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(Brickfields Police Station, Sunday): DAP expressed shock at the Federal Court decision that Section 95(2) of the Street Drainage and Building Act 1974 grants full legal immunity to Majlis Perbandaran Ampang Jaya and local government councils from prosecution and liability for any wrongdoings committed. Whilst DAP respects the decision made by the Federal Court in line with the principle of judicial independence, such a legal position is manifestly unfair and a travesty of justice that must be corrected by Parliament.
Section 95(2) must be repealed to uphold the basic consititutional principle under Article 8 that every one is equal and no one is above the law. The Federal Court unanimously decided on 17.2.2006 that the local government council was legally protected against legal action even though they were negligent and partly responsible for the collapse of the Highland Towers on 11.12.1993 after a landslide. Forty-eight people were killed in the tragedy. Another 73 were affected when the two remaining blocks were later found to be unsafe and condemned.
The Federal Court said it accepted earlier findings that MPAJ:
· had "created a danger" when it required that a stream on the steep hillslope be diverted, or approved plans for the move; and
· had failed or neglected to maintain the diversion and ensure it was properly maintained.
However the Federal Court still held that MPAJ was immune under section 95(2) which protects local councils from legal action arising from their responsibility to approve plans for buildings and other works. The Federal Court held that local government councils’ main priority should be providing services to the public and it was not "fair, just and reasonable" for taxpayers’ money to be used to pay for such damages because it would deplete the resources it had to spend on services and basic infrastructure.
At the present moment, local government councils have behaved in an irresponsible manner because they are appointed and not elected by the people. The lack of democracy has resulted in a failure of accountability and transparency and a poor record of public facilities and services. Money which should be spent on public services are abused for “white elephant” projects and junket trips overseas. Something is very wrong in our laws if ratepayers can not get compensation for such negligence and abuses of power.
Clearly such a ruling would benefit all local authorities at the expense of the general public. Worse it may create an unhealthy impression that the local government councils can do no wrong. For this reason, DAP urges the government and Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting to repeal Section 95(2) to remove the legal immunity enjoyed by local governments so as to uphold accountability, the legal and moral principle that those who commit wrongdoing can not escaped unpunished but must be fully liable.
Section 95(2) of the Street Drainage and Building Act 1974 should not be used as an escape clause for irresponsible, errant, inefficient and even corrupt local government officials who caused not only great financial losses but also loss of life as shown in the Highland Towers tragedy. If even Rulers such as the Yang di Pertuan Agung and the Sultans no longer enjoy legal immunity from prosecution why should local government councils continue to have such privileges of immunity.
Public interest, justice and accountability requires that Section 95(2) be repealed to protect the interests of ratepayers. If ratepayers can not seek recourse to the courts to seek justice and correct the wrongs committed by local government councils, then this goes against the basic principle of justice and fairness underlying the Pak Lah administration. DAP challenges Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting to act in the public interest by taking the initiative to propose such repeal in the Cabinet this Wednesday and when Parliament meets next month.