"Terence betul ke KSN nak datang ke Klang?" asked the exasperated voice on the other end of the line?
"Betul, tapi bukan aje Kelang, semua PBT yang ada masaalah dia akan pergi," was my reply.
I was speaking to a Klang Municipal Council (MPK) officer who had called after reading Wednesday’s front page interview with the Chief Secretary to the Government Tan Sri Mohd Sidek Hassan.
The nation’s top civil servant had said that the days of those with vested interests lording over local authorities are over.
Mohd Sidek also said he will be following up on his visit to the Ampang Jaya Municipal Council (MPAJ) with visits to MPK, the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) and other problematic local authorities that have at one time or another made the front pages of this newspaper for the wrong reasons.
Another contact, a councillor from Petaling Jaya had this to say: "I respect Mohd Sidek, but I sincerely doubt he can effect change as the problems affecting local councils are too deep and political."
One cannot blame him for being skeptical but one must remember that Mohd Sidek has the full endorsement of the prime minister to clean up the civil service; and politicians and their cronies who oppose him should know that any resistance or challenge to Mohd Sidek is in direct defiance to Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi – their party leader.
True, Mohd Sidek has his work cut out. The issues affecting local government are deep-rooted and involve powerful personalities. One example is the now infamous Port Klang assemblyman, a prominent politician who to his credit has done much in his four terms for his constituents. From what I gather, he still commands the support of many voters.
His influence in MPK is so pervasive that even the council head cowers when he speaks, and many policies are pushed through.
But, as the PM says, the law is the law and no one is above it. Which was why after his wrongdoings came to light, Abdullah put aside party interests by advising the extremely popular assemblyman to step down as a councillor.
And we have been assured that this is how it will continue to work. Mohd Sidek has in no uncertain terms said that civil servants, who do not hold fast to their oath to serve, will be dealt with severely. Superscale officials have received warnings and demotions. MPAJ officials who used to thumb their noses at the media are now scurrying each time there is a press query following Mohd Sidek’s decision to "adopt" one of the country’s worst local authorities
A reader who had complained of a neighbour’s illegal extension blocking his view had been given the silent treatment by MPAJ since September. On Monday, the structure came down after the local authority finally issued the owner a notice to demolish the wall.
With other local councils expressing concern over Mohd Sidek’s turun ke padang, one is confident of the changes in MPAJ having a contagion effect.
As one reader asked: "So, how long will the good times last?"
My take is that with a boss that is committed to fulfilling his election promise of improving the public service, Mohd Sidek should not have any problems in getting on with his work. While he handles the officials who have been for too long acting as a pawn of these warlords, Abdullah will deal with the politicians.
It is not necessarily the easiest of tasks that these two men have undertaken, but it is a partnership of necessity if we are going to see any improvement in local governance that have been far too long hijacked by the powerful and influential.
All we can do as responsible taxpayers is to give them the support they need as they toddle the long and winding road to complete the task at hand. One way of doing so is by providing feedback via www.pemudah.gov.my. The other way is to be proactive and not take anymore nonsense.
As Mohd Sidek put it: "The public has a role to play too. If we do not take up this responsibility and acknowledge our role in society, then we must recognise our complicity and guilt in allowing for the deterioration of standards of accountability."Updated: 05:44PM Fri, 14 Dec 2007