Monday, 14 May 2018

Local government elections

I would like to feature here a write-up by Jeffrey Seow, as taken from his facebook, on the local government elections which some elected representatives are pushing for Kuala Lumpur. Heck, they should be pushing for the revival of the third vote for the whole country. I know that for one, the Penang government will fully support this move. Make the local councils responsible to the people!

Maria Chin Abdullah and Lim Lip Eng said they are going to push for local elections or council elections and suddenly people are curious and asking questions about that, like, is it the same as DUN elections.
Local Government elections or Council elections are not a new thing and no, they are not the same as Dewan Undangan Negeri (State Assembly) or Dewan Rakyat (Parliamentary House of Representative) elections.
Local elections refer to the elections of the people who will lead a Municipality i.e. head of Town Council or City Council i.e. the Mayor, and his body of Municipal Councillors.
George Town's Municipal history dates back to at least 1800, the time of Penang's Governor George Leith, with the formation of her Committees of Assessors who were partially elected - they were nominated by their respective communities, and invariably included their respective Captains (Kapitan) like Chinese Captain Koh Lay Huan, Malay Captain Syed Hussain Al-Aidid and Chulia Captain Cauder Mohideen Merican (Kapitan Keling). The Committee of Assessors looked into a variety of things, which today are part of the responsibility of Municipal Town and City Councils, like sanitation, for example.
1857 saw the formalisation of that role with the establishment of that entity known as the George Town Municipal Commission led by the Resident Councillor of Penang (automatically appointed by virtue of his position per the Municipal Commissions Act), two Commissioners appointed by the Resident Councillor, and three other Commissioners elected by the Rate Payers of George Town. So just as people who pay taxes have a right to representation at a State and Federal level today, in those days, people who paid Municipal Rates e.g. Assessment or Cukai Pintu, got to vote for their Municipal Commissioners (later called Municipal Councillors). Former George Town Municipal Commissioners or Councillors included the likes of Koh Seang Tat and Lim Cheng Teik.
Local Government elections were suspended in 1913 but revived in 1951. with nine members to be elected out of a total of fifteen members of the Municipal Commission of George Town, Penang. At that time George Town, for the purposes of the elections, was divided up into Tanjung, Kelawai and Jelutong wards. By 1956 all the members were elected and George Town became the very first municipal body to become a fully elected one. The number of divisions or wards at tat time came up to five, each of whom were to elect one councillor each year, the position of President of the Council to be elected by the members of the Council. Does that sound familiar? It should, because that is how our Prime Minister was also chosen.
On the 1st of January 1957, just months away from Merdeka, George Town was made, by Royal Charter under the hand of Queen Elizabeth II, a City and her Council transformed from a Town Council into a City Council, her first Mayor was D. S. Ramanathan.
Fateful Merdeka. Not long after, the death knell was to sound over local government elections elections when the federal government suspended them in 1965. By that time George Town's City Council was the wealthiest municipal council in the whole of Malaya with an annual revenue almost twice the size of the Penang state government, and one cannot but wonder if greed was the motivation for that. Allegations of maladministration and misconduct gave the federal government excuse to transfer the fuctions of the George Town City Council to the Chief Minister of Penang in 1966.
A Royal Commission of Enquiry cleared the George Town City Council of those allegations of corruption and recommended restoring municipal elections but federal authorities refused to see this done. Instead, in 1971, the George Town City Council, together with the Penang Island Rural District Council, were taken over by the Penang state government -- Chief Minister Lim Chong Eu suspended local governments - cheating George Town residents (and residents of Penang Island's rural southwest) of their right to local representation, or representation at a municipal level.
Having lost her local elected government, George Town also lost her City status when, in 1974 the George Town City Council was merged with the Penang Island Rural District Council to form the Penang Island Municipal Council.

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