[Malay Mail Online] After failed third vote bid, Penang to improve ‘local government democracy’

GEORGE TOWN, June 30 — Penang has decided to take its local government agenda forward although it failed in the Federal Court last year to restore local council elections, state executive councillor Chow Kon Yeow said today.

Chow, who is local government committee chairman, said Penang’s bid to restore the third vote may have ended in the court battle but there are other parts of the agenda that the state can pursue such as spreading democratic awareness and improving public participation in local government processes.

“Although it ended in court, there are other areas we can look at to see how this campaign can go on,” he told a press conference at Komtar today.

He said the state government will continue to work with Suaram on events like the Penang Local Democracy Festival in 2014.

“This year, we are working with Suaram in organising a round table conference on how to move the local government agenda forward,” he said.

Organisers are still planning the details of the round table conference so there is no date and venue fixed yet.

Chow said the target now is to promote “local government democracy” and participatory democracy.

One such element of “participatory democracy” is budget participatory work, like the project recently launched by Bukit Mertajam MP Steven Sim and Machang Bubuk state assemblyman Lee Khai Loon.

The project, called the Gender Responsive and Participatory Budgeting (GRPB), is a pilot initiative by Sim and Lee to get the community involved in deciding how they want allocations to be used for their constituencies.

In the project, Sim and Lee put in a total RM100,000 in allocation for the Machang Bubuk constituency and the fund will be channelled to five Village Development and Security Committees (JKKK).

According to Sim, the JKKKs will be trained over a few phases on how to implement the GRPB. The first phase is to conduct a demographic study of their area.

The second phase is to set up focus groups comprising members of the community representing different demographics such as women, children, the disabled and others. These groups will be tasked to come up with a list of projects for their community.

Finally, there will be an “open day” where the community can come out to vote for the projects they want implemented in their areas and the projects with the highest vote will be implemented.

“This will give the community the democracy to decide on what projects they want to be implemented and how the allocation can be spent for their constituency,” Sim said.

Chow said this is a new and exciting initiative where the elected representative’s use of allocation is based on community’s votes.

“Now it is rather ad hoc in allowing wider participation from the community but it is a start,” Chow said.

Chow said such an initiative is not new for the local councils as the Penang Island City Council (MBPP) and Seberang Perai Municipal Council (MPSP) have also adopted gender responsive participatory budgeting on how some of the funding can be used.

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