Their hands are tied (to a certain extent)
Writer: Brenda Ch'ng
Published: Fri, 18 Jan 2013
SOUND familiar? Well, it is when you are someone the people voted for in the past general election, and all they hear day in and day out are complaints ending with “do something about it now because I voted for you”.
By penning down one simple cross on the voting sheet, all of a sudden elected state assembly persons have to move mountains to solve the woes of residents, even though it is out of their jurisdiction or power.
However, little do the people know that although the role of a state assemblyperson is to decide on new policies which are beneficial to the public, that mandate comes with certain limitations.
“We (state assemblypersons) often feel caught in between when the people demand their rights saying we put you in power, so now what have you done for us?
“It’s a very difficult situation, but at the same time we also have to be involved in all their daily problems to know what is affecting the people and then go through the policies,” said Taman Medan assemblyperson Haniza Mohd Talha.
Haniza, who is also the state assembly’s deputy speaker, explained that though rubbish and potholes are under the local government’s jurisdiction, she still gets involved to learn what the problem is and try implementing new policies to solve it.
However, it gets tricky when it touches on policies under the Federal government, which are made by members of Parliament (MP).
Unlike state assemblypersons, MPs are expected to prepare for debates in Parliament, be up to date on parliamentary issues and make laws at the federal level.
Take education, housing or even the cost of living for example, the basic things which affect just about everyone are areas that assemblypersons have little influence over.
This is because education falls under the Education Ministry and housing comes under the Housing and Local Government Ministry, which are both under the Federal Government’s jurisdiction and not the state.
Haniza ... We often feel caught in between.
“All we can do is highlight a certain issue to the MP and urge them to bring it up in Parliament. That’s all we can do, to channel the complaints or policies to the right party,” she said.
Speaking at her service centre in Taman Medan, Haniza retold her experience of trying to get another school built in her area but to no avail despite numerous pleas to Putrajaya.
“They told me that there is not enough land space in my area. A school needs six acres of land and we only have 5.4 acres... so they rejected the application,” she said.
Haniza explained that despite having four schools nearby at Taman Datuk Harun, they are so small and jammed tight together that students have to literally walk through other schools to get into their building.
“We even told the Federal government to give us an official letter saying that they will not build a school here so that the state can step in to build it... but until now we haven’t received anything,” she said.
Haniza further explained the frustrations she has to go through, hearing residents’ complaints, knowing there is a solution to it but there is nothing she can do about it despite being a states assemblyperson.
Another matter that irks her is the joint management body (JMB) policy implemented by the Housing and Local Government Ministry, where low-cost flats residents are expected to maintain the flats.
“Many low-income residents there can’t even manage themselves, how can they be expected to manage the whole building? It’s unfair because they already have lots of problems of their own,” she said.
Under the policy, JMB’s voluntary members (made up of flats residents) are expected to collect money from each unit, pay for electric and water bills, manage rubbish collection and maintain building facilities like lifts.
Often, their water and electricity gets cut off due to utility arrears accumulated over the past few months because they couldn’t collect enough money from all residents to pay off the debt.
Sometimes, the lifts break down, and remains unfixed for years because repairs often cost the JMB thousands of ringgit which they cannot collect.
“I think the ministry has to seriously revise this policy because it’s affecting the people more than doing them any good,” she said.
Haniza has first-hand experiences with issues of flat dwellers because in her area alone there are more than 10 low-cost flatdevelopments.
Since she can’t revise the JMB policy, she proposed for the state to help by providing funds to improve amenities and engage the residents to try and solve their woes.
Thanks to her determination to help low-cost flat dwellers, the state came up with Selangor’s refurbishment scheme for low-cost flats (Ceria), established in 2011.
This scheme involves repainting of flats and repairing broken down lifts.
“Another policy proposed is also to ensure future developments take into account the building ratio... especially sufficient parking bays are provided,” she said.
Haniza explained that low-cost flats dwellers often have to face lack of parking in the area and it can get frustrating for one to come home but have to drive around the block multiple times before finding parking.
Meanwhile, state assemblypersons also do not have the powers to lower the increasing cost of living and have no say on the matter of toll booths.
Despite multiple attempts to demolish toll booths and to fight for minimum wage, some people still have this perception that their assemblypersons are not doing their job and giving them what they asked for without understanding that this matter falls under the Federal Government.
“Residents complain to me asking why they have to pay toll at the PJS2 plaza every time they leave their house, when they didn’t have to on the same road years ago?
“Just because NPE (New Pantai Expressway) came and did a little work and all of a sudden residents have to pay since 2004,” she said.
After highlighting it to Putrajaya numerous times, they finally got only one side of the toll booth demolished while traffic going in the other direction still has to pay.
Though RM1 may seem like a small fee to pay, to lower income residents every penny counts.
“I’ve seen residents eat only white rice and salt for dinner because they can’t afford anything else. Some even forgo their dialysis appointments because they can’t pay for a taxi,” she said.
Haniza reiterated that though they receive these complaints often, there are certain limitations as to what a assemblyperson can do at the state level and this does not include lowering food prices.
What the state has done however is come up with schemes to help low-income families like the Tunas scheme which lessens the burden of households earning RM1,500 and below by giving each kindergarten child a RM50 monthly allowance.
Another would be the microcredit scheme which helps single mothers and the less fortunate start their own business by taking an interest free loan with the state as start-up capital.
With that said, she thinks that getting information from the ministries and other government agencies like number of less-fortunate or single mothers would help the state reach them more efficiently and help them.
However, when they took over in 2008, Haniza pointed out that such information was lacking even in the Welfare Department, where not even a single record or statistic of the less-fortunate was compiled.
She is further puzzled as to why Putrajaya is so possessive on certain information and it makes it hard on assemblypersons when they can’t get the information they need on certain matters.
With the lack of resources, she hopes the public will help the state by engaging in community programmes like free tuition and free medical check-ups or simply give a hand to the poorer families and give something back to the community.
This move actually helps the state locate those in need of help much more easily.