Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Testing the MBPJ

By KW Mak
LOCAL government elections seems to be a hot topic in Malaysia's current political landscape. The belief is that a local council would be more accountable to the taxpaying public if elections are held.

The Election Commission, however, will not conduct local government elections because it violates the Local Government Act. So while we are stuck with it for the time being, the public can still use this piece of legislation to keep their respective local councils accountable and transparent.

Meetings public

Section 23 of the Local Government Act states that all local council meetings are open to the public. But it adds a clause that exempts committee meetings from being open to the public, unless the committee decides otherwise. Little wonder, then, that the local council automatically applies this clause to all committee meetings.

This clause does not cover the local council's full board meeting held at the end of each month. This is why the press and the public are allowed to enter the boardroom to observe the proceedings of the full board meeting.

They are, however, only allowed to speak if the meeting's chairperson — usually the mayor or council president — gives permission.

Those who wish to observe the monthly full board meetings of the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) can obtain the meeting dates and times on the council's website. The schedule is uploaded every month on the main page in one of the bullet points.

Ratepayers who would like to attend the full board meeting must wear formal attire. The absolute minimum is an office shirt with tie and pants for men, and a blouse with skirt that covers the knees for the ladies. MBPJ officers are instructed to escort a person out of the room if they are not properly attired.

Meeting minutes

Section 27(3) states that the minutes of all local authority proceedings shall be kept at the local authority's office and shall be available to any councillor, ratepayer or government officer from within the local authority's area. The law also stipulates that any of these individuals are allowed to make a copy of any part of the minutes without fee.

However, the Act also says that the minutes of any committee proceedings shall not be open to inspection by a ratepayer unless the local authority otherwise directs.

(Meeting pic by Sigurd Decroos / sxc.hu)

It should come as no surprise that the meeting minutes of all committees are, by default, unavailable to the public. However, the exemption doesn't apply to the minutes of the local council's full board meeting, and should, technically, be available to the public upon request.

This part of the law was not applied by the MBPJ back when I was still a reporter (and also a Petaling Jaya ratepayer). Then, access to the full board meeting minutes was denied to me and other ratepayers, even though we argued about it. With the Pakatan Rakyat now at the helm of Selangor, will the MBPJ be making things easier for ratepayers?

Testing required

Kampung Tunku assemblyperson Lau Weng San has motioned for the full board meeting minutes to be publicly available and even uploaded on the MBPJ website. This matter was raised in February, and  I was made to understand unofficially that the public can request to view the minutes but not make copies.

I'm not aware of any forms that the public would have to fill in order to gain access to the information. So I have to assume that the request can be made via mail, with an attachment of the assessment bill as proof that the person requesting for the minutes is a ratepayer.

Would someone like to test if they can gain access to the full board meeting minutes and report back to me on their success or failure? In the event of a failure, do record the reasons given and/or obstacles that were faced. I can't test this myself since I'm a councillor, and the minutes are automatically available to me.

Khir Toyo (Pic by JohnLeeMK /
Wiki commons)

There is also the matter of the Official Secrets Act that is used to keep the local council minutes secret. The former Selangor menteri besar, Datuk Seri Khir Toyo from Umno, empowered MBPJ deputy secretary
Ahmat Mohayen Said to classify MBPJ documents as secret. But with the power to classify comes the power to declassify.

Would someone also want to volunteer writing in to the local council to request for the declassification of a committee meeting's minutes?

Before he became a councillor, KW Mak was part of the resident-initiated effort with Edward Lee, who is now Bukit Gasing assemblyperson, to gain access to the MBPJ's accounts. The accounts were made available for download via the MBPJ website when the Pakatan Rakyat came into power.Courtesy of Nut Graph

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