THE development and management of urban centres is one of the major challenges of our time, as well as one of the most complex tasks of our societies.
In an increasingly urbanising world, sustainable urban development will depend largely on the management capacity of cities and the active participation of their citizens. It is now widely accepted that urbanisation is not only inevitable but also a positive phenomenon. Cities are growing and they offer opportunities and promise of a better life.
In cities, it is possible to integrate human, economic and technological resources in an efficient way. Well managed cities are a pre-condition for successful urban development.
However, sustainable urban development depends largely on improved management of cities. Policies and programmes for developing cities require strong, open and accountable local government institutions working in partnership with all interested parties.
Here lies the importance of urban governance. Good governance is epitomised by predictable, open and enlightened policy-making, a professional bureaucracy acting for the public good, the rule of law, transparent processes, and strong civil society participation in public affairs. Poor governance, on the other hand, is characterised by arbitrary policymaking, unaccountable bureaucracies, unjust legal systems, the abuse of executive power, a civil society unengaged in public life, and widespread corruption.
Good urban governance involves participatory decision-making. It not only involves federal, state and local governments but also civil society, such as the private sector, community-based institutions, the media, etc.
The progress of a country depends in no small measure on the quality of its governance. While a democratic government may lay the foundation for good governance, a vigilant and active citizenry is essential to its sustenance.
In Malaysia today, about 60% of the population resides in urban areas, indicating the country is facing rapid urbanisation resulting from rural to urban migration.
Our cities and towns are going to be the frontiers for building a new Malaysia. This is where our local authorities have to play a pivotal and crucial role to deal with the many challenges and problems of the urbanised environment.
With the rapid growth in industrialisation, the landscape has changed and local authorities are on the front lines facing the challenges of urbanisation. Local government, therefore, must have the capacity and the wherewithal to cope with the many issues and find quick and effective answers to community needs and services, including matters concerning crime. Local government, instead of being the lowest level of government, should become the highest in terms of community needs and services.
There are about 150 local governments in the country yet we do not have a strong central training institute to cater for their manpower requirements to meet the diverse functions of urban management. The only exception is the training institute set up for Kuala Lumpur City Hall.
The rapid urbanisation taking place now necessitates the development of a training and urban governance institute which can eventually function as a centre of excellence to undertake research and provide consultancy on all urban issues as well as train local government officials to better manage our cities and towns.
Cities and towns must have a clear vision and adopt a holistic approach in managing their future. They must be shaped and developed with five key elements in mind, namely, they must be developed to be socially just, ecologically sustainable, politically participatory, economically productive and culturally vibrant.
TAN SRI LEE LAM THYE