It’s a zoo out there

By Terence Fernandez, The Sun

THE Ampang Jaya Municipal Council (MPAJ) is regarded as among the worst local councils in the country. Graft allegations aside, the complaints against it and the time it takes to respond to complaints supersede that of other local authorities so much so that the chief secretary to the government had deemed it necessary to “adopt” the council.

Knowing that the nation’s top civil servant was watching perhaps helped MPAJ ameliorate itself where complaints were responded to in record (by MPAJ standards) time.

There were also fewer instances of indiscriminate development and poor planning where incidents like building a food court on a road divider were things of the past.

Counter service improved and waiting time was cut short where even during lunch hour or Friday prayers there would be someone to attend to ratepayers. Staff were worried just in case the chief secretary made one of his famous “spot checks”.

However fast forward three years, and the “anak angkat” has since become the proverbial “anak tiri” as its adoptive father spends less time on it to address other pressing national matters.

One cannot mind the coop all the time, hence when attention is distracted by other concerns, it seems that the same old ills, which we thought had been cured, return as the council suffers a relapse of incompetence, apathy and perhaps utter contempt for ratepayers who pay their salaries.

The latest testament of the council’s dereliction of duty are the problems faced by the management of Zoo Negara.

Here you have complaints of renovations by owners of nearby homes encroaching on to the buffer zone, where the zoo’s wall is used as a foundation for illegal extensions.

So close are the extended homes at Kemensah Heights to the zoo, that instead of having a cat or dog in one’s backyard, one can boast of having safari-like views of seladang, bears and deer.

According to the zoo management, many complaints had been lodged with the local council without any response.

There is evidence that one complaint took MPAJ a year to attend to – and even then all the enforcement officers did was to pay a visit to the zoo and the home in question and leave without any other action taken. Perhaps, MPAJ feels that as the aggrieved parties are only animals, there is no immediate concern to act.

Council officials are perhaps emboldened by the ambiguous Federal Court ruling in the Highland Towers case that held local governments couldn’t be sued for negligence.

This decision effectively washes the blood of the 48 victims from the collapsed apartment block off the council’s hands.

So what are animals when there is scant regard for humans?

MPAJ can even claim that Kemensah Heights was there before the zoo basically implying this gives a carte blanche to the first settlers to do as they please.

Even so, the council continues to approve development in what is supposed to be a sensitive area.

One would think that the unstable slopes of Bukit Antarabangsa would be enough to deter it from approving new development but the council has a penchant for throwing caution to the wind – again perhaps buoyed by the judicial precedent.

Even the victims of the Bukit Antarabangsa landslide that killed seven people two years ago decided not to name MPAJ in their civil suit, knowing that it would probably be a waste of time and money.

So what can one do to address this issue? Well, I for one am out of options. MPAJ was one of my beats when I started my career with the Malay Mail in 1996.

Fourteen years on, I see little change in how things are done. Some of the people I used to deal with are still there.

One thing that is obvious – and one believes it is endemic in the civil service is that everything is personality-centric.

Many people do their jobs not because they believe in an honest dollar for an honest day’s work, but because they are worried of repercussions from Big Brother.

Sadly, bringing out the rotan – at least in MPAJ’s case seems to be the only way it can improve itself.

The brief period under the watchful eye of the chief secretary and members of Pemudah (the Special Task Force to Improve the Delivery System) showed improved results in terms of complaints being dealt with and one-on-one service.

However it seems it’s back to the bad old days. What’s worse is that neither Putrajaya nor Shah Alam seem to exercise any urgency in wanting to put things right.

So are the Ampang ratepayers doomed, or will they see some relief within the next few months now that election fever is looming once again?

MPAJ is a good example of how a local council shouldn’t operate.