Citizen Nades - Guidelines ignored

06 Jun 2016 / 14:08 H.

    IT was an era when the Little Napoleons ruled the roost. Their word was the law. Not adhering to their demands and not abiding by their commands meant trouble. They were the “king makers” who could do anything, albeit sometimes illegal, and get away with it.
    It was an era where the sports club became a conduit for bribes. In a sort of way, black money was laundered to white. Anyone wanting to erect billboards had to make a “donation”. There was even a tariff – RM10,000 per billboard. There was no need for licences or permission from the owners of the land. Money did wonders and the powers that be watched it all happen because some of them were in cahoots with the operators.
    Millions were collected and spent but members of the sports club did not know the numbers. It was operated by a handful of people who received and dispensed the money and were not accountable to anyone.
    Billboards sprouted all over the city uncontrolled. In 2007, the council had licensed fewer than 100 billboards, but there were five times that number. Even a rebuke from the state ruler put little fear into them.
    Dear readers, the follies of the Petaling Jaya City Council, perpetrated in some cases by councillors, came to an end with the general election of March 2008. Like new brooms, they came in to sweep the council of all the muck, dirt and sewage that had accumulated over the previous decades. It was not an easy task – there were blockades placed by interested parties including staff of the council.
    But the show had to move on. If previously the unofficial licence fee was sent to the sports club or someone’s pocket, no one cared. The new councillors demanded accountability. Instead of plonking a unipole on the road reserve which belongs to the state, now they had to get a temporary occupation licence for the use of the land. The council would apply for it for a fee – which went officially into the government’s coffers.
    A meeting with all industry players – advertising agencies, advertisers and billboard companies – ended with a set of guidelines which everyone had to adhere to. All parties signed on the dotted line.
    For a good five years, the good times lasted. In total, over RM25 million was credited to the council. However, at the end of 2013, many councillors were replaced. Even those with good track records had to make way for party workers who had pasted posters, those who drove winning candidates and the like.
    The rot started setting in. With hardly anyone on their backs, the council staff went back to their old bad ways. Guidelines were ignored and it appeared that the “mafia” had taken grip of the planning department.
    Billboards were set up everywhere – including at road junctions which were categorically banned under the guidelines. Almost every other rule in the book was thrown out.
    Today, Petaling Jaya has re-emerged to live up to its old name – Billboard City. While money is not going to the sports club, it is ending up elsewhere.
    In 2008, the council had brought down a billboard along the LDP for infringing the guidelines. Last week, a new billboard was erected on the site.
    Derek Fernandez, who had previously pushed for reforms and drew up the guidelines, returned as councillor after a three-year hiatus only to discover the mess that had been created.
    In a note to the council president, he said: “Something is seriously wrong. Of late several approvals of new sites to companies have been on places previously rejected by previous billboard committees as they clearly breached the guidelines.”
    The guidelines, he added, cannot be changed by MBPJ without the consent of the state as they apply to the whole of Selangor.
    He also noted that new sites were not being given for those waiting in line for replacement sites, but to companies that don’t qualify for replacement sites.
    Many residents including this writer, organisations and residents’ groups campaigned arduously to bring about some semblance of law and order when it came to billboards.
    Unfortunately, it has descended to the dark days when money called the shots.
    R. Nadeswaran has every reason to lament that four years of collective hard work have ended up in zero because for a handful of people, a fistful of dollars can do wonders. Comments: citizen-nades@thesundaily.com

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