Reform in Malaysia is a matter of priority but put in place the masterplan first

ONE reason why activists are hitting out at the Madani government is because there is a lack of focus on reforms.

Cabinet ministers are either doing things business-as-usual (BAU) or that they are merely focusing on their own ideas of what is important when ordinary people including the Chinese community cannot care less whether ten Chinese New Villages are given the UNESCO heritage status when there are more pressing issues to solve.

Even as UMNO has openly objected to the idea of UNESCO heritage for a handful of new villages, the Chinese community would be more interested in the official recognition given to the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC).

On the hindsight, local Government Development Minister Nga Kor Ming should have focused on reforming the local councils and make them more efficient in delivering their services.

What matters to most ordinary Malaysians is the state of public amenities and cleanliness, considering that after the ministry changed its name (from previously the Housing and Local Government Ministry), potholes are still a major problem to motorists, streetlights are out of service for months, public toilets still stink or illegal dump and garbage are not properly managed.

While the government is encouraging hawkers not to use polystyrene boxes, it is not difficult to see hundreds of the bigger polystyrene boxes used to transport fish are thrown all over the wet markets. Where is the control?

Reforms, reforms, reforms

Everyone wants the reforms carried out to improve the country’s standing against corruption, wastages, cronyism and nepotism, money politics, human rights abuses, miscarried justice, and the perennial problem of statelessness.

Environmentalists will have a different set of reform agenda. In other words, talk to 10 people and it is not surprising to end up with 100 suggestions for reform that are important to them.

Perhaps there is a need to be fair to the Madani government for not all reforms are implementable within a short time. As it took the country 60 years to reach the current state of rot, it would be unreasonable for any government to turn things around overnight.

The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (BERSIH), for example, has 10 points for reforms in its memorandum submitted recently to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. Some of these points are already under consideration.

For example, one of the reforms suggested by BERSIH is to separate the roles of the Attorney-General and public prosecutor in order to uphold the rule of law and to avoid any conflict of interest in the event that the person prosecuted is a powerful figure in Government.

In fact, a few of BERSIH’s suggestions are worth implementing to put the country’s democracy on the right track again.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has endorsed BERSIH’s 10-point reforms (Image credit: Anwar’s Facebook)

Street demonstration is unnecessary if the executive adopts a positive attitude to work with civilians on the reforms. The best way for Anwar’s government to move forward is to engage the participation of the BERSIH steering committee.

The Madani government should be more creative in handling such a humongous task of turning the country around after 60 years of rot.

Civil servants who see the need for such reforms should be the ones to be re-deployed, incentivised and given the opportunity to champion the reform initiative, working alongside with the NGOs until fruition.

Not all reform ideas are good

Some people are still adamant that local council elections will solve all the problems we face today with the local councils. To them, these were the promises that Pakatan Harapan (PH) had made in the past, and they continue to push for the third-tier election as a reform that must be implemented.

Of late, the suggestion was mooted again by DAP lawmaker Tan Kok Wai but it has since died down after the public gave him the cold shoulder. This is because not everyone thinks this is a priority.

The Cheras MP should realise that the local council elections will contribute to a more intensive campaigning between the various political parties and other members of the society, when people are already very fed up with the way how campaigns are conducted during a general election.

Because major city councils like Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) and Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) have huge funds, this will attract opportunists with deep pockets to join the fray.

And when they win, there is no guarantee that they will not dig into the public coffers in the same manner how elections for office bearers of associations and joint-management committees can never guarantee good governance.

The bottom line for good governance is to ensure that only the good people are appointed to lead, and they should be frequently cautioned against corruption and reminded that they are under the watchful eyes of the Malaysia Anti-Corruption Commission and watchdog NGOs.

Most Malaysians understand that it is a difficult task to reform the country. In my estimation, it will take at least two terms before the country can fly high again.

Before the plane can take off, it is the time spent on the runaway that is important and this is where the Madani government should show it is serious about reforms by keeping people in the loop about the reform agenda. How?

A systematic update showing the progress towards each reform initiative should be provided to the public.

It is not impossible to implement a few hundred reforms if the right teams are deployed to look into them. This may require a central coordination unit within the Prime Minister’s Department. Hence, the opportunity for civil servants with service par excellence to be given the change to lead the unit.  – March 4, 2024

Main pic credit: East Asia Forum

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