Call for Royal Commission on Local Government to eradicate corruption in local councils and restore direct election

Speech at the "Restore Local Government Election" Dinner
Chow Kon Yeow

(Penang Chinese Town Hall, Friday): In 1968, the Royal Commission of Inquiry to Investigate the Workings of Local Authorities in West Malaysia headed by Senator Athi Nahappan strongly recommended direct election for local councils despite its good and bad aspects.

However, the Prime Minister's Department effectively set aside the Royal Commission recommendations in 1971, saying that elected local councils were not consonant with national objectives and provided for "an over-democratised government at the local level".


Historical observers, however, say while the Indonesian Confrontation and the May 13 racial riots were ostensible factors that led to the demise of local elections, the domination of opposition parties at local level was a contributing factor.


Today, under Section 15 of the Local Government Act, all provisions relating to local government elections shall cease to have force or effect and Councillors are to be appointed by the State Authority.


Section 10(2) of the same Act provides that: " Councillors of the local authority shall be appointed from amongst persons …who have wide experience in local government affairs or who have achieved distinction in any profession, commerce or industry, or are otherwise capable of representing the interests of their communities in the local authority area."


However, we all know today, it is common practice for local councillors to be political appointees, for example in Penang Island, a general formula of 4:3:2:1 exists to represent the quota for local councillors appointees from Umno, Gerakan. MCA and MIC respectively.


All these years, the BN government had abused the system of appointment by making party members as councillors, both as a dumping grounds for political rejects who lost in election and as grooming ground for councillors to eventually contest in State or Federal elections.


Most of the time, local councillors are not responsible and accountable to ratepayers for  they owe their allegiance to their political master who appointed them. Most of the time, they are unable to represent the interests of their communities in the local authority area.


The DAP is calling for the restoration of local government election because taxpayers must be given the democratic rights to elect their representatives not only to State Legislative Assembly and Federal Parliament but also the third tier of government in local councils.


More importantly, elected representatives from the Opposition would ensure better and effective check and balances in the local councils.


With local authorities having such a wide scope of powers and functions, opportunities for corruption abound.


Transparency International Malaysia once described local governments as "a corruption minefield".


Even Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi recognised the urgency of the problem and directed the re-engineering of all local councils.


We want direct election to allow Opposition councillors to clean up the mess in local councils and to make them corruption free.

Meanwhile, we the people of Penang call for the setting up of a Royal Commission of Inquiry with the objectives of enhancing the management of local councils and to reaffirm the recommendation of direct election of local government



*  Chow Kon Yeow, DAP National Vice Chairman and Member of Parliament for Tanjong