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Make NGOs advisors, consultants to local councils

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Firsthand experience is far better than just paper qualifications, however lofty, writes Ravinder Singh.

Deputy Housing and Local Government Minister Raja Kamarul Bahrin Shah hit the nail on the head when he said that there are property developers who are acting like local government councils as the latter have not been taking the lead, and that this is a cause for concern.

It is certainly a cause for grave concern. Just look at what is happening in Penang with the transport masterplan. The principal parties behind the push to reclaim a few thousands acres from the sea, to build bigger roads at grade or elevated levels and to cut tunnels through the hills and undersea to the mainland are construction and property development companies.

And the Penang government supports their proposals and rejects those that the NGOs have put forth although the latter are more modern and less costly.

Some of the reasons the local councils are allowing this to happen are:

  • First and foremost, local councillors do not have the knowledge and expertise that is above that of the developers and construction companies. This is why they have these companies sitting on the panels of town hall meetings with the public.
  • they are too proud to admit it and not prepared to swallow their pride.
  • they feel they are the ‘authority’ to make decisions and it is up to them from whom they seek advice. So they ‘berlagak’ their authority.
  • more development and construction means more revenue for the local councils. So any kind of development is justified.
  • they look upon experts in the NGOs with contempt as if they are mere noise-makers or ‘empty barrels’ when in fact some NGOs have better experts than those the government or the developers and construction companies have.
  • we also have the scourge of corruption in this country, and one can only wonder about its role here.

The deputy minister, who didn’t mince his words, has highlighted this culture of “co-operation” between the local councils and the construction and property development companies. He should now quickly take the next important step, ie put a stop to it.

I appeal to the deputy minister to direct the Penang state government to:

  • put its grand RM40bn-plus project on hold
  • take the construction and property development companies off the planning and decision-making on this project
  • get truly independent experts (ie without any vested interest in the monetary benefits from the project) to re-look at all aspects of public transport not for the next 20 years, but for a very much longer period while preserving the unique nature of the island state.

Cities in other countries are going into modern mass transport systems such as trackless trains that run on existing roads. Penang on the other hand is pushing to implement the old-fashioned proposals of construction and property development companies, which will benefit these companies even if the character of the state is ruined.

The deputy minister should seriously look into appointing NGOs with experts in various fields as advisors and consultants to local councils and government departments responsible for various kinds of development.

The NGOs’ experts are senior people who have a wealth of knowledge and experience that is sorely lacking among their juniors in the local councils and government departments. Firsthand experience is far better than just paper qualifications, however lofty. Tap the expertise of the NGOs for the benefit of the country.

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