July 14, 2010
Download the FOI Draft Enactment HERE.
The idea for a Freedom of Information Act is not a new one. Many a conference and public forum has called for such an enactment even prior to the March 8th General Election. In other countries, it varies from being known as a “Freedom of Information” to a “Right to Information” Act (the latter is true for countries in India). When Pakatan Rakyat stepped into power in Selangor, this was a prime opportunity for the state government to put into practice what it has always called for at the Federal level.
The process was not necessarily an easy or a direct one. The enactment was drafted by several parties, and went under the scrutiny of the State Legal Advisor in its final stages. The issue of the Official Secrets Act (OSA) and how that would work was one issue on everyone’s minds. Administratively, which agencies would be covered? What would the mechanisms be? Who makes the decisions? All these questions are hopefully answered in the draft enactment…
Which has been finally tabled for first and second reading TODAY at the Selangor State Legislative Assembly! Let today be a historic day, with an unprecedented enactment, either at the State or Federal levels. The next step is for the newly elected Select Committee (chaired by YB Saari Sungib) to decide on how to proceed, which would include several rounds of public consultation. After collating the feedback and having various (thorough I am sure) discussions, table it for the third and final reading.
We must ensure that the implementation of this FOI enactment takes place efficiently, lest it becomes a mere justification for living up to our own self-imposed standards of transparency and public accountability. Officers with traditional and conservative views will need to be given training and exposure, to operate on the principle of information availability with only narrow exceptions.
We should also now include as a clarion call for the Federal Government to take up the initiative. In the very least, some reform must be done to address the archaic laws of the OSA, Printing Presses and Publications Act, and a slew of other Acts which have continuously served to restrict and muzzle freedom of expression and of media.
Thanks to YB Elizabeth Wong (Chair of the FOI Taskforce) and team, they’ve compiled the Media Reports below here. Enjoy:
S’gor tables ground-breaking FOI Bill (Malaysiakini)
Enakmen kebebasan maklumat (Malaysiakini)
‘Bil kebebasan maklumat ‘ceroboh’ perlembagaan’ (Malaysiakini)
Selangor merakyatkan informasi (Malaysiakini)
BN says FOI encroaching on Federal powers (TheEdge)
Amid media clampdown, S’gor tables FOI Bill (Malaysia Chronicle)
巫统议员批雪资讯自由法违宪 黄洁冰：阳光是最好的消毒剂 (Malaysiakini)
雪政府提呈资讯自由法 决策与行事摊在阳光下 (merdekareview)
指大臣有解密权无必要立法 国阵：雪州资讯自由法违宪 (merdekareview)
《资讯自由法令》让人民监督政府 拯救被腐蚀的机制 (Therocknews)
BN opposition attacks Selangor’s Information bill (TheMalaysianInsider)
July 10, 2010
The July edition of the Penang Economic Monthly is out! This time I co-author a piece with gender expert Dr. Cecilia Ng on the issue of Democratising Women. Gender and politics in Malaysia is changing rapidly with the Pakatan Rakyat having a significant number of women representatives. What have the Selangor and Penang state governments done to advance the gender reform agenda?
Tricia Yeoh and Cecilia Ng
Part of the excitement associated with the post-political tsunami of March 8th 2008 when Pakatan Rakyat (PR) took over four (now three) state governments was that it signalled a greater democratisation of the country’s polity. This process certainly includes the transition towards making the practice of deeply entrenched public power more transparent and accountable, the debates of which have indeed since flourished at both Federal and State levels. Today, we have both the Barisan Nasional and PR component parties championing the labels of transparency and accountability in a political market competition of sorts, the evaluation of which is at the public’s disposal, and the results of which are tabulated at elections – or so the process ought to be.
That said, another fundamental aspect of this process of ‘greater democratisation’ is that of inclusive citizenship, where all individuals in society should be empowered to contribute to the formation and practice of public policy – the drawing upon private citizens into public spheres so to speak. Academics have argued that although democracy is premised on the idea of universal citizenship where everyone has the right to be treated equally under the law, it tends to reflect the male and heterosexual citizen. The redefinition of politics is therefore necessary to challenge the practice of it being essentially male-dominated and heteronormative.
The same is true of Malaysia, whose male-dominant political representation has resulted in gender-skewed policies and practices. Who can forget, for example, one Parliamentarian’s brash remarks referring to a fellow woman Member of Parliament’s menstrual cycle in utterly distasteful humour? More serious, however, are the impacts of such similar strains of thought upon the laws that govern the country, and in turn, the implications of those on women. One of the solutions has been through a model of ‘fast-tracking’ to redress the historic exclusion of women, where more and more countries are adopting quotas, as temporary measures, for increased political representation for women. The goal is to ensure both descriptive and substantive representation of women in the political arena.
There are 13.9 million women in the country, making up % of the national population. The participation rate of women in the Malaysian labour force increased from 44.7% in 1995 to 46.4% in 2009, which is relatively low compared to neighbouring countries like Thailand (70%), Singapore (60.2%) and Indonesia (51.8%). In positions of decision-making, the number of female Members of Parliament increased from 5.3% to 10.4% between 1990 and 2009. Women now account for 30.5% of top public sector management positions in 2010, a rise from 6.9% in 1995. However, in the private sector women only make up 6.1% of Malaysia’s corporate directors.
July 4, 2010
It’s taken a while, but the Selangor Freedom of Information Enactment will finally be tabled for its first reading at the upcoming State Legislative Assembly sitting! It will be interesting to see how the Federal Government reacts to this, although they should not be too concerned since only state-related documents will be of relevance here.
BFM Radio interviewed me earlier in the week (it was aired on Monday 7.30am, which I unfortunately missed). The podcast is available here. I spoke about our plans to table the enactment, as well as what the draft roughly contains.
One of the issues was whether or not the Official Secrets Act would interfere with our enactment. The answer (broadly speaking, since there are many technical details that one could write on) is no: Only state-agencies’ information will be made transparently available to the public. Federal agencies’ documents, classified by the Federal Government, are not relevant in this case. However, the Selangor Menteri Besar has the authority under Section 2A of the OSA to declassify certain documents, the power of which he has already exercised numerous times over the past two years (on issues like Bukit Botak etc.).
This is not the final draft yet and there will be several stages to go, like a Select Committee to be formed, public opinion gathered based on the existing document, and then second reading after taking those recommendations and suggestions into account.
June 25, 2010
I am not sure Malaysians are familiar with the concept of federalism. When the 10th Malaysia Plan referred to the word “Federalism”, I had to stifle a laugh because they simply did not seem to get it right. Instead of recognising the autonomy of States (like Selangor, Perak, Penang and so on) to have their legitimate control over areas that are defined constitutionally… they used the term to refer to the transfer of power from state to the Federal Government. Authors of the document, wake up! What you refer to is actually centralisation of power. Not a very healthy trend of democracy, if I may say so myself.
But it’s alright. You guys can go ahead and centralise solid waste management. People may end up paying higher fees if the one private company you choose eventually has to hire other sub-contractors, creating greater layers and in effect making people pay more. You’re probably going to get people to be more dissatisfied.
But hey, not everyone on our side understands Federalism too. There is an interesting post by a friend entitled “Khalid Ibrahim and his enemies” here. His two points raised are interesting, which are below, followed by my thoughts on his points.
- The practice of separating party and state is indicative of a healthy democracy.
When I was doing research for the Integrity Index, one of the key indicators of a healthy integrity score is exactly this: the separation between party and state. Maybe I am being too idealistic. Am I? In our context, there are already those from the party who are nominated in positions representing an interest in the state government and given a decision-making role.
The culture, however, is for the state to provide other recognition to the party. If it is finances, I think the answer is pretty clear: there ought to be separation. If it is nominated positions in state GLCs: this should be done only if the people are professionals, competent and possess the necessary skill sets required. Even so, preference shouldn’t be given purely on the basis of one’s party affiliation, should it? It should be based on whether the person is able to deliver. If the persons are excellent and able and happen to be affiliated to a party, then fine, by all means. The key determinant of being selected into a position is the ability to deliver and make wise, informed decisions.
2. Parliamentarians and state assemblymen have separate and distinct functions.
In our country, we also have to accept the reality that people are not educated on the varying roles of MPs, State assemblypersons and local councillors. Whenever there is a problem of longkang tersumbat or botched-up roads, people will turn to whichever representative they can get access to. So, because MPs get called on to solve state-related problems, they therefore feel they have a stake in the governing of the State. This is an unfortunate reality. MPs should actually be focusing their attention on national-level affairs, the drafting and debating and passing of Bills into Acts.
Having said that, the principle of federalism also calls for there to be a separation of jurisdictions. So ultimately, it should legitimately fall on State Assemblymen to make the call for matters relating to the state. But there should always be the culture of openness, consultation, participative discussion, inclusiveness of all who have concerns and recommendations. MPs have access to people because of the multitude of people they meet. They too are the eyes and ears, and have valid perspectives that are valuable to the state administration. So, i) State Assemblymen have a legitimate State function; and ii) There must be room for MPs to express their valid views.
Having weighed all the concerns, let us remind ourselves the reason we are fighting this fight. Let’s go beyond the farcical sandiwara, the games, the lobs made between different sides whether internally or externally. What are the principles upon which we stand?
There are lots of problems and issues that we must continue to iron out. And this is true. So much to change. So much work to do. In the meantime, this is a painful but necessary process of educating ourselves on how to “do” democracy. Living so many years under one government, we have to be re-educated. Mistakes will be made. But we must do this together. Call it cliched, but a rope with many cords is much stronger than a rope of only one.
But on this count, on the count of relying on state for the interest of anything non-state, let us be alert. And err on the side of caution, because without caution, we run the risk of sliding down the slippery slope… which would then bring us to the pits of UMNO. And who wants that, really? ;)
June 8, 2010
One of the successful projects we did at the Centre for Public Policy Studies (CPPS) in 2008 was an electronic compilation of Policy Factsheets, putting everything one needed to know about the country’s policies into bite-sizes. These became easy reference material for voters to judge for themselves the successes (or failures) of the Government in delivering upon things like Healthcare, Crime Rates, Poverty, Education, the Economy, and so on. Condensed into 2-3 pages, some politicians and campaigners even used them at their various ceramahs.
At the Selangor Government, one project my team and I worked on was to compile all of Selangor’s policies and programmes accomplished over the past two years into a booklet. This gives a complete overview of ALL the Pakatan Rakyat policies and programmes that we have been working hard on. This covers all the portfolios that the State Executive Council (Exco) is in charge of, namely, the list below:
You can also download the files available in both Malay and English here.
- Merakyatkan Ekonomi Selangor (People-Based Economy)
- Economic Stimulus Package
- Transparent and Accountable Government
- State Finances
- Trade, Industry and Investment
- Islamic Affairs and Malay Customs
- Non-Muslim Affairs
- Local Government
- Poverty Eradication and Caring Government
- Consumer Affairs and Orang Asli
- Gender and Women’s Issues
- Youth Issues
- Entrepreneurial Development
- Science, Technology and Innovation
- Holistic Development
- Plantation Workers
- New Villages and Illegal Factories
As you can see, there has been quite a bit of work done to deliver upon all the various portfolios. Sometimes it is just that the Selangor State Government has lacked the communication tools necessary to ensure these policies and programmes’ information is filtered to the ground, to people like you and me! Us netizens deserve a lot of info and trust me, we are working hard at this.
Again, you can download it from my makeshift google site here.
As usual I have been very undisciplined in keeping my blog active. Sorry, peeps. Well here is my column from the Penang Economic Monthly :) This time, on safety in the cities… They’ve also put it up on The Malaysian Insider here.
Safety In The Cities
A horrific incident occurred in April in Shah Alam, Selangor, that will sadly be merely an additional statistic in the growing list of police shootings recorded in recent times.
Fifteen-year-old Aminulrasyid Amzah was shot to death by police manning a roadblock. He was driving without a licence at 2am and, to avoid the police check, he reportedly backed into several policemen instead. He was shot dead whilst a passenger in the car managed to escape. The death of this teenager sent shockwaves throughout the country.
Whilst it is true that the public has been clamouring for greater police surveillance to improve safety and security in the cities, the “trigger-happy” behaviour by our men in blue is not helping to combat crime. In fact, it hurts further public confidence in our law enforcers.
In a survey conducted by the Merdeka Center for Opinion Research released in January 2010, “crime and public safety” was listed as one of the top five concerns in Peninsular Malaysia. In November 2009, the Home Ministry’s website opinion polls showed that 97 per cent or 9,729 out of 10,060 respondents felt unsafe because of the high crime rate, and 95 per cent felt that their safety was not guaranteed. This has been a consistent concern, corresponding to the alarming rise in crime figures over the last 10 years. For example, violent crime increased by 8.7 per cent in the first five months of 2007 compared with the same period the previous year. Violent crime increased by 85 per cent between 2003 and 2006. Rape cases increased by 95 per cent in 2009. Selangor records the highest crime rates for both petty and violent crimes.
There is also a worrying increase in house burglaries in 2009, a year that recorded a relative jump of such crimes taking place in broad daylight compared to night-time.
The “Crime Index”, a measure kept by the Royal Malaysian Police, rose by 45 per cent between 2003 and 2007 from 156,315 to 224,298 cases. (Note: It was not possible to obtain more recent crime index figures). Crimes that are reported with sufficient regularity and given sufficient significance are considered meaningful to the index. An occurrence is considered a crime when it is reported either by the victim or a witness, or on the initiative of the police upon discovery of a criminal activity. The index describes two categories of crime, namely violent and property crime, with snatch thefts being considered a separate and unique category due to its frequency. Although this index is the only possible means of measuring crime in the country, the police also recognise “dark figures”, which is the gap between reported and unreported crime.
The government’s efforts
Given our dire situation, how should policies be shaped to ensure safety in our cities?
April 29, 2010
Hot off the press, the latest Penang Economic Monthly has my take on Local Council Elections. Go grab one off the stands today!
Locating the Demos in Democracy
Local government elections were abolished by the Malaysian federal government in 1976 despite suggestions to the contrary by the body set up to study them. Thirty-five years later, the State governments of Penang and Selangor are asking for federal support in reintroducing them. If local councillors were elected instead of appointed, a mature electorate would be able to hold them accountable.
Both the state governments and Penang and Selangor announced in March this year that they had written separate letters to the Election Commission asking for local government elections to be conducted in their respective states. Their reasons for doing so were to strengthen democracy by having local representatives elected and not appointed, as they are now. This would enhance accountability in public administration.
In an immediate reaction, Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Najib Razak rejected this, stating that such a move would not necessarily improve services to the people. According to him, local council elections would focus upon campaigning and politicking instead. If indeed “campaigning and politicking” are impediments to good governance, then by his very own argument both federal and state elections should equally be abolished in order for the executive to concentrate on “better service delivery”.
Local Government Elections: Looking Back
In fact, it is ironic for any party to vehemently oppose local government elections since although they may seem alien today, they were in fact a common enough practice of Malaya in the past. The first partial election was held in the Municipal Commission of George Town in 1857, but this was short-lived as they were abolished in 1913. It was only much later when the Local Authorities Election Ordinance of 1950 was enacted that allowed for local government elections, as well as participation of political parties.
Thus, the Municipal Council of George Town held its elections in 1951, but the more significant event was in 1952, when elections were held for first time for the Kuala Lumpur Municipal Council. As the capital of the Federation, this would set the trend for elections at the state and federal government levels at a later stage. Following Kuala Lumpur, local elections were then held in Kuantan, Kota Bahru, Seremban, Ipoh and Malacca all the way up to 1960. Such elections were the practice for representatives at city councils, municipal councils, town councils, town boards, rural district councils and local councils.
April 23, 2010
First Published in the Penang Economic Monthly, hmm.. either the February or March 2010 issue, I forget. One of those :D
Sustainable Cities in Penang and Selangor: Are We?
(On Environmental and Sustainability Issues)
Much has been said about the little that emerged from the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen last December 2009. Well, the Copenhagen Accord was finally signed by major economies including the US and China, committing to limit the rise in global temperatures to two degrees Celsius. However, there were no specified caps on emissions to achieve this objective, and neither were there legal conditions to keep this in check. Although much more could and should have been accomplished, the global uproar over its lack thereof reflected the significant shift worldwide towards environmental concerns.
Climate change and environmental issues have been the buzz phrases of the past two years, partly thanks to Hollywood’s documentaries “An Inconvenient Truth” and “The 11th Hour”, which address the growing fears of carbon emissions and climate change. According to the International Energy Agency, Malaysia emitted 6.68 tonnes of carbon dioxide per capita in 2007, more than twice the world’s average and ranking it the fourth highest in the region after Brunei, Taipei and Singapore. However, compared to these three countries, Malaysia’s emission per capita percentage change between 1990 and 2007 was the highest, growing by a massive 143%.
Malaysia’s expanding carbon footprint jolted the Federal Government into including “Green Technology” as part of the Ministry of Energy and Water’s portfolio and in July 2009 launched its National Green Technology Policy, although a plan has not yet been released. More recently, Prime Minister Najib made a bold pledge during the Copenhagen conference to reduce carbon emissions by 40 per cent within the next 10 years, which seems rather bold given increasing emphases on establishing Malaysia as a regional aviation hub and dismal attempts at improving public transportation services.
First published in the Penang Economic Monthly, February 2010 Issue.
CAT in Action: Competency, Accountability and Transparency in the Pakatan States
One of the electoral themes that took the now-governing Pakatan Rakyat states by storm was that of transparency and accountability. Indeed, harsh criticisms of corruption, financial mismanagement, wastage and abuse of power was levelled against their predecessor Barisan Nasional at both the state and national level. The stories worked: voters were angry and disgusted at their tax-paying money having gone down the drain to advantage a privileged few. Indeed, Malaysia dropped from 47th in 2008 to 56th place in 2009, in Transparency International’s Corruptions Perceptions Index, its worst ranking in 15 years.
Two years into their administration, what exactly has been done in order to fulfill their pledges of CAT – competency, accountability and transparency – that the Pakatan Rakyat states have waxed lyrical about? This article explores the attempts made by the state governments in improving administrative efficiency through transparency and accountability measures and the challenges encountered therein.
The reason for placing transparency as a priority is simple: the more information that is available to the public from the administration, the more likely it is for governments to behave responsibly in order to uphold standards and commitments. This also allows citizens to obtain, analyse, and evaluate for themselves details about projects carried out by the government. A mature democracy requires that people are in this manner empowered. However, transparency is often a principle that many leaders champion yet fail to translate into reality. It is easy to make motherhood statements and pronouncements of reform, as Malaysians recall former Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi doing, but the devil lies in the detail, where laborious standards and stringent guidelines are required.
First published in the Penang Economic Monthly.
Revisiting the Federalist System:
Federal-State Relations in Malaysia
Although Malaysia is officially a federalism, over the years the central government has responded to the opposition by tightening their terms of power sharing across tiers. This has even more interesting dimensions when one considers the political developments that have taken place in light of the March 2008 election results, where the “opposition” became the state governments of five states in the country. Now officially governing in Penang, Selangor, Kedah and Kelantan (the status of government in Perak is debateable), what effects has this predominantly centralised government had on the way Pakatan states operate? How have Pakatan states especially in Penang and Selangor responded to this situation? What are the alternatives available to these state governments, given current limitations?
There are several reasons for this highly centralised government, although by definition a federalism is one in which the federal and state governments have their separate and distinctive powers. In its proper form, it is a system of government that allows simultaneous recognition of diversity and common identity. In a country as diverse as Malaysia, federalism would be an ideal system of ensuring states preserve their individual and regional identities. However, despite the fact that Malaysia is a federalism, this exists perhaps only on paper especially in recent years.