other policy and proposals. There is obviously a deviation from the spirit of the Report which envisioned democratic, decentralised and autonomous local authorities. Obviously, more participatory space and stronger autonomy need to be returned to our local authorities. It is not merely about having local elections, but it is also about greater consultation and transparency in our local authorities.” [Steven Sim and Koay Su Lyn, 2015, Revisiting the Athi Nahappan Report Part II, REFSA Quarterly, Issue 1.]

City Councillor Chee Heng Leng delivered this adjournment speech at the Penang Island City Council meeting on 28 November 2019. She was nominated to the council by civil society coalition Penang Forum.

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