No way to treat councillors – C4 Center admonishes PJ Mayor

Petaling Jaya Mayor Mohamad Azhan

PETALING JAYA, June 2 – The Center to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4 Center) says it is highly concerned with the hasty manner in which the approval for a development project in Lorong Sultan here had been pushed through, despite objections from 19 councillors from the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) and the manner in which their opposing views had been handled.

On May 30th, 19 Councillors of the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) walked out of an ongoing Council Meeting after Petaling Jaya Mayor Mohamad Azhan Md Amir refused to heed their concerns regarding the procedure taken in granting approval for a development project on Lorong Sultan, wherein approval has been granted despite an appeal by the applicant still pending before the State Appeal Board.

In a joint statement on the same day, the councillors said the decision had been taken by MBPJ despite the disagreement of a majority of the members present at the OSC Meeting on May 17th, when it had been discussed. The councillors had also said the decision was in stark contravention of the relevant laws governing local authorities.

In a statement today, C4 Center said as the councillors had pointed out that when an appeal is still pending, the local authority should refrain from making any decision, and hence it remained unclear why this particular project is being treated differently. The Appeal Board is set to make its final decision on June 20th.

“Why can’t MBPJ simply wait for a few weeks before deciding on their further steps regarding the approval of the application, especially when serious doubts have been raised as to the propriety of the decision?

“Why is MBPJ displaying such urgency in approving this particular project with little regard to potential procedural defects, to the extent of reversing established practice?

“We must bear in mind that the plot of land in question, upon which the iconic A&W Drive-In restaurant is situated, has sentimental value to the local community and must therefore be handled with care and sensitivity. Any impropriety in the development process may attract legal actions which may further complicate the matter.”

C4 Center also reiterated its regret over the manner in which the Mayor responded to the councillors voicing their disagreements during the meeting, by repeatedly stating that the matter is only being raised in order to inform the council and that there can be no debate on it.

“Not only is this a clear example of stifling dissent, but it is also perplexing how the Mayor is able to insist that the decision to grant approval has been made when a majority of the members of the OSC Meeting had disagreed with the decision.. According to Section 26 of the Local Government Act 1976, the general rule is that “all questions coming before any meeting of the local authority shall be decided by a majority of the votes of the Councillors present.” Hence, the Mayor’s reliance on subsidiary legislation and guidelines to support the validity of this decision is misguided, in light of the clear wording of the primary Act of Parliament.

“Further, C4 Center is concerned by the Mayor’s assertion that in respect of decisions made by the OSC, the councillors’ only role is to provide input from social and political aspects, as this indicates a fundamental misunderstanding of the role councillors play in the structure of local government. Under Section 10 of the Local Government Act 1976, councillors are appointed on the basis of “wide experience in local government affairs”, “distinction in any profession, commerce or industry”, or being “capable of representing the interests of their communities”. They are meant to have an important role in the system of checks and balances, i.e. to prevent concentration of power and promote diversity of opinion within local governments. “

The C4 Center said there have been also attempts to suppress information on the events that took place and has urged for a full investigation into the matter to ensure full transparency and to preserve the right to access the information in Selangor.

“Investigations are to be commenced by the relevant authorities to identify whether certain laws or procedures were not complied with, and for remedial actions to be implemented if any such non-compliance has indeed occurred.

The Mayor and/or MBPJ must come clean and explain their reasoning for this sudden alteration in the procedure and the concerns raised by the 19 Councillors must be looked into.

It also sought clarification from Selangor Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Amirudin Shari, who had stated on Thursday, June 1st, that the entire disagreement arose out of a “misunderstanding”.

“The law must be applied equally to all, and failure to observe this fundamental principle risks tarnishing the image of MBPJ, as well as the Selangor State itself as a beacon of democratic ideals and principles.”