AS the nation suddenly enjoys the power of speaking up with no fear and begins to witness institutional reforms taking place, the residents of Kuala Lumpur are now looking forward to tackling the elephant in the room: City Hall and its officers.
We asked many stakeholders, including property owners, for their views on what is needed to reform the development of Kuala Lumpur.
The vision is clear: to turn Kuala Lumpur into a world-class city where people can comfortably live, work and play, where they are surrounded by a pleasant atmosphere in terms of greenery, arts and culture. Kuala Lumpur can become a truly cosmopolitan capital of Malaysia, not only as the financial and administrative hub for a sustainable economy, but also a vibrant and fun city to live and work in.
Is all this possible? Can we stop the rampant and shameless development of mega-rise apartments and buildings that currently stand empty with no tenants, and that keep popping up like Saruman’s evil tower.
What can we do to stop the rot in our city? Where do we begin? Here are some thoughts from the stakeholders for consideration:
1. Local council elections are the heart of democracy at the community level. Reinstate them and let us vote for the mayor of Kuala Lumpur City Hall. He or she should answer to the voters in Kuala Lumpur, not to the Federal Territories Minister.
2. The board of City Hall should include a majority of independent representatives, including those from environmental organisations. The council should not be filled with those with conflicts of interest, such as architects, city planners, and construction companies.
3. There should be full transparency in accounts and budgets. Ratepayers should know how much has been collected and how the money is spent. All projects above a certain sum must go for open tender.
4. Licensing needs to automated. Conditions and requirements for licences and building plan approvals must be clearly articulated and made available online. Approvals must be processed within a prescribed time (KPI for processing time). All such approvals must be based on a master plan, so that if it does not go according to plan, the developer cannot bribe and push the project through to completion. On the other hand, if the project is well within the guidelines and the master plan, there must be speedy approvals and support given, as well as consideration for grants.
5. Staffing and overtime abuses must be checked. Over-staffed in many divisions? Under-staffed in enforcement? Why are the police unable to stop illegal property projects? Why is it that only City Hall officers can do so? This needs to be changed and the police must be allowed to also review the projects if City Hall officers are not doing their job.
6. Declaration of assets needs to be carried out. All decision-making section heads, directors, deputy directors and elected councillors must declare their assets and be constantly monitored and audited. There must be a whistle-blowing policy in place, and an online complaints bureau where people can make complaints with regard to bribery and slow processing time. Those found guilty must have action take against them and be promptly removed from office. That would likely strike fear in everyone to be clean and efficient.
7. Proper and effective enforcement of by-laws related to issues like parking, construction activities (safety, pollution, noise, hours of work), illegal businesses, and poor hygiene at eateries. No more arbitrary exemptions, temporary permits that are renewed endlessly, or one-off campaigns that are only transient in nature.
8. Listen to stakeholders (ratepayers, residents, businesses) via surveys or town hall meetings. Formulate policies based on feedback from these stakeholders instead of just going through the motions and ignoring them.
9. Last but not least, develop a proper master plan for Kuala Lumpur through proper consultation and review it every five years. This will ensure that everyone knows the guidelines with certainty so that ad hoc approvals can be prevented. The last master plan drawn up many years ago has still not been gazetted, which means that City Hall can basically approve anything they want.
As the rakyat has given the mandate to the Government to clean up our public administration, at both federal and local levels, we reiterate that the functions of the City Hall can only be executed by competent people with integrity. After all, what is more important than lives and living standards.
The elected leaders must be directly accountable to the people living in Kuala Lumpur, and not be under the influence of politicians, peddlers and lobbyists.
© CORSTON-SMITH ASSET MANAGEMENT SDN BHD 2014