An informed public is our best bet to guarantee better governance – show interest and fight the urge to throw your hands up in despair and claim there is nothing you can do, urges Syerleena Abdul Rashid.
What makes democracy and politics work is simply this; voters need to understand the issues that are often brought up, as well as the political candidates that are running for elections.
Democracy works when people understand issues and have access to information.
However, this becomes dysfunctional when voters are misinformed and are not clued in, and therefore are unable to make healthy decisions; and this, as we know, will have an adverse impact for the communities they live in.
And this will also affect the country as a whole.
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Voter apathy and political apathy is nothing new.
It is basically a catch-22 situation; some voters feel politics is a waste of time because they feel as if politicians don’t care, while on the other hand, politicians may not care because they think that voters don’t care.
It is your run-of-the-mill chicken-or-egg question, if you ask me.
A lot of Malaysians think local government is boring and the issues we tackle aren’t cool. Councillors don’t really get to talk about 1Malaysia Development Berhad, Majlis Amanah Rakyat or healthcare.
We don’t get to decide on education policies or control the police and fire department – unlike our counterparts in other more developed nations.
People often ask me, what sort of duties do councillors do, besides inspecting drains and making sure contractors collect rubbish?
Well, we create policies and bylaws that affect our cities, municipals and districts.
Councillors are the artisans of cities, and we know how important it is to engage with communities because public participation is essential to ensure a sustainable future.
Let’s try to put this into perspective: local government levels are the closest form of government that interacts with people.
There are usually no middlemen (although, sometimes that is debatable), no buffers, and our contact details are made public.
I usually avoid referring to local government as the “lowest” form of government because of the negative connotation it may bring, hence, I often replace the definition with a more politically correct term such as “a form of government that works the closest with communities”.
How many of you find yourself complaining about monsoon drains spilling over and flooding our streets?
How many of us drive pass potholes on our way to work everyday without thinking twice?
Things only become an issue when something happens, for example, when your property is somewhat ruined from the flood water caused by poor planning or when your vehicle sustains some level of damage while using that street.
People, communities, societies and citizens must understand that everyone has a role to play, and everyone is equally responsible.
It is like a good marriage, effective public participation requires mutual respect and commitment – there must be a willingness to accept public input and the public must be willing to entrust local authority to implement best practices for the community.
Mistrust, suspicion and apprehension develop when public concerns are not addressed or acknowledged.
While it may not be easy living in a country that upholds unfettered federalism and certain issues are way beyond council jurisdiction, an informed public is our best bet to guarantee better governance – show interest and fight the urge to throw your hands up in despair and claim there is nothing you can do.
Once people feel that their input carries merit, empowerment will begin to take shape, and this will generate a spillover effect that can lead to positive results.