Towards a Pro Growth, Pro Jobs and Pro Poor Local Government
Yesterday evening, as I was driving home from dinner with my wife, we saw two touching scenarios; the first, a blind man trying to make his way on a busy road to go to the safer inner road. He was shabbily-dressed but very strong-willed. We stopped our car and offered to ferry him, but he refused, so I led him into the inner road for him to continue his journey.
In the second scenario, I caught a glimpse of two kids playing near a public garbage bin, so I asked me wife to take a look and see what those kids were doing there. It turned out that hidden from my sight was someone, presumably their father, was salvaging items from the garbage bin.
We know that the poor we’ll always have with us, but it is hyperrealistic moments such as the above which force us to think about the real poor and marginalised people in our community.
My home-city of Seberang Perai has more than 50% of Penang state’s population and more pockets of rural areas unreachable by the wealth of industrialisation within the state. As a city councillor, I see job creation as a vital role of the local government, especially to address the issue of unemployment-related poverty.
In the past decade, the municipal council of Seberang Perai has been privatising its services due to various reasons, including the lack of resources, management issues etc. In Malaysia, government privatisation policy does not deal with the social responsibility of the government towards the employees of its contractors. In the municipal council, I have received reports that jobs such as garbage collections and general cleaning works were given to migrant workers by our contractors, and at a very very low pay.
Thus, I am campaigning for a policy within the council to implement contractual terms with private contractors to give job priority to local residents of the municipality and at a reasonable minimum wage. We have about a thousand low paying jobs contracted to our contractors (who eventually may hire migrant workers at ridiculously low wages) and if we can ensure that these jobs can first go to locals, then the local government is creating a wave of employment opportunities at the bottom rung of the society which may substantially affect local socio-economy dynamics.
Officials of the municipal council are already reviewing my proposal and even before any serious debate, there are already complains about the heavy financial implications. But my stance is that the council should not shortchange its workers, nor allow its contractors to shortchange their workers. Workers’ welfare is a government obligation. And to create employment opportunity is the duty of the government. Thus, spending tax money on jobs and in ensuring quality service-delivery should not be seen as wasteful.
I hope that in the next few months, this proposal will be discussed in details and be accepted by my fellow councillors for implementation. After all, the Chief Minister of Penang has declared many times that the Penang State Government is pro growth, pro jobs and pro poor.