KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 9 — The government should not use the cost of holding local government elections as an “excuse” for not reviving this democratic practice in Malaysia, Petaling Jaya MP Maria Chin Abdullah said today.

Maria Chin was responding to Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Seri Reezal Merican Naina Merican’s written parliamentary reply, where the minister had cited the estimated cost of at least RM302 million for local government elections nationwide among reasons for why it would not be implemented.

Maria Chin, however, suggested that the actual cost for elections of local councillors could be reduced if these were to be held at the same time as general elections.

“Costs can't be another excuse. Council elections can be held concurrently with state and national elections and that saves costs. Did the minister not know this? Perhaps the minister needs to recalculate the costs,” she told Malay Mail today.

Maria Chin also dismissed the minister’s reasoning that local government elections would purportedly not be a guarantee of good service to the public as an “excuse”, suggesting that he was missing the point about such elections being about democracy and allowing the public to vote out local councillors who do not perform.

“His excuse that elected councillors will not guarantee good services is totally flawed and failed to understand what democracy means.

 “It also insults the people and it also extends to elected representatives, be it state or federal, as this means they too may not deliver good services. Does he realise that it also includes the elected representatives who are in government?” she asked.

Currently, local councillors in Malaysia are appointed, rather than selected through voting by the public.

Maria Chin went on to say that: “Good services are delivered when there is a democratic system of governance that includes the people and the government.”

“I certainly do not deny that some councillors are par excellence in their work but that's not the point.

“If we want to move towards a modern society it means giving the mandate to the people to choose who they want as their representatives.

“Due to the present political patronage system whereby political parties choose the councillors it had led to much frustration, as some don't feel they need to be accountable to the people nor can be sacked by getting voted out if they don't perform,” she said.

Do it by 2023

Maria Chin pressed for local government elections to be looked at and to be held by 2023.

“In a new democracy we need to be brave to take on reforms as they are not meant to strengthen any one politician or party but to strengthen the inclusion of people's voices, choices and rights. Perhaps Keluarga Malaysia needs to be clear that they need to have the guts to change and not still maintain the old coats of non-accountability and non-transparency.

“Now that we have had one state election in Melaka with no increase in cases and going to have another in Sarawak, it is time for the government to take local elections to the table and plan to have it by 2023,” she said.

Yesterday, Reezal Merican had in his written parliamentary reply claimed that it would cost an estimated minimum of RM302 million to hold elections for all 151 local councils in the whole country, while also suggesting that good services may not be guaranteed through local government elections if it is done every two years as too much time and energy may be focused on such polls.

The minister had also said that local councillors who do not perform well would not be re-appointed after their term ends, and that his ministry provides training annually for local councillors.

The minister also said that the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition had promised in its election manifesto to revive local government elections to enable local councillors to be elected by the public, but that the Cabinet on July 17, 2020 — by then under the Perikatan Nasional government — had agreed not to continue with this proposal.