Professionalising Constituency Officers

I had the opportunity to speak at a Johor DAP internal training session for the constituency assistants to our elected representatives. The workshop included 10 experienced assistants, and 12 new assistants who only started work after the March 2022 Johor state election. Most of them are in their twenties.

I am glad to see DAP being a learning organisation that constantly absorbs new knowledge and shares that knowledge within the organisation, and of course, with the rest of the community.

I look forward to the expansion of this aspect as we professionalise our assistants. I hope to see our assistants each having one or two topics as their forte, be it town planning, citizenship issues, traffic management or others.

There is a lot to learn from each other about how to handle constituency matters on the ground. These constituency offices are the “frontline” of DAP.

I started in DAP as Seputeh MP Teresa Kok’s assistant manning her parliamentary office back in 2000. From my experience, more often than not, constituents only turn up at our office to seek help after exhausting all other options. It is like the “last resort” one-stop-centre for people who are in need of assistance. Therefore, assistants and elected reps themselves need to be patient and be prepared to listen and help as much as possible.

Having constituents coming to us is being reactive on the part of the elected representatives’ office. More importantly, being an elected representative or an assistant to one, is also about reaching out and creating proactive engagements with the community. We need to balance reactive and proactive engagements with our constituents.

Ultimately, we are here to change the lives of our communities for the better. We need to go out there to voice out and to organise. We need to be the voice of our constituents and bring up issues that affect their lives, we need to come up with creative and effective solutions to the situations we see in our constituencies.

I thank Chan Wei Khjan and other experienced assistants, many of whom were local councillors during Pakatan Harapan’s tenure as the Johor state government, for organising and leading this training session.

For the DAP to grow and for the elected representatives to lead their communities well, we need dedicated and well qualified staff. A difficult question arises. Being opposition in Johor, it is not easy for DAP to raise funds, and therefore it has never been easy to pay our staff well enough to keep them for the long haul.

But I concur with the participants that DAP needs to convince our supporters that paying our staff better, training and sustaining them for the long haul are crucial to building a strong DAP brand in the community. Elected representatives cannot work alone, we need support from a strong and capable team.

I also agree with the suggestion that assistants and staff in Johor DAP should organise themselves in an “internal union”-like organisation or an informal association to help create standards and guidelines to build an excellent staff team across the state.

This training session will not be the last. Johor DAP’s Political Education Director, Sdr Alan Tee Boon Tsong will continue to spearhead future sessions as the party leadership would want to organise many more such sessions for leaders at all levels to make the DAP a learning organisation.

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