Friday, July 25, 2008

What are the roles of councillors? - The Star

Jul 25, 2008 - By SALINA KHALID

THE 288 new councillors for the two city councils and 10 municipal or district councils in Selangor have been assigned zones within their respective councils.

Much has been discussed and debated about the selection and appointment of these councillors since the Pakatan Rakyat state government invited nominations from the community for the councillor posts following the March 8 general election.

Much has also been said about certain characters with doubtful backgrounds and underworld connections who were selected as councillors.

One nominee was alleged to have used his appointment letter to throw his weight around to prevent enforcement officers from doing their duty.

Arpah: Councillors have to reside in the council they are serving.

One thing, however, has not been thoroughly discussed and articulated in public, and that is the roles and functions of a councillor.

What roles and responsibilities do the local councillors have?

Under the public administration scheme, the local council is the third tier of government after the federal government and state government.

A recent street poll revealed that most people are not clear and certain about what the functions of their local councillors are.

Many people do not know whether the council appointees are there to represent them or simply given the post as political rewards or to guard the interests of their political parties.

Petaling Jaya resident Hamzah Mohamad thinks that councillors are the eyes and ears of the local council and are those whom people go to when dealing with matters concerning the local authority

“They are like an agent of the local council to me. Yet I do not know exactly what their role is,” he said.

Hamzah, who has been a resident in Petaling Jaya for about 10 years, said he had met several councillors for various reasons, including for assistance in local council matters like parking problems in his residential area.

He knows that the councillors meet every month at a full board meeting to discuss and decide on matters concerning the community.

Other than that, he doesn’t know what else do the councillors do.

Hamzah is not alone. Most people are also in the dark like him.

According to a former councillor, councillors should serve as the eyes and ears of the council so that they can serve the people and at the same time advice the council on what is going-on on the ground.

“They should listen to the needs of local people and take their views into account when making decisions,” he said.

A source in the Federal Local Government and Housing Ministry describes councillors as community leaders who work in partnership with the respective local authority.

Khalid: Councillors must strive to improve the quality of the delivery system.

According to Federal Local Housing Department director-general Datin Arpah Abdul Razak, an appointed councillor has to be reside in the area of the council’s jurisdiction he is serving and have a wide experience and expertise in the local government matters. She said this in a recent talk.

Section 10(2) of the Local Government Act 1976 states that “councillors of the local authority shall be appointed from among persons the majority of whom shall be persons ordinarily residents in the local authority area who in the opinion of the state authority 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”.

Although it is the duty of a councillor to represent the whole community, he also has a duty to serve the local government as a member of its administration.

A councillor must know what is going on in his area, and to help solve any problems or answer the queries that the community may have.

The councillor’s job involves helping to solve the people’s problems, such as garbage collection, clogged drains, floods, as well the general welfare of the people.

The councillors are among the decision-makers of policies and practices of the council.

They are responsible for helping the people understand the policies and projects of their local councils.

Councillors, hence, are important because they are supposed to be the voice of the community and play a vital role in the functioning of democracy.

They are the community representatives and champion the local issues to enhance the quality of life and development in the area that they serve.

Meanwhile, the newly-appointed local councillors in Selangor comprises party workers, professionals, NGOs, the disabled and women.

Previously more than one councillor was assigned to a zone, but now each has been assigned a zone.

Each will be assigned an office and staff to assist him in his work to serve the community.

Under the Pakatan Rakyat state government, the state assemblymen are not appointed as councillors, unlike the previous Barisan Nasional state government.

Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim in his speech during last month’s mass swearing-in of the councillors reminded them that they were to serve the people.

He said the process of awarding contracts through direct negotiations had been abolished in Selangor and there would be no exception at the local council level.

“These councillors must strive to improve the quality of the delivery system and find ways to increase revenue and ensure that every ringgit is wisely spent,” Khalid said.

He said the councillors were expected to practice good governance at all times and ensure that decisions made at the sub-committee and full board meetings were favourable to the people.

“They must be impartial and should not allow any parties to exploit their positions to serve unscrupulous interests,” he said.

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