Civic Governance

posted by din merican–February 27, 2009

Civic governance
Dr. KJ John
Febrauary 24, 2009

Some time past, I had asked the rhetorical question, “What is the colour of the air we breathe?” In Petaling Jaya it used to be foul smelling, dirty, corrupted air, especially when related to billboard advertising.

Thanks to the breath of fresh air brought by Pakatan Rakyat-appointed councilors, The Sun newspaper ran an editorial entitled “A great clean-up” on Febraury 12. Thank you, The Sun, for recognising good clean-ups.

What was most interesting was that the new guidelines for cleaner air were approved by the Committee for Sustainable Development of Petaling Jaya. If I am not wrong, PJ started the pilot project of the Local Agenda 21 (LA 21) programme about eight years ago. MPPJ was one of five local authorities specially selected under the United Nations Development Programme’s LA 21 programme. There was a lot of rhetoric and little real work to show serious sustainable development planning and approvals.

In fact, I even made a complaint to the then MPPJ president that there was ‘a lot of talk and very little walk’ under this agenda. The most surprising thing was, I even received an answer from the then MPPJ president assuring me that the LA 21 agenda was alive and well.  Today I say, “Shame to you Mr President as it was during your tour of duty that the corruption vide the backdoor of donations to sports clubs started”. It is now obvious that you created and supported the tolerance for the foul air culture within the MPPJ.

So it is with great delight as a member and rate-payer in MPPJ for me to accord accolades, respect and honour to the MPPJ councilors which The Sun declared had “firmly yet fairly, promulgated the guidelines and pushed through their agenda despite hurdles placed in their midst”. I am indeed grateful.

Allow me to then ask again, “What is the colour of the air we breathe in Petaling Jaya?” Let me try and expound one philosophy or approach towards civic governance that the current MPPJ president and councilors can consider as they move the LA 21 agenda towards a natural conclusion.

I have called it the 3W2R1A approach for sustainable development. Let us begin with the1A. It is the common agenda that all MPPJ councilors have to agree for it to become the guidelines for the billboard arena.

Seeking a win-win situation

Most organisations cannot claim to have such a clear and unequivocal agenda which all organisational actors subscribe to. In this instance, it is obvious that MPPJ found their one voice and common agenda; and therefore, now the rewards of recognition.

The second and equally important is the 3W. I have always called this the ‘triple win’. Too often in transactional management techniques, the promoters only talk about a win-win. Even corruption is a double win: for the advertisers it was cheaper to bribe and for corrupt staff, they saw the benefits.

But as always in the non-sustainable agenda, it is the third win of public interest that is always sacrificed. MPPJ was cheated by insiders and outsiders for their own and private win-win agendas!

The 3W worldview of sustainable development is something like the 360 degree management model being promoted today. All interested stake and share holders in any enterprise must be included and involved in the development agenda.

Therefore in the case of billboards, the component that was sadly missing in the older way of doing it was the ‘third win’ of public interest, which every citizen, elected government and local authority exists to protect and preserve. Unfortunately, in the current model of ‘greed is good’ worldview of capitalism, the third win of public interest is the first principle to be sacrificed for personal interests; whether one calls it a CEO being paid millions, or a president who closes one eye to wrong-doing or authorities who are blind to the real issues.

How else can the so-called most developed country in the world, the US, and the so-called most developed state in Malaysia, Selangor, have such foul smelling air? It now befalls on the new CEO’s to clean out years and years of dirt and filth accumulated under the watch of poor and inept leaders of the past.

The third and final aspect of this philosophy of operational leadership is what I call 2R. The two Rs stand for risk-taking and reward sharing.All parties in any enterprise, whether the so-called owners, or merely share-holders, or even only the customers or beneficiaries, are all joint stakeholders of the enterprise.

They all have and hold a stake in what that enterprise does or does not do, for the future belongs to them and their children. That is posterity and prosperity today cannot deny the posterity of the future which gives hope to all who come later.

Therefore, any contract between two parties never involves only two parties. There is always the need for some kind of third party insurance for the larger good of all third party stakeholders. Usually these come in the form governments and for good governance mechanisms.

New role-model in governance

Democracy is our only current best alternative for selecting a model of power-sharing that seemingly allows for good governance. But, as is evident in the so-called best democracy in the world, oversight cannot be left only to so-called private sector authorities or the so-called market.

As is becoming obvious, even markets need the governance oversight of governments. But like everything else in life, any extremes in one direction or another, either with democracy or with free-market capitalism, unless the third party interests are well overseen, public interest will always be denied.

Greed and the love of money is at the root of the fall of mankind. Greed, therefore, always needs to be moderated against ugly self-interested utilitarian individuals and their allies. In fact, Amitai Etzioni the well-known organisationalist and sociologist addressed this very issue vide a book called ‘The Moral Dimension: Towards a New Economics’.

The challenge for all of us then in seeking good governance is to search out and establish civil or civic rules and guidelines that meet the needs of all parties and interests. These, the MPPJ councillors have done well. We can only watch and observe as they seek to improve their governance with cleaning of the air on billboards.

My prayer is that the rest of the country will also watch and learn as MPPJ experiments with a new economics of development and a new model of improved governance of the public space.

One thought on “Civic Governance

  1. We are surely in need of a huge gust of fresh air before we all pengsan, at least for now till PR takes over ,not with a broom, but with a big bull dozer, to get rid of all the stinking garbage !

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