Youths step up for local government


Nalina (right) giving Dhanyasri pointers on local government issues. — Photos: MUHAMAD SHAHRIL ROSLI and AZLINA ABDULLAH/The Star

A first-of its-kind internship programme and new think tank to advocate progressive policies in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, are drawing young people into the world of local governance.

These initiatives are getting youths to experience first-hand the challenges that come with decision-making and policy implementation that directly impact their communities.

Leading the charge are two young councillors from Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) who are keen to show youths that getting involved in local government matters is anything but boring.

Local authority knowledge

Nalina is also MBPJ public health and safety sub-committee chairman. — FilepicNalina is also MBPJ public health and safety sub-committee chairman. — Filepic

Two-term councillor Nalina Nair told StarMetro that the internship programme provided insight into how local government policies were made and gave interns a first-hand look into what councillors deal with on a daily basis.

Nalina announced the internship programme on her social media pages earlier this month, calling for youths interested to learn about local governance to apply.

There is no age limit but those below 18 will need parental consent.

Her post stated that interns would be part of a process to learn about research, policy-making, public service, and office administrative assistance.

“Seven potential interns have sent in their applications and the first one has interned for a month,” she said.

While there is no maximum limit placed on the internship duration, the minimum is one month.

“Some of the applicants have done impressive research on certain subjects and they know what I do as a councillor,” said Nalina.

“I feel I can relate to these young people and be someone they can look up to,” she added.

According to Nalina, two applicants are law students studying overseas, who were back on their summer break.

“Both are young Indian women; I do think there is a lack of Indian women in politics now,” she said.

Although this is the first internship programme of its kind among local councils, she said Kampung Tunku assemblyman Lim Yi Wei was instrumental in driving youth empowerment within local government.

“Lim saw that I wanted to help with this initiative and improve policy-making at local council level in Petaling Jaya,” explained Nalina at the Kampung Tunku assemblyman’s service centre.

She said getting young interns on board would help councillors tremendously, especially in handling complaints from the community.

“Councillors are really bogged down every day handling complaints because the public prefers to call us rather than use the city council’s public complaint management system (Sispaa).

“They see us as a ‘complaint centre’ but we don’t have time to handle all of them,” she said.

She added that the interns would receive a monthly allowance of up to RM800.

“I feel that the public do not see councillors as ‘important people’ because we do not have local council elections,” she said, noting that councillors were not considered in a significant light like an assemblyman or MP.

“But our job affects people’s daily lives. The interns who join us will help with improving certain aspects,” said Nalina, who also chairs the MBPJ public health and safety subcommittee.

“We want the interns to look into these issues and also give ideas on how to improve food waste management at food-and-beverage outlets in the city,” she added.

Thinking outside the box

Kusaaliny taking her oath as a MBPJ councillor in January this year. — FilepicKusaaliny taking her oath as a MBPJ councillor in January this year. — Filepic

Before becoming the youngest female councillor in Selangor in January this year, Kusaaliny Mahendran, 24, acquired some experience as Bukit Gasing assemblyman Rajiv Rishyakaran’s political secretary.

More recently, she launched the Social Democracy Malaysia (SocDem) think tank in the city.

SocDem is a platform for fact-based policy solutions and advocacy on three key issues – climate action, democracy and governance, as well as urban planning and housing.

“This is where youths can collaborate and engage in ideas as well as join forums and focus groups organised by SocDem.

“We are not limiting our target audience to age groups, but youths have a platform where they can come and explore what they want for the city with our guidance, through policy tools that already exist.

“For example, if youths want a beautiful park like Hyde Park in London, how do we make that happen and how do we implement that in Petaling Jaya in the next 25 years? Who do we need to lobby?

“We will teach them these things as we also have platforms such as Selangor Young Assemblyman (Adun Muda).”

Kusaaliny highlighted that SocDem was the only think tank where half of the participants were youths.

“About 80% of our team are 30 years old and under,” she said.

Deputy Investment, Trade and Industry Minister Liew Chin Tong (third from left) and Rajiv (fourth from right) at the launch of the Social Democracy Malaysia think tank in Petaling Jaya. With them are interns at the organisation.Deputy Investment, Trade and Industry Minister Liew Chin Tong (third from left) and Rajiv (fourth from right) at the launch of the Social Democracy Malaysia think tank in Petaling Jaya. With them are interns at the organisation.

Rajiv, who is SocDem chairman, said youths could join and advocate their ideas based on the platform’s three focus areas.

“They can learn how to advocate for these issues to the right people in government to change policies in these three areas of focus, towards meaningful changes in society,” he said.

He added that the youths could also focus on other pertinent issues, like healthcare.

Fresh perspectives

Matthew says the internship offers opportunity to see how theories he learned are put into practice.Matthew says the internship offers opportunity to see how theories he learned are put into practice.StarMetro spoke to several youths who took part in the internship programme to find out about their experience working in local government.

For Brian Matthew, 23, a finance graduate from a local university, the programme gave him an opportunity to see how the theories he learnt were put into practice.

“I saw first-hand how taxpayers’ monies are funnelled into city services and maintaining public facilities,” he said.

The eldest of two children from Puchong, Selangor, was given a handful of duties under the guidance of Kusaaliny.

Among them, he recalled, was doing research on how to improve bus services in Petaling Jaya.

Matthew said the project gave him a chance to liaise with MBPJ personnel and also gave him an insight into how they worked.

“As someone from the younger generation, I have certain viewpoints on how to solve issues.

“However, the officials have to juggle many competing priorities, so we have to find a middle ground.

Ng says the internship gives her transferable skills, which will be useful for future jobs.Ng says the internship gives her transferable skills, which will be useful for future jobs.“I see this as a positive experience and an opportunity to learn,” he said.

After finishing her A-Levels in Singapore, Esther Ng Yu Xuan, 20, wanted to learn more about public policy.

She was slated to further her studies in the United Kingdom in September and had been applying for an internship position in the meantime to gain experience.

“However, my applications kept getting rejected because I did not have a related degree,” said Ng, who will be doing a degree in linguistics.

She considers herself lucky to be accepted into the internship programme under Kusaaliny, as this experience will give her transferable skills.

“I had the chance to be involved in community work,” she added.

Similarly, Leong Hoy Kit, 20, who is flying to the UK in September to study philosophy and economics, said the internship offered insights into politics, which was related to his field of study.

Leong says the internship offers him insights into politics, which is related to his field of study.Leong says the internship offers him insights into politics, which is related to his field of study.He was prompted to apply for the internship after being accepted into the degree programme.

“I found that many of my university coursemates have experience in research and community work, which I didn’t.

“During the internship, I learned how to conduct research and analyse data, while also dealing with the local community.”

The Subang Jaya resident, who has a younger sibling, said his knowledge of local politics also improved as a result.

Unlike her peers who joined to enhance their resume, Wai Yixin, 18, said her father had signed her up for the programme.

“He said I was too pampered and wanted me to know about issues affecting my community.”

Yixin is inspired by her father, who regularly communicates with MBPJ on neighbourhood issues.Yixin is inspired by her father, who regularly communicates with MBPJ on neighbourhood issues.The internship had given Yixin newfound appreciation for the things she learned in secondary school.

“I used to think a lot of things in the history textbook were just for exams, but I now realise they are actually important,” she said.

Yixin is inspired by her father, whom she said regularly communicated with MBPJ on various issues in their neighbourhood.

“He likes to submit complaints to the local councillor, but he also gives suggestions for improvements.

“He says it is important that we don’t simply complain, but must also offer a solution,” she added.

Another intern, Dhanyasri Nair, 19, who is a second-year law student in the UK, is currently back in the country on summer break.

She applied after encouragement from her father, who said she could benefit from the experience of working in local government.

Growing up in the Middle East most of her life, she also saw it as a chance to improve her command of the Malay language.

Before attending MBPJ meetings, Dhanyasri would do her research to ensure she was up to date on issues.

“Within days, I saw how councillors approached problems, dealt with people from all backgrounds and planned community events,” added the intern who reports to Nalina.

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