In a unique experiment, residents at the Ampangan low-cost flats in Ampang Jajar in Butterworth went to the ‘polls’ on Sunday to provide an indication of their priorities and local needs.
The residents themselves had earlier discussed their priorities under the theme of ‘safety’ and shortlisted seven key issues for final polling.
On ‘polling day’, 597 of the 1050 residents from about 250 homes in the flats showed up to cast their ‘votes’ – or rather ‘money’. They were each given ‘RM500’ in token money and asked to divide this ‘money’ into the respective ‘ballot’ boxes based on their individual needs and priorities.
The result? The box that received the most ‘money’ was the one for a recreational park, followed closely by better building maintenance. Coming up third was the wish for traffic lights in their area.
The other four needs were a site for trading, better security, an activity centre and improved cleanliness.
Prior to ‘polling day’, the organisers had carried out a survey of the 250 homes in the flats and then divided the residents into focus groups, which then came up with the shortlist of seven issues identified for polling.
The exercise was part of a gender-responsive budgeting (GRB) project initiated by the Penang Women’s Development Corporation in collaboration with the MPSP. PWDC, funded by the Penang state government, was set up to promote greater gender awareness, equality and justice and to empower women in all sectors.
Under a three-year pilot project, the MPSP and the MPPP are adopting GRB to take into account the needs of all the people before deciding its budget priorities.
A similar polling process, also under the theme of ‘safety’, will be undertaken in other low-cost flats. Next up are the River Road low-cost flats in Sungai Pinang, where polling will be carried out over three days next weekend, according to Aloyah Bakar of PWDC. She said credit for this system of seeking local residents’ views should go to contemporary artist Wong Hoy Cheong.
The process is commendable as it combines participatory decision making with local democracy among women and men, young and old, in influencing how limited funds are to be allocated based on the people’s needs at the grassroots.
Aloyah said the process is not yet over. The organisers will meet with the Ampangan residents to come up with a working paper on the three ‘winning’ needs and the paper will be presented to the MPSP for it to be incorporated in the local council’s 2014 budgeting process.
The PWDC/MPSP will also be looking at the theme of ‘cleanliness’, though the process may be slightly different as it will involve ‘tamans’ or housing estates on mainland Penang.