The Housing and Local Government Ministry published the rating of 97 local governments recently. I have no idea on the criteria for arriving at a particular star. What is expected is where 65% of the local authorities have 2 star and below. No local authorities have 5 stars. Only 10% of them have 4 stars. Most of the 4 stars are either City Councils or Municipal Councils.
We have essentially a 3 tier government – the federal, state and local authorities. Often the weakest link in the government is the local authorities. This is the government agency that is nearest to the Rakyat - the front liners. Often the Rakyat draw conclusion of the government delivery system based on the local authority’s performance as it is most intimately linked to Rakyat. It provides very basic but essential services: from garbage management, drain cleaning, issuance of business license and basic infrastructure development. Hence, its performance has an impact at the local level to the Rakyat.
Hence, I noticed while all local authorities in Kelantan fared badly, the voters supported their state government. However in Penang and Selangor where the local authority has better star rating, the Rakyat voted against the state government. This elicits 2 questions:
1. Bigger issues at play during the 308 election.
2. The star rating is flawed.
Local authorities functions with great limitations especially financial and human resource limitations. This is one government’s institution that has not changed much as the Nation and its people move forward. Most local authorities financial position is best describes as disappointing. There is not much avenue for increase in revenue collection as local authorities are dependent on license and house assessment as the main source of its revenue. In a rapidly developing township then there is substantial increase in revenue, e.g: Kuala Lumpur City Council, otherwise the local authorities’ expenditure will continue to go up while its revenue remains stagnant.
The lack of professional staffs is another big setback to local authorities. You can have a situation where a technician evaluate plan involving a highly specialized and technical building submitted by a multinational company.
A lot of local authorities have to be dependent on state government and federal government handout for development fund. Hence, one can imagine the conflict when the state government and federal government are from different parties. In theory, funding should be on needs and not on political affiliations. This is naked partisan politics. Even within the same party there is partisan politics!
The councilors have more roar than bite. It takes time and experience to deal with the local authority’s staff with its bureaucracy and hidden agenda.
In the long term there is need to revamp the local authorities by:
1. Increase source of revenue
2. More professional staffs
3. Better governance and accountability by staffs
4. Local authorities staff should be subjected to transfer out of the local authoty and not a closed service (but this need to amend the constitution)
5. There are pros and cons about councilors being elected by the local residents
6. Development grant from state and federal government depending on the population size within the local authority. This is besides the capital grant for maintenance of essential services. This will reduce inter-party politicking. Until then, I cannot foresee much improvement in the delivery system within the local authorities. The PR state government is coming to term with this political reality.