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Public administration: Local govt challenges

By January 14, 2019November 1st, 2023No Comments

KL City Hall (right). Society may have to give more attention to local authorities in the immediate future because they are in direct contact with the people on a daily basis in matters close to their hearts. NSTP/AIZUDDIN SAAD

WITH the advent of Malaysia Baru, several reforms may have to be initiated not only for economic transformation, which is quite usual, but also in few areas of social development as well as public administration and governance.

This is to ensure that further modernisation of the economy and society and greater accountability can be facilitated.

Several months before the general election in May, the Malaysian Economic Association initiated an interesting conference on public sector governance suggesting the greater use of the Parliamentary Select Committee to provide guidance to our lawmakers on how democracy should function in the future.

This is in line with the developments in a few major countries of the Commonwealth, especially with regard to the establishment of legislation and institutions related to efforts aimed at boosting accountability and transparency in society.

However, over the years with the growth in population and rapid urbanisation as well as industrial restructuring, the urban landscape has indeed changed which influenced many local authorities. The local authorities are at the front line facing the consequences and challenges of urbanisation.

Over the years the local councils have become town councils, and the latter have graduated now into municipalities while former municipalities have transformed into city councils, consequent upon population increases and changes in output structure.

Amid the changes, our capability to administer and to manage change and to finance such changes in urban areas may not be at the level expected, given that local governments have not been getting much policy attention for so many years other than annual grants.

The urban population, now far exceeding 70 per cent of the total population, is faced with challenges such as providing affordable homes, controlling the incidences of dengue fever, reducing traffic jams, inadequate public transport, demand for street lighting, and also rising social stresses leading to a rise in mental health concerns.

The mayoral positions are filled with central government officials who may not be adequately trained on how to administer local governments although they do become competent from learning on the job. However, some of them, the likes of the late Tan Sri Elyas Omar, have done well, though.

These officials’ mental orientation is largely, and understandably so, in line with fiscal and developmental orientations of the central government and its agencies, notwithstanding that their key performance indicators should necessarily be different from those of the central government, which, at this juncture, are mainly concerned with deficit budget and debt management. The role of local authorities is to provide basic social services for the urban population.

There are about 150 local governments in the country, yet we do not have a strong central training institute to cater for their manpower requirements to meet their diverse functions of urban management. The only exception is the training institute set up for Kuala Lumpur City Hall.

In the UK, there is a specialised institution to provide training for local governments.

The local governments are also handicapped in the matter of financial autonomy as their revenue base is weak and the capability of raising new revenue sources is at best not creative and less adventurous.

The subsidy given to them by the federal government as provided by the Constitution is clearly inadequate given the expectations for them to deliver good services to society in the form of solid waste disposal, clean drains, healthy environment, and adequate affordable houses, parks, and adequate street lighting.

These are the real and everyday concerns of the men on the street. Society may have to give more attention to the local authorities in the immediate future simply because they are in direct contact with the people on a daily basis in matters close to their hearts, such as drainage, transportation, car parks, and reserves for parks, and street lighting and utilities.

The failure to supply the facilities at a reasonable price remains a challenge to the local authorities.

Further, as we all may know, the costs of providing many urban services can be high by their very nature, such as the costs in the maintenance of public parks, street lighting, drainage, and solid waste disposal.

Malaysian society does expect high standards and high quality urban services, especially in cities and towns, which have multiple roles such as national or state capitals, cultural and education centres. What more if they are tourist and financial hubs of the nation.