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History of Local Government in Malaysia


Submitted By bawalaluna
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In analyzing the general history of local government, three distinct periods present themselves for consideration which are during pre- British, British and post- Merdeka period.
During the pre-British period, there is no local government. The political units were divided into three which are ‘Negeri’ or State, ‘Jajahan’ or Daerah and ‘Kampong’ or Village. In State, the Head of State was the Ruler that responsible for foreign relationship, welfare and act as a leadership in external wars with the help of his kinsmen in the Royal lineage and by executive assistants . The second tier of political unit is known as ‘Jajahan’ or ‘Daerah’ that have the Chief acting as a leader for district that responsible for the local government administration such as revenue collection, defence and justice. ‘Kampong’ or ‘Village’ was the last tier of political unit. However, for ‘Kampong’ it was actually more of social and economic unit rather than political unit. The head of ‘Kampong’ was known as “Penghulu” that act as the messenger for the villagers to the district.
Local government election was first initiated during the British occupation. Malaysia inherited a British legacy in terms of local government objectives and style and has been influenced deeply by the British precedent . During its formative stage, the laws governing the local authorities in Malaysia mostly were based on English laws. Local government authorities in Malaysia have developed through time. The first states to form local government were Penang and Malacca. In 1801, British in Penang formed the Committee of Assessors that have the obligation for planning and implementing urban development. This laid the foundation for the establishment of local government in this country.
After Federation of Malaya achieved Merdeka in 1957, the policy of the Government in regard to local government was that every person in this country should live within some form of local authority area that can eventually become a fully elected and a fully financially independent authority . As a result, through local government election, more Town Boards were converted into Town Councils. Before 1948, the Governments of the Straits Settlements and the Federated Malay States have controls over the local government, whereas in the Unfederated Malay States, it was under the control of the State Government in each of the States. However, the local government was made a Federal responsibility after the signing of the Federation of Malaya Agreement 1948. This situation continued until Merdeka 1957, when a major change was recommended.
It was recommended by the Federation of Malaya Constitutional Commission that local government should be a State matter and it has been made an item on the State List of the Merdeka Constitution . However, the need for standardization of law and policy for local government did not in any way lessen by the changes. In addition, the amendment to the Constitution in 1960, a new Article 95A of the Constitution was made for the formation of a constitutional authority known as the National Council for Local Government . The administrations of elections to all authorities other than Local Councils were assigned to the Election Commission when the Local Government Election Act was passed by the Parliament in 1960. However, in 1961, an amendment was made to this Act, which also transfers the administration of Local Council elections to the Election Commission.
In 1965, there are four (4) categories of local authorities in the country, namely, Municipal Councils, Town Boards and Town Councils, Rural District Councils and Local Councils. Each will be separately discussed below.
The Municipal Council was the most advanced system of Local Government in West Malaysia. There were four (4) Municipalities in West Malaysia which were Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Ipoh and Malacca. All four were financially independent and had wholly elected Councils except Kuala Lumpur. Budgets were subjected to the approval of the Ruler/Governor-in-Council. Meanwhile, the budgets for Federal Capital had to be approved by the Minister who was in charge of the Local Government. The technical and administrative staffs were directly hired and they relied on either the Federal or the State Government for advice, the implementation of policy and for loan funds from the Federal Government. However, they required no aid in the daily running of their affairs.

The municipalities of Penang and Malacca operated solely under the Municipal Ordinance (S.S. Cap. 133) while the Municipalities of Kuala Lumpur and Ipoh operated partly under the Municipal Ordinance (S.S. Cap. 133) and partly under the Town Boards Enactment (F.M.S. Cap. 137).
Town Boards on the other hand were the organs of the State Government which was specially created in dealing with local affairs. When a certain Town Board being granted with the provision under the Local Authorities Election Ordinance 1950 and a majority of members were elected, it changed its status to a Town Council which was financially autonomous. However, Town Boards were not required to become a Town Council with an elected majority to receive the financially autonomous status.
Unlike the Municipalities, both Town Councils and Town Boards had to depend on the State Government for services as the financial resources were not self-contained. The President or Chairman known as the ‘District Officer’ was obliged for the daily administration of the Council or Board. The Federal officers serving in the States were appointed and held a huge advisory role for the Councils or Boards. The Councils or Boards also relied on the State Secretariat for legal, financial and technical assistance. In cases of conflict between the President/Chairman with the elected members in formulating policy or making decision, the Councils and Board referred to the Ruler-in-Council whose decision shall prevail.
The Councils and Boards in Selangor, Perak, Pahang, Kedah, Perlis and Negeri Sembilan operated under the Town Boards Enactment while Terengganu operated under Trengganu Town Boards Enactment and Johor operated under the Johore Town Boards Enactment. The three above mentioned Enactments were almost similar in the content.
Meanwhile, there were only seven (7) Rural District Council existed during the time and can only be found in the States of Penang and Malacca. They were formally named Rural Boards and they differed from Town Boards only in that their areas of jurisdiction cover a whole administrative district. Identical to the Town Councils and Town Boards, the Rural Boards also majorly relied on the State and Federal Government as they were not financially autonomous.Local Councils conversely were the latest created form of local authority in West Malaysia. The establishment was due to the declaration of Emergency in 1948. Besides the Chairman, the Local Councils were also wholly elected. They too enjoyed financial autonomy. The main exception however was the right of the District Officers to approve budgets and by-laws and that of the Menteri Besar of nominating members not greater than one-third (1/3) the number of elected councilors to represent minority interest.
The Local Councils though ran a simple form of rating, but it received an extensive measure of grant-in-aid. They relied very much on the State Government for technical services and assistance except for the junior staff who were directly hired by the Local Councils. Up to 1965, they were already 289 Local Councils in West Malaysia. And they were all uniformly governed by the Local Councils Ordinance 1952 .

The Local Governments have a special relationship with the Federal and the State Governments. The individual State Governments are vested with all legislations governing the constitutions, powers and functions of Local Government, whereas the Federal Government is only vested with power to legislation for the sole purpose of ensuring uniformity of law and policy, advisory role, technical assistance and publicity, among others. Therefore, the daily functions of local authorities in the Federation is actually within the competence of the State Government, as the Federal Government is only responsible with the basic policy relating Local Government as a whole.

The formation of the National Council for Local Government was significant in the development of a national policy for local government. The National Council for Local Government is Constitutional Body established by an amendment to Malaysian Constitution in 1960. It had the power to formulate a national policy every now and then for the promotion, development and control of local government throughout Malaysia as well as for the administration of any relevant laws. The members of The National Council for Local Government are one representative from each State Governments who is usually the Chief Minister, as well as an equal number of representatives of Federal Government who are the Cabinet Ministers under the Chairmanship of a Minister who is normally charged with the responsibility for Local Government. The Federal and State Governments are both bound to implement any policy prepared by the National Council for Local Government, except for the States of Sabah and Sarawak, who are only required to consult the National Council for Local Government on all matters concerning legislation on local government. There is also provision made in the Malaysian Constitution for both Sabah and Sarawak to become full members of the Council at a later date, if they want to.

The Local Government Elections under the Local Government Elections Act 1960 has only been held on one occasion throughout the country which was in 1962, except in the State of Trengganu which held its elections on 1963 due to the fact that the Election Commission failed to delineate the electoral words on time. In the same year, elections to all other local authorities like the Municipal authorities were held.
The following elections to local authorities which would have been held in 1965 (and 1966 in the State of Trengganu) were not held due to the Indonesia-Malaysia confrontation in 1964. On September 3, 1964, a Proclamation of Emergency was declared and two regulations under the Emergency (Essential Power) Act 1964, namely, the Emergency (Suspension of Local Government Elections) Regulations, 1965, and the Emergency (Suspension of Local Government Elections) (Amendment) Regulations, 1965, were made which effectively suspended all local government elections during the time the state of Emergency was in force.
Besides providing that the existing councillors to hold office before elections are held, those Regulations also provide the mode if there are vacancies to be filled in local authorities during the suspension of elections. Whenever the seat of councillor become vacant by reason of death, or having been found or declared to be of unsound mind, if he was an elected councillor, the State Authority shall appoint any person recommended by the political Party of which he was a member to fill that vacancy. In any other circumstances, the State Authority may appoint any persons to fill the vacant seats.

Even after the end of the confrontation between Indonesia and Malaysia, the Proclamation of Emergency has not been revoked. The Government’s reason for not revoking the Proclamation of Emergency was the security of the country was still in danger due to the rebellious activities of communists within the country. Even after almost 50 years, the suspension of Local Government election is still in force. There have been instances where the administrations of Municipalities and Town Councils have been taken over by the respective State Government. For example, Negri Sembilan’s State Government administered by the Menteri Besar took over the Seremban Town Council with effect from 23/7/65 due to alleged maladministration and malpractice. A Commission of Enquiry under Mr Justice Lee Hun Hoe had established that there was maladministration and malpractices committed by councillors. Similarly, the administration of the Penang City Council was taken over by the Chief Minister with effect from 1/7/66 and the Johore Bahru Town Council was taken over by its State Government from 17/4/66 with effect on grounds of alleged maladministration and malpractices.

Meanwhile, the Malacca Municipality and the Batu Pahat Town Council was taken over by its respective State Governments with effect as they were of the view that these two local authorities were unable to functions effectively due to financial reasons. Minyak Beku Local Council was dissolved on February 1, 1966 by its State Government in the State of Johore as it failed to function efficiently.

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