IT CANNOT be denied that a cloud of pessimism has descended upon the nation and the general public is experiencing hardship with the increased cost of living, the valuable time wasted on congested roads, and increasing intolerance resulting in mob violence in a shopping complex in Kuala Lumpur.
Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ), the local authority that oversees the welfare of Petaling Jaya residents, can make the city a model for being liveable, which is the result of achieving its many themes including Green City, Inclusive City, Accessible City, Healthy City, Smart City, Safe City and Transparent City.
MBPJ will soon start preparing its Budget for 2016, which will determine the welfare of all residents in the coming year. The aspiration of a “transparent city” aims to assure the public that the budget creation and spending of public money is totally transparent and good governance is evident.
The following are some of the main considerations that can be observed if the city budget is properly planned.
The Budget Vision – what is the vision for the 2016 budget? This is the first step in a budgeting process. The mayor must have a feel for all sectors of the population, regardless of economic status.
Many of the earlier budgets were prepared with no clear vision and even when a vision was expressed, the Budget did not reflect it.
If the vision is “A Caring Petaling Jaya”, does the Budget include activities that build stronger caring communities and specify a measurement of the impact of such expenditure?
Infrastructure vs people-structure – the Budget must specify the amount spent on building the capacity of the people. It must also identify how communities are empowered to look after themselves.
Capacity building and citizen empowerment will express itself in budgets for education, awareness building and volunteerism. It moves away from the traditional concept of the city council solely taking care of all residents’ needs, to one that empowers the people to work with the council to take care of their needs.
One example is to help build up communities so that all citizens recognise the need to contribute towards security in the neighbourhood. In the case of guarded communities, the recent case at D’ Villa Equestrian has clearly empowered the city council to work with residents associations (RAs) to set up safe neighbourhoods.
These guarded communities still need to comply with MBPJ guidelines and one of the performance indicators of the city council is how many RAs are licensed in 2016 as complying with the guidelines. The change here is MBPJ acting to help RAs get licensed rather than taking pride in how stringent the process is to the extent that the RAs are discouraged from even applying.
Inclusiveness – the Budget must involve all councillors holding budget meetings with the various RAs, facilitated by the residents’ representative committees.
This will result in a ward budget being presented to MBPJ to be incorporated into the main budget. For 2016, the MBPJ Budget cannot be created on a lump sum basis with no details to substantiate the total amount budgeted for.
Budget sequence of events – the following are some of the essential steps that must be implemented in sequence of the preparation of the 2016 Budget.
• MBPJ will hold a half-year public budget review meeting in early August. The summary of the budgeted and actual expenditure for 2014 will be presented as well as for the period January-June 2015. Feedback is obtained from the public for 2016;
• After deliberations by the mayor with councillors and heads of departments, the budget vision is announced;
• Councillors hold group meetings with RAs to educate them on their role in participatory budgeting and work with them in creating ward budgets. The assemblymen are involved in this process;
• Ward budgets incorporated into the main budget;
• Overall first draft is prepared and circulated to councillors for comments. The budget figures are accompanied by performance measurement indicators that measure the impact of spending;
• Councillors meet residents for feedback;
• Second draft budget prepared and presented;
• MBPJ finalises the Budget before sending it to the state government; and, finally
• Adoption of 2016 Budget.
Throughout the process, several special considerations must be kept in mind, including evidence of the inclusion of voiceless communities such as the poor, the disabled and the elderly.
MBPJ should also consider preparing a deficit budget to help residents cope with current economic conditions. The council should attempt to release at least RM100mil of the underspent RM300mil saved during the last three years. This can be used to help residents through spending on amenities such as the free bus service.
Budget monitoring committees should be set up with suitably qualified residents also represented on the committees.
MBPJ, the only local authority in Selangor that conducts public budget discussions, would be taking another proactive leap by deepening residents’ participation in the budgeting process.
At a time when many residents are adjusting to the stress of the current working environment and economic climate, providing a liveable city will be like a refreshing oasis in a desert.
Better quality of living starts today with the creation of a good Budget for 2016.
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.