3g: Local Democracy
Of the three levels of government—federal, state and local—local government
(city, municipality and district councils) has the most direct influence and impact
upon the daily lives of the general public. Local authorities play the important
role of managing the development process at local level while adhering to basic
principles of democracy and administrative efficiency, and ensuring the social and
economic development of the people and areas within its jurisdiction. Local
governments are the last gatekeepers for projects that either improve people’s
lives or have disastrous consequences. As such, constant feedback and public
engagement is crucial to ensure that their actions have the approval of local
communities. Unfortunately, the absence of local government elections has made
it challenging, if not impossible for principles such as public participation,
transparency and local representation to be a prerogative.
I: Local Represeationnt
There should be “no taxation without representation”. Currently, local
councillors are appointed by the ruling political parties and represent the interests
of the politicians and parties that appoint them. This interest may be in conflict
with those of the residents, whom these appointed councillors are supposed to
serve. The appointment of city mayors and council heads is also based on
1. Reinstate local council elections.
(Wong Tsu Soon, Agora Society Malaysia, Proposal
3G-1; Fork Yow Leong, Proposal 3G-2)
i. Bring back local council elections, which was officially abolished under
the Local Government Act 1976 (LGA).
ii. Until the legislation is officially reinstated, hold provisional elections,
with the winning candidates appointed as councillors by the authority of
the Menteri Besar.
iii. Include election of the mayor as part of local elections.
II: Freedom of Information & Public Participation
Public participation in local affairs starts with the availability of information.
Local democracy is possible only if citizens are given adequate information to
provide feedback to policy makers. Local governments in Malaysia have been
slow to embrace the culture of open data and open data initiatives. On top of
this, secrecy laws such as the OSA do not support a safe environment for
transparent open data and data sharing. Instead, such laws enable certain corrupt
parties to withhold information from the public that could otherwise help ensure
a transparent and accountable government.
2. Make information available to the public through policy and legislative
(Jaslin Nadia, DHRRA Malaysia, Proposal 3G-3; Danesh Prakash Chacko, Tindak Malaysia, Proposal 3G-4)
i. Institute an open data policy, mandating all levels of government to
voluntarily publish important information. Local councils must
periodically publish a list of open data information in a format that is
accessible to all.
ii. Enact a Freedom of Information (FOI) law at the federal level to
enshrine the rights of the public individuals to request information of
public interest, and reduce vagueness and arbitrariness in the criteria for
open data release.
iii. Subscribe to the Open Government Partnership and adopt their
framework of principles and practices.
iv. Promote public participation in the annual budget of local councils via
participatory budgeting, and adhere to the principles laid down by the
International Budget Partnership.
These two main action items on local democracy will improve public
participation and foster greater community engagement in the service delivery
efforts of local councils. Open data sharing within the local government
ecosystem promotes transparency, while encouraging the adoption of more
holistic and inclusive working practices. A multi-disciplinary, multi-stakeholder
approach is needed to solve the current multi-dimensional problems of climate
change, the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the pandemic. Local governments
can no longer just work for the people—they will need to work with the people.
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