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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Kohilan's Batu Caves Waterloo: Dark secrets of Selayang council

Kohilan's Batu Caves Waterloo: Dark secrets of Selayang council
IN one of the good (or bad – whichever way one wants to interpret) old days, meetings of some local councils would be held in secrecy which prompted a former deputy minister to remark that they operated like kongsi gelap. Of course, the people involved knew it was true, but yet took umbrage at such comments in wanting to justify their actions or inaction on various issues such as planning, development and expenditure.
At least one council had a "pre-council" meeting where all contentious issues including approval of building plans and development were deliberated, argued and approved so that on the day of the meeting proper, it was a matter of raising hands to support the various proposals before them.
The horse-trading, we were then told, would have been carried out with utterances of phrases like "Ini saya punya project, jangan bantah," (This is my project, don't object) and an equally deserved riposte like "Okay, saya punya pun, jangan kacau." (Ok, when it comes to mine, don't disturb). When such deals are made within the confines of four walls and without the knowledge of the public, seldom does anyone hear any justification or rationale for the approvals.
Therefore, it is not at all surprising that many councillors are now making confessions and admissions that they are suffering from acute collective amnesia, claiming to have little or no knowledge of what had happened right under their noses. Their reaction and the nuances that come with them would certainly require an in-depth study by medical experts who will be able to judge if there is any relationship between purple-coloured currency notes and memory loss
It would be certainly unfair and unjustified to claim that all of them are suffering from this rare disorder, but judging from the remarks made in the recent past, some of them served in the Selayang area.
On Friday, the thrice-postponed meeting with Deputy Foreign Minister Datuk A. Kohilan Pillai finally took place. He had wanted to have a look at the minutes of the meeting of Nov 29, 2007, obtained and in possession of this newspaper, which categorically stated that he and 18 other councillors endorsed the decision of the One-Stop Centre (OSC) committee to approve the construction of two tower blocks close to the limestone hills in Batu Caves.
Kohilan's credentials are impeccable – he served as a councillor for 10 years and he was one of those who travelled on a lawatan sambil belajar to South Africa and Mauritius on the "toilet inspection" trip in 2006. It was brief but to say the tete-a-tete was cordial would be far from the truth. Who would know better – an experienced councillor who had sat through dozens of meetings or a scribe who has been writing on the shenanigans of councils and councillors? This had to be conceded but what followed reinforced the much-talked about "meetings in secrecy".
The conversation went something like this:
Kohilan: Did the minutes show that I approved the project?
theSun: Yes.
Kohilan: Did you look at the records and see if there were any objections to the project?
theSun: No. The minutes did not record anyone having objected or abstained from the discussion. If someone had spoken out, it should be reflected in the minutes.
Kohilan: Did you check the records, the "Hansard"?
theSun: What Hansard? As far as we are concerned, the minutes should reflect an accurate account on what transpired at the meeting. The minutes are official proceedings of the council's meetings. We are not aware of the existence of other records and the law only states that the minutes should be kept and be made available for inspection. Are you telling me that the minutes are wrong and do not reflect what really transpired? If this is the case, this is something serious.
Kohilan: That is your opinion. You should ask the council for the deliberations before the approval was given.
theSun: What deliberations? Were they done in private or at the full board meeting? As far as we are concerned, we rely on the minutes which state that you were one of those who approved. The minutes do not say that you objected. The minutes are the official records of the council.
In the absence of documentary evidence that discussions took place before endorsement, any assertions otherwise would border on absurdity. To prolong a conversation on these lines would be an exercise in futility.
As much as Kohilan must be given a chance to give his side of the story, equally important is that he gives plausible explanations. Are we to assume that the Selayang council at one time or the other operated like a "secret society" keeping vital information away from the residents? Are we to assume that minutes are not recorded accurately? Are we to assume that the minute-taker took it upon himself or herself to "censor" the proceedings and only showed the "good side" of the council reflecting the buddy-buddy working relationship of councillors with no dissent? Are we to assume minutes of council meetings are nothing but pieces of formalities to record what had been previously agreed upon?
Something is certainly fishy. So many questions remain unanswered. The most important is: Why did the council, including its president and the councillors, defy the views of the Department of Environment which stated that development would cause imminent danger to the nearby limestone hills? Enough of pussy-footing. Let's have some straight answers.

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