Saturday, November 22, 2008

Creating world class cities: a prerequisite

Sydney: a world class city. But where is Malaysia's world class city?

A large proportion of the Malaysian population now resides within urban areas. As Malaysian cities grow bigger, issues relating to urban management become more complex and a host of new problems also start to set in. Traffic congestion, ineffective public transport, environmental degradation, and waste management are just some of the problems that the local authorities in Malaysia have to grapple with.

The local authorities are often made accountable for these matters that receive a great deal of public interest. Yet, the challenge has always been the overlapping roles of various government agencies, as well as, the lack of empowerment and limitation of authority vested upon them.

In more developed countries, local authorities are given more authority over matters that could be delivered more effectively at the local level by the local government themselves. It makes sense. After all, the local authorities being the “third-tier of government”, should have a clearer and fairer understanding of issues and problems within their areas of jurisdiction.

In the UK, Japan, and Australia for example, public transportation are within the jurisdiction of the local authorities to control and manage. Thus, services are able to be tailor-made to meet local needs more effectively.

In contrast, local authorities in Malaysia have no say what so ever in planning for public transportation. Instead they are controlled and decided elsewhere by some Federal ministry or agencies in Putarajaya or Kuala Lumpur. Why, even the routing of buses within their areas are decided for them by Federal agencies! And we are not even talking about approvals for rail-based transport like LRT or monorail yet here.

Ironically, whilst people all over the world are talking about “decentralization of power” and “empowerment of local governments” here we are bucking the trend. Because if recent developments are to be any indication, the Federal Government and its ministries are intent on usurping more powers from our local governments. Even traditional functions of local authorities like picking up of rubbish are being controlled from KL!

Hard to believe yes. But that’s Malaysia for you.

If this trend continues then we can just dream on about creating global and world class cities. Major, successful cities world over are given the trust and mandate to deal with local issues. In that way, they are able to discharge their duties effectively and meet the aspirations of the local population which they directly serve and are accountable to.

What we need in Malaysia right now is nothing short of a paradigm shift and a change in mindset. The management and organization of local authorities need to be enhanced. For that, the Federal Government and its battery of Ministries and agencies have just got to let go some of their functions. And local authorities have got to be given the necessary resources – jurisdiction, manpower and financial.

Only then can we talk about creating world class cities.


KotaStar said...

Wah, After the pc kabut, it looks like you have been boiling to let the steam off.What came out is straight from the heart from a person in the know. As a planner it must feel rotten not to have even a small contribution towards the cities' growth for the better.We visited Sydney and Melbourne a few years back at the invitation of a friend to see their garbage disposal system and even working with a company from Denmark to introduce new approaches in Malaysia. No way.No break through.
Puntuality of collection, disposal into 3 separate containers, special days for collection of big bulky items, special arrangement for hotels and factories disposal of rubbish all help to make garbage disposal cleaner, fast and thorough.Of course new machineries were used and less on humanpower. I am sceptic re the heritage following now.Hopefully UNESCO's recognition of Penang and Malacca as 2 heritage centers will not make our leaders go back to the old carrying system. Ha,Ha. And public transportation/ library services/open space etc.all ingredients of a world class 'town' much less a city all beg for a defination and cry from our authorities. What says you planners?

Azizi Ahmad Termizi: said...

Pak Non

Yes, sometimes we just have got to let some steam off. You see the local authorities in Malaysia have come under a lot of stick. They have been blamed for all problems you can think of under the sun.

But what people often forget is that their hands are tied. There is only so much that they can do given the authority vested upon them.

To compound things further, they are often up against overlapping roles of Federal government agencies. Worse still, sometimes they've had to live with contradicting & counter-productive policies of those agencies.

And yet, the moment things go wrong (vis: flooding, poor public transport, poor waste management etc.) the fingers are pointed to local authorities.

It's not fair. Things just have to change.