Local council elections to ensure effectiveness, accountability

Ann Teo

KUCHING: Bersih Sarawak chairperson Ann Teo views with great concern the hasty announcement by Tun Dr Mahathir stating that the federal government had no intention to implement local council elections despite Housing and Local Government Minister Zuraida Kamarudin’s announcement that her ministry was conducting a study to bring back the local council election.

Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) had described the move as another U-turn or back-tracking by Dr Mahathir, but State’s Local Government and Housing Datuk Dr Sim Kui Hian said that Sarawak had its own local government ordinances and was free to make decisions.

Meanwhile, Teo said that historically and through the pre-formation of Malaysia documentation namely the Inter-Governmental Committee Report 1962, the autonomy to run its local government including that to conduct local government elections for its local authorities was among one of the powers retained by Sarawak upon its entry as part of the Federation of Malaysia.

She added the local government also appeared as an item in the State List of the Federal Constitution to this day.

Teo was also of the view that the elections would strengthen grassroots democracy and participation in decision making amongst communities that had already bonded together by local ties.

“These kinds of elections will provide a good start and training for the younger generations who aspire to be the peoples’ representatives at the state or national levels.

“If they are elected, they will also learn about budgets, taxes, levies, basics of good governance, accountability and integrity in the running of local government,” she said.

She added it would benefit the rate-payers and citizens as a whole because non-partisan local government elections would ensure that councillors were held accountable to the voters.

“Issues and services close to the hearts of the residents and locals like low-cost housing, town/country planning including public libraries, recreation and other public amenities can be better aired and heard by the elected councillors, making the decisions more reflective of the wishes of the locals.

“Having effective and accountable local councillors and mayors will also free up state assemblymen or Members of Parliament from policy-making and law-making.

“We, therefore call upon the state and ministers in charge to show the right way and bring back local council elections in the state but must have further consultations and debates with stakeholders and grassroots civil society on the merits of restoring these elections,” said Teo.