PETALING JAYA mayor Mohd Azizi Mohd Zain only assumed office on April 1 and it is not yet even time to give him his 100-day report but already a feel-good factor can be seen among residents.
His immediate predecessor, Datin Paduka Alinah Ahmad, had left behind numerous loose ends that he will need to tidy up.
Some of the issues include the one-way loop, poor maintenance in public housing units that led to the death of a child and the broken promise of an open-door policy.
Many residents associations were shocked at how inaccessible she was, with some never even getting to meet her during her two-year tenure, while Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) staff were surprised that she refused to attend many functions, especially on weekends.
It was difficult to adjust to her “know-it-all” style, especially when many of the residents had got used to the friendly demeanour of the previous mayor, Datuk Mohamad Roslan Sakiman, who, even during tense moments, could break out into cheerful laughter.
I remember how easy it was to be able to call and arrange a meeting with Roslan through his office. They would independently allocate you a free slot.
However, under Alinah, the mayor’s office was tense and her staff could never fix any appointments on her behalf. I can still hear the quivering voices of the staff who were so stressed and tense that you could “see” their nervousness through the phone conversation.
So, when I had the occasion to call for an appointment with Azizi recently, it was refreshing to hear cheerful voices again in the mayor’s office.
Mohd Azizi is not a man of many words but he comes across as fatherly and a good listener. In his short time at the helm of MBPJ so far, morale has gone up and he has tackled both small and big issues in his stride.
It would be easy for him to give the excuse that he is new and needs to settle down in his job first, but he is that kind of quiet man who will just roll up his sleeves and take the bull by the horns.
Take, for instance, the case against MBPJ’s former legal director, which had dragged on for two years until the final report was issued in October last year.
Nothing was done until a little over a week ago when Azizi, despite his busy schedule, chaired a long-overdue meeting and decisively terminated the legal director’s service, causing him to lose his pension.
I am sure he did not enjoy doing it. No one would. But with this decision, he won back the confidence of the residents, who already assumed that nothing would change and inappropriate conduct would never ever get punished.
More recently, there was the small problem of a van used to transport disabled residents in Petaling Jaya. Some councillors decided to change the usage guidelines and a disabled former councillor found that he was unable to use the van to attend a meeting in Serdang.
The situation was further complicated by accusations and blame flying through the Internet but Azizi took the time to meet the former councillor and, after listening to his side of the story, decided to allow him to continue using the van for his monthly meetings.
Azizi has displayed wisdom in listening to the affected parties from both sides and then firmly making a principled decision.
If he continues, MBPJ may indeed recover from two bad years and its glory will shine again.
His main task now is to get residents to believe in the service delivery system of MBPJ again.
Currently, residents voice their complaints to their councillors, assemblymen and MPs as they have little faith in the system.
This is not the way it should be as the system should handle complaints while the councillors and assemblymen look into council policies and state legislation.
This would require a mindset transformation of MBPJ department heads to understand that they must collaborate closely and synergise with other departments before they can improve on their service delivery. The “silo” mentality must be abandoned.
There has also been too much “development by ambush” in Petaling Jaya. The issues of the Kelana Jaya PKNS field and Kota Damansara Islamic school cropped up because public participation is not institutionalised.
Sustainable development can only occur when there is a special LA21 department that directly reports to the mayor’s office and coordinates with all departments with regards to developments projects in the city.
Also, the unspent budget, at more than RM308mil, is immoral. All income accruing to the council should be spent in the most meaningful and efficient manner that will benefit the residents. Hoarding reserves is good for businesses but irresponsible for a city council.
During these hard times, Azizi will need to draft a negative budget and release this unspent money to the public.
This is also an opportunity to implement participatory budgeting and use the budget monitoring committee which was approved by Roslan. This will help to improve transparency and effectiveness in MBPJ spending.
Lastly, the RTPJ2 plan and all the miscolouring of land use must be resolved and the culprits brought to justice.
These tasks may seem daunting, but his first 60 days have shown that Azizi is a brave man capable of decisive action. He can easily take a few more bulls by the horns.
He also must not forget the uniqueness of Petaling Jaya.
There are loads of professionals, activists and NGOs waiting on the sidelines to help build a better and more liveable city. All that is needed is to set up a LA21 platform that will engage the residents in nation building.
Jeffrey FK Phang is an assistant professor at Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman and serves as a cluster research head for ‘Sustainable Township’ in the Centre for Sustainable Development and Corporate Social Responsibility.