One village, one leader

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Anwar interacting with the grassroots leaders of Cherok Tok Kun in Penang early May. — Bernama photo

THAT was how the press read into the statement made by the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, on how a legislator could effectively serve his or her constituency. (The Borneo Post: May 6, 2024).

Setting an example, the PM said: “I will start here in Cherok Tok Kun… I will call all the community representatives in the village and they must tell me all the problems they face here.”

For a busy chief executive of a country, this is a most eloquent expression of intent to ‘lead by example’.

The whole country is his constituency, and all Malaysians are his constituents.

Whether or not he will carry out each and every appointment made or visit arranged, is another matter, but the message is loud and clear. Every member of the State Assembly, or member of Parliament, in particular the legislators from the ruling of parties under his stewardship, should emulate the example of their boss.

He is underlining the significance of the policy of personal touch: the importance of learning first-hand from the constituents, especially those who are shy to talk to their YBs (elected representatives).

An effective YB in each constituency is someone who is being proactive in personally learning about the issues of joblessness among the constituents, the dilapidated houses, the drug-taking/pushing and other criminal activities among the people, if any.

The YB must also enquire and ensure that the children in the area have access to good education including technical and vocational education and training (TVET) for the children there.

As the people’s representative, the YB should also talk directly to the officials who are responsible to implement the solutions projects in his area.

Any YB who throws his weight around occasionally would lose some popularity with some people, especially the contractors, but if he shows consistency in being strict and fair and genuinely showing concern about the lack of progress for his constituency, he would be remembered for being ‘cruel to be kind’.

His legacy, if not appreciated now, will be appreciated after his had left the political scene. Read all about this in his biography.

Leadership at village level

PM Anwar describes his proposal as being the best way to resolve problems faced in the villages, if it is carried out in concert and in tandem with the normal official duties performed by the district officers and other government officials responsible for the implementation of development projects in the constituency (I am paraphrasing here).

Government officials can be touchy and quietly rebellious, treating the politicians as unnecessary intruders on their turf. This was why the former Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi exhorted the civil servants to ‘work with me, not to work for me’.

PM Anwar did not specify if his proposal should be adopted for legislators from Sabah and Sarawak as well. He may be referring to the situation in the peninsula only.

‘Red Book’

This was somewhat similar to the standard practice of Tun Abdul Razak, when he was still a deputy prime minister cum rural development minister.

Tun Razak always carried with him a file called the ‘Red Book’ in which was listed all the projects that he would inspect each week in his ‘kawasan’ (constituency).

He monitored the progress on each project. When meeting with ground implementers, he would offer solutions to problems, but at times in the process, he was not shy to call a spade a spade.

No project manager would risk being ticked off by the VIP in front of his colleagues.

Bakar, an officer in the Federal Land Development Authority (Felda)’s office in Pahang (1973), once related to me that it was an ordeal when tasked to brief Tun Razak on the progress of the projects in the latter’s constituency. He had had to go to the loo a couple of times before he could face the man with the ‘Red Book’.

An ordinary legislator is expected to service his constituency well and keep his ears on the ground at all times. However, for a minister who, by the nature of his work, must reside in Kuching, this job of meeting the people is left to his secretaries and the party workers manning the service centres normally sited in town. He gets information and feedback from them from time to time.

In addition, the legislators in Sarawak have the advantage of grassroots services, which are provided by the Ketua Kaum (grassroots chiefs and headmen) appointed under the Community Chiefs and Headmen Ordinance 2004.

However, there’s certain drawback, if the provision is strictly applied because that provision states:
“4.- (1) In exercising the powers to appoint a Chief or Headman, the appropriate appointing authority shall consider but shall not be bound by any recommendation made by the Resident of a Resident or the District Officer of a District, as the case may be, in respect of which the Chief or headman to be appointed.”

This proviso restricts the freedom of choice of the Resident and the District Officer – the officials on the ground – to pick the candidates for office of the chiefs. They know better than many people who and who would make good community chiefs in the constituency.

Of course, they would accept the choice and would work with ‘anybody between the tongue’.

But it does not augur well for the relations at the grassroots level if the man picked by the legislator to be the chief is not his choice.

It is in the personal and political interest of the YB to lobby for the appointment of this ‘kaki’ (lackey). But there are people in the same constituency who are politically neutral or party-less. It is not uncommon to hear of victimisation of non-party supporters in terms of allocation of funds for projects because the chief is not a supporter – or worse, accused of being anti- government.

I don’t know if this problem still exists; it was a real problem in the 1970s and 1980s.

Until the coming into operation of the Chief and Headmen Ordinance of 2004, since 1973, community leaders in Sarawak have been appointed by the state government via the government circulars (Circular Memorandum ref: 36/CMO/1532/1 dated March 24, 1973 and Circular Memorandum ref: 165/EO/ 2604 dated Oct 2, 1980).

I have known of cases of nameless Ketua Kaum who behave as if they were the government officials with power to approve land alienation, not as mere links from their villages or longhouses to the political government of the day.

This is where sometimes the requests, especially the verbal requests, are not transmitted on time to the YB; hence, the importance of a meeting of four eyes, as suggested by the Prime Minister between the legislator and the ‘rakyat’ (people).

However, the majority of our legislators are hardworking. They want all projects should be implemented during the tenure of their office (four or five years) so that, come next ‘electioneering’ time, there are concrete projects to show to the voters and the press showing that they have delivered the goods as promised.

And if the people want more developments, they had better continue voting for him at the coming election.

My ideal YB is one who is good at lobbying and articulate in advocacy. I may not have to meet with him every day if his schedule of work is tight – time is precious to a lawmaker or elected representative.