Forum organisers and panelists
A public forum titled “Strengthen Local Democracy and Restore Local Government Elections” organized by SUARAM and Penang Chinese Town Hall Youth Section was held at the Komtar Auditorium A on Saturday night 27 Feb 2010. The panelists were:
- YB Chow Kon Yeow: Penang State EXCO for Local Government and Traffic Management
- Ms Maria Chin Abdullah: Chairperson of Coalition for Good Governance (CGG), a coalition of 49 civil society organizations.
On strengthening local democracy:
Mr Jeffrey Phang gave some insights and shared his experiences on local democracy in his Kota Damansara area. The residents there tried for 8 years to get the State Government to gazette a nearby forest in the area to a forest reserve. Their tenacity finally paid off after protests and publicity by the residents. (Find out more on "Kota Damansara Forest Re-Gazetted" here.) On a separate issue, when the authorities blocked access of a public road going through their area, the residents protested and succeeded to stop the implementation. Phang stressed the need to build capacity amongst residents and NGOs as a third force. He said that there is a need to shift towards a sustainable development instead of ad hoc development. We cannot depend solely on politicians to fight for our cause.
YB Chow said that the State Government has learnt that it is better to work with NGOs and stakeholders whenever any issue arises. Problems will be solved faster this way than by confrontation.
Ms Maria Chin reported that the Coalition for Good Governance (CGG) is currently on a campaign and national roadshow to drive state governments for more Participation in local democracy, ensuring the rakyat’s right to Information and to bring back local council Elections (acronym P.I.E.). The Rakyat must have direct participation in decision making and that local government must ensure the rakyat’s concerns are met, including minority groups’ interests.
Several speakers from the floor gave their comments. Mr Ong Jin Cheng from SUARAM stresses the need for a Freedom of Information Act for a true democracy to succeed. Correct decisions can only be made when the right information is made available
Mr James Lochhead shared his views of the UK system of community development workers. Community development workers often act as a link between communities and local government and other statutory bodies. They work with particular communities to collectively bring about social change and improve quality of life. They work with individuals, families or whole communities to empower them to:
- identify their needs, opportunities, rights and responsibilities;
- plan what they want to achieve, and take appropriate action;
- develop activities and services to improve their lives.
Another speaker from the floor lamented his disappointment in working in one of the State’s task force committee for traffic. The working committee has made many recommendations and gave feedback to the State but none of these has been implemented. As a result, many of the members who volunteered their time in the task force have resigned out of frustration. He questioned the State’s sincerity in calling for the setting up of these task force.
YB Chow making a point
A section of the audience
On restoring local government elections: