PETALING JAYA: What makes a city tick? Is it skyscrapers, a mass transit transport system, six-lane highways, luxurious eateries and shopping hubs? Or is it quality of life the city administrators provide for its residents? It’s no use having all the trappings of a modern city if there is no maintenance to keep everything ticking. Although the issues may sound small and considered trivial, if residents cannot go about their daily chores, then something is wrong with the system. Petaling Jaya has all the trappings of a modern city, but when it comes to maintenance it fares poorly. The statistics speak for themselves. Last year, the council received 545 complaints about road conditions and just 171 or a mere one-third were rectified. That speaks volumes on the maintenance culture in the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ). Incidents of people being injured or even killed as a consequence of bad road conditions have been reported and yet, the council has not been jolted from its slumber. In some countries, those affected by particularly potholes would have sued the council for negligence. In the United Kingdom, an injured cyclist was awarded £70,000 (RM375,000) in compensation. The Hertfordshire County Council was found liable for the accident which left the man with permanent injuries after falling due to either his wheel getting stuck in a pothole or his attempt of avoiding one. Local councils have also been held liable in cases involving pedestrians tripping over pavements. What is the law in Malaysia? Legal academic Prof Gurdial Singh Nijar, in his commentary in this newspaper, made it clear that councils are liable for such death or injury. The council, he argued, can be held liable, should their act amount to malfeasance, non-feasance and misfeasance. If the problem occurs as a result of normal “wear and tear” then they may have no obligation to attend to it – or at least, they cannot be held liable if they fail to attend to it immediately. It all depends on the facts of the case. When there is a specific law which imposes on the authority a duty to act, then it will be liable if it fails to do so. Quoting a Federal Court judgment, he said: “In practical terms, it translates to this: the (local) authority has a duty – under both the general common law and this specific Act. It must execute the duty ‘to the best of its ability, skill, diligence and caution’.” So what does this imply? It’s the responsibility of the authorities to maintain the quality of infrastructure to avoid mishaps. This also explains that the system holds the authority accountable should such accidents result from poor maintenance on their part, and it is also their responsibility to be vigilant for any lurking danger that may cause serious grievance to road users. Recently, the PJ mayor announced that RM4.8 million has been set aside for road maintenance. While it is laudable, the question of why potholes are not filled immediately has never been answered. But the size of potholes is insignificant compared to the injury they can cause. The question is: are victims who suffered and incurred serious damage being compensated for their suffering and losses? Take the heart-wrenching story of a widow looking to sue the Shah Alam City Council (MBSA). Mariam Samah, 42, lost her 52-year old husband due to an accident caused by potholes. He was in coma for two months before succumbing to his injuries. She was quoted as saying she was looking to take legal action in view of “emotional and mental torture”, caused by the authority’s negligence. Councils should take responsibility in maintaining infrastructure and prevent such occurrences.