Home Civil Society Voices PJ city councillors steamrolled, to what end? – C4

PJ city councillors steamrolled, to what end? – C4

HEBI B/PIXABAY

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On 30 May, 19 councillors of the Petaling Jaya City Council walked out of an ongoing council meeting after Petaling Jaya Mayor Mohamad Azhan Md Amir refused to heed their concerns regarding the procedure taken in granting approval for a development project on Lorong Sultan, wherein approval has been granted despite an appeal by the applicant still pending before the State Appeals Board.

According to a joint statement by the councillors released on the same day, this decision was made by the city council despite the disagreement of a majority of the members present at the one-stop centre meeting on 17 May, when this matter was discussed.

Further, the councillors have maintained that this decision is in stark contravention of the relevant laws governing local authorities and the city council’s previously established practice in similar cases, which would set a dangerous precedent for future cases and possibly expose the council to future legal challenges.

The Center to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4 Center) is concerned with the hasty manner in which the approval for this project is being pushed through, as well as the disdain with which the councillors’ opposing views have been treated.

As the councillors have noted, it has been common practice where an appeal regarding an application is made to the Appeals Board, for the local authority to refrain from making any decision thereto, because the matter has been brought before a different forum.

It is unclear why this particular applicant or project is being treated differently, especially when the Appeals Board is set to make its final decision on 20 June.

The question then arises: why can’t the Petaling Jaya City Council simply wait for a few weeks before deciding on their further steps regarding the approval of the application, especially when serious doubts have been raised as to the propriety of the decision?

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Why is the city council displaying such urgency in approving this particular project with little regard to potential procedural defects, to the extent of reversing established practice?

We must bear in mind that the plot of land in question, upon which the iconic A&W drive-in restaurant is situated, has sentimental value to the local community and must therefore be handled with care and sensitivity. Any impropriety in the development process may attract legal actions which may further complicate the matter.

C4 Center also deeply regrets the manner in which the mayor responded to the councillors voicing their disagreements during the council meeting, by repeatedly stating that the matter is only being raised to inform the council and that there can be no debate on it.

Not only is this a clear example of stifling dissent, but it is also perplexing how the mayor is able to insist that the decision to grant approval has been made when a majority of the members of the one-stop committee meeting had disagreed with the decision in the first place.

According to Section 26 of the Local Government Act 1976, the general rule is that “all questions coming before any meeting of the local authority shall be decided by a majority of the votes of the councillors present”.

Hence, the mayor’s reliance on subsidiary legislation and guidelines to support the validity of this decision is misguided, in light of the clear wording of the primary act of Parliament.

Further, C4 Center is concerned by the mayor’s assertion that in respect of decisions made by the one-stop committee, the councillors’ only role is to provide input from social and political aspects, as this indicates a fundamental misunderstanding of the role councillors play in the structure of local government.

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Under Section 10 of the Local Government Act, councillors are appointed on the basis of “wide experience in local government affairs”, “distinction in any profession, commerce or industry”, or being “capable of representing the interests of their communities”.

They are meant to have an important role in the system of checks and balances, ie to prevent concentration of power and promote diversity of opinion within local governments.

Thus, to completely shut these 19 councillors out of the decision-making process and unilaterally decide on a course of action which they have strongly opposed, seriously calls into question the commitment of the city council to the principles of good governance and the rule of law.

It is noteworthy that this is not the first time that a walkout has been staged by the Petaling Jaya city councillors, and these councillors must be commended for steadfastly upholding their principles and demonstrating their ability to make independent decisions in the best interests of the residents of Petaling Jaya.

Worse, the video recording of the 30 May council meeting, which was posted on the city council’s official Youtube channel has inexplicably been taken down. This is further damning evidence that suggests impropriety on the part of the council in this regard, given this crude attempt at erasing the public record of the debate.

It is shocking that such tactics have been employed because this effectively leads to suppression of public awareness, and the city council must come forward to explain who issued the instructions to remove the recording and the grounds for doing so. This is an extremely regrettable course of action, and the C4 Center urges the council to ensure full transparency in this matter and to preserve the right to access the information in Selangor.

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Therefore, C4 Center urges for:

  • Investigations to be commenced by the relevant authorities to identify whether certain laws or procedures were not complied with, and for remedial actions to be implemented if any such non-compliance has indeed occurred
  • The mayor and/or the city council to come clean and explain their reasoning for this sudden alteration in the procedure
  • The mayor and the city council to seriously consider the concerns raised by the 19 councillors by ensuring that any decision made is in compliance with the correct laws, procedures and practices, and to maintain full transparency regarding the decision-making process
  • The city council to refrain from violating fundamental principles of freedom of information and transparency by removing data which has previously been available to the public from easily accessible channels

On 1 June Selangor Menteri Besar Amirudin Shari stated that the entire disagreement arose out of a “misunderstanding”.

We call upon the menteri besar to explain what he meant by simplifying the entire situation as being a mere misunderstanding, in light of the blatant manner in which the councillors were steamrolled by the mayor.

The law must be applied equally to all, and failure to observe this fundamental principle risks tarnishing the image of the city council, as well as Selangor state itself as a beacon of democratic ideals and principles. – C4 Center

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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