The recent clamour by Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) members in Miri for the mayor of the city to be picked from the party when the term of the present mayor Lawrence Lai expires next month exposed a weakness in the appointment of officials in the state’s local authorities.
It has been a practice in the state to allocate component parties of the ruling coalition positions in local councils since election of local government was abolished.
One of the reasons for the abolishment of local government election and replace it with appointments of councillors and heads of local councils is for the composition of the local authorities to reflect state government to facilitate smooth cooperation of the councils with the government of the day.
While this is a sound reason as a city council headed by a mayor aligned to an opposition party could lead to the authority being paralysed by disagreement and arguments, the political appointment also has its inherent weakness.
This was brought to the fore by the demand from PBB members for the next mayor for Miri to be appointed from their party as in the past the mayors of the city were appointed from Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP).
Their reason for calling for the change was that PBB has many members in Miri and that SUPP won its seats in area in the state election mainly through the help of PBB.
The soundness of that reasoning is debatable but at the same it shows that the appointment of the mayor and councillors is being viewed as apolitical reward for the strongest party in the municipality of the council.
This is an unhealthy situation as the mayor and the councillors are appointed based on their political affiliation rather than their ability and qualification.
If indeed the person chosen by a political party was the most suitable person to head a local council then that candidate should take up the post but his appointment must not hinge on his political affiliation.
This situation has been rectified in the appointment of the mayors of Kuching City councils who were appointed based on their experience and who are not aligned to any political party.
However, the allocation of councillors is still based along party lines rather than their experience and qualifications.
These appointments might lead to councillors who might be not suitable for the posts while depriving those who have the ability and willingness to do serve better because of their political positions.
It is unlikely that the state government would reinstate local government election it should review the appointment of local councillors and council chairmen.
The idea of appointing councillors from different professional groups and leaders from different local communities was floated some years ago but was not taken up. There should still be appointments from political parties including from the opposition as they too represent the voice of the people but more importantly the council members must be from walks of life. Through such appointments local councils would be better represented and function more effectively.