City councils and municipal councils must be managed well. This goes without saying.
Housing and Local Government Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin thinks the best way to do it is by having elections at the local government level. And one unique to Malaysia.
Zuraida is looking at 2021 as a possible date. If our reading of her statements to the media is right, Penang or Selangor is seen as the test-bed for her to push the idea out to the rest of the nation.
Admittedly, many advanced countries have them once in four or five years. There isn’t much of a rationale for the choice of either. But in these rich countries too there is much anger in how they are run. It is not a panacea for all our ills.
Also, it must be remembered that local elections are not something we can pilot. Many things need to be put in place before one takes place. Enacting laws is just one of them. Should the pilot project fail, no government would want to be caught unwinding dead-letter laws and many things else.
We think having local government elections isn’t the only way to ensure good governance. Even if other democratic countries have them. Elections cost money. Big money, in fact.
A chat with Tan Sri Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman, chairman of the Electoral Reform Committee who is familiar with all manner of elections, reveal the stash of cash which is needed to conduct one. It is said RM400 million was spent to conduct the 14th General Election. This is one huge cash stash for a country with a RM1 trillion debt. But democracy costs money.
Like it or not, we have to have general elections. But local government elections? We like to think, we can elect out of it.
There are many reasons why we should. One, we have not done a proper study to implement one nation-wide. Rushing into one is not a good thing to do. No doubt we had local government elections in the 1960s before it was snuffed out by the 1968 Athi Nahappan Royal Commission of Inquiry.
Two, cost is of great concern. The Athi Nahappan Royal Commission recognised it, too. Using the GE14 cost as a benchmark, Rashid says local elections may cost us RM200 million. May be more. Imagine spending this every five years. Given the number of poor in the country, especially in rural areas, the money would be better spent eradicating poverty.
Three, Malaysia presents a unique case. However much we try to argue away the economic reality, wealth seems to come identified with race. This is more so in cities and urban areas. Malaysia hasn’t found the magic formula to distribute wealth equitably.
Rashid says local elections wouldn’t be a problem if we can ensure that there is equitable distribution of all the races in the urban areas. Cities must not be just for one community. Prosperity must be shared. We agree.
Finally, local government elections do not guarantee good governance. Good governance is about equity, accountability, transparency, efficiency and effectiveness. Such an outcome is possible without spending time and money on local elections. Perhaps, it is an idea whose time has not come. Again.
It would not so long as good governance is possible by other means.