DBKL, can you hear the people sing?

Members of the public handing in their petitions at Dataran DBKL on Dec 16

Monday, 16th December 2013, saw several hundred people amass in front of DBKL’s headquarters in Jalan Raja Laut to submit their objection letters on the proposed increase in assessment rate hikes of between 100% and 300%. 

According to press reports, some 20,000 letters were submitted on that day alone. This puts the final tally of letters it has received at around the 80,000 mark.

Since Umno-BN was re-elected with a reduced majority and just 47% of the overall popular vote, it has proceeded to introduce measures and policies that have been anything but helpful to the everyday Malaysian’s purse. Besides DBKL’s assessment rate hike, we are now seeing increases in the price of:

? petrol (up 20 sen for RON95 and diesel, Sept 2)

? cigarettes (excise duty up 14%, Sept 30)

? sugar (up 34 sen,  Oct 26)

? Astro packages (up between RM2 and RM6 for certain popular packages, Nov 24)

? electricity tariff (15% average increase, beginning 1 Jan 2014)

? LRT, Monorail and KTM tickets (unspecified quantum, sometime in 2014)

? highway tolls (unspecified quantum, sometime in 2014)

And let’s not forget the proposed roll-out of GST set at 6% for 1st April 2015 (what a funny date?).

So, on the back of its worst electoral performance in its five decade rule, Umno-BN has decided to give Malaysians a reality check: “times are tough, buck up.”

We have members of the Cabinet who defend the price increases with the following arguments:

? “If the price of chicken is too high, eat fish or meat” (Hasan Malek, 14 July 2013)

? “... a reduction in subsidy for sugar, in stages, could reduce the consumption of sugar in their daily meals” (Dr S Subramaniam, 22 Sept 2013)

? “For those who think the (toll) rate is too high, they have the option not to use the route” (Wahid Omar, 16 Dec 2013) all of which not only sound nonsensical but betrays a sense of grand dis-attachment from what ordinary Malaysians are experiencing: times are tough, give us a hand.

But the people in Putrajaya at least can be voted out (in theory).

Those running City Hall on the other hand are completely unelected and seemingly unaffected by public sentiment for how they go about their business.

Not only does DBKL have a budget that in most years equals that of the Selangor and Penang state governments budgets combined, Pakatan Rakyat has practically zero representation in DBKL even though it won 9 out of 11 seats in KL itself. Talk about taxation without representation!

If some 16% of the 500,000 people paying assessment rates to DBKL have spoken up objecting to its proposed plans to hike up those rates, then the seeds of enfranchisement have already been sown.

From my point of view, the next steps will have to include starting a public education and awareness drive on why we should have local elections, getting the buy-in of all political parties, amending archaic Emergency-era laws that bar local polls, figuring out who and how voting is to be done (EC again?), and ensuring there is constant political pressure from civil society so that this issue doesn’t get waylaid.

Ultimately, it’s about sending a message to DBKL (and any other body that rely on public monies) that taxpayers in all our manifestations deserve to check on how our money is being spent and judge if you have been good with our money or not.

So, DBKL, can you hear the people sing?

The views expressed are entirely the writer's own.

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