April 18, 2021

Opening government up to scrutiny

4 min read

THE G25’s proposal that the new parliamentary select committees should assume a more active role in reforming our long overdue policy issues is certainly very timely and most welcome, “Channels for open dialogue” (The Star, Oct 29).

Indeed, the proposals of the G25 for the faster establishment of more parliamentary select committees to hasten the many promised reforms to enhance good governance will be able to counter the many concerns expressed over some unmitigated failures in the introduction of better government reforms and policies.

The socioeconomic progress achieved so far is now widely regarded as slow and sluggish. This is one reason why there are now growing concerns that the Pakatan Harapan government, despite its many pre-election promises, is seen to be under-performing.

Lack of real transparency in government policies and implementation appear to be one of the main bottlenecks in enabling the government to deliver its services more efficiently and at a faster and smoother pace.

As the G25 clearly points out, the more secrecy we have, the more political inertia there will be in establishing select parliamentary committees to introduce and examine new policies and legislation and to review outdated policies and practices. This constant review and reform of our policies is essential to improve the quality of governance and check the abuses of power that will always crop up from time to time.

Obviously, from the court cases underway, we get the distinct impression that our economy and public finances have suffered badly because of insufficient due diligence and poor transparency in government administration. Much of the past malpractices could have been easily avoided if only we had many more alert and active parliamentary select committees to scrutinise government operations.

So let’s not make the same blunders of mismanagement in the past. In fact, many feel that we may have had a change in government, but the old ways are continuing without many changes. So let’s learn from our mistakes and change for the better at a faster pace.

For this to happen, there has to be a much stronger political will to have greater transparency in government. This will enable the majority of good civil servants to manage more openly, honestly

and effectively. With the Official Secrets Act (OSA) in operation as it is, there is less transparency and even the parliamentary select committees will be constrained to act professionally, diligently and effectively.

As the G25 rightly reveals, the recent Royal Commission reports on the Sultanah Aminah Hospital fire and foreign workers have still not been made public. Why is this so? Are we trapped in the old order of secrecy and non-disclosure?

Unless some policies are highly sensitive for security and defence reasons, almost every government policy and activity should be subject to parliamentary and public scrutiny and approval of the taxpayers with the advice of Members of Parliament and the parliamentary select committees.

Parliamentarians and the select committees must be effective public watchdogs or scrutineers of public funds and the taxpayers’ hard-earned incomes! Otherwise, there would be parliamentary

dereliction of duty on the part of parliamentarians, and those who are guilty should be voted out sooner rather than later.

The new Shared Prosperity Vision (SPV) can only be fully achieved if there is full transparency in its final policy formulation and especially in its proper and fair implementation.

We should establish a parliamentary select committee on the SPV as a matter of high priority. Like many members of the G25, I can recall vividly that we adopted the New Economic Policy with great expectations in 1970. The implementation went off well in the early years but then many abuses gradually set in.

Corruption, cronyism and the relative neglect of poor Malaysians raised their ugly heads and many in both the rural and urban areas suffered badly. And most of them were Malays in the peninsula and bumiputra in Sabah and Sarawak as well as many non-Malays. This was because of undue secrecy and politicking, when even the true poverty rates were disguised and we became complacent and regressed. We should all say never again to maladministration and mismanagement!

Why can’t we have full access to the confidential international economic reports like those from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund? The parliamentary select committees could discuss them and check on the government’s implementation of the recommendations. Only with more transparency will the SPV really succeed.

As Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has stated openly many times, we have inherited much abuse of public funds and mismanagement from the past government.

Yet, despite the change of government, there is a lot that is still the same as before. This is somewhat understandable as the new government is only about 17 months old. Furthermore, the civil service is made up of the same staff and so it’s likely that we will have more of the same delivery system for some time to come unless there is a shake-up arising from, for example, more parliamentary supervision and scrutiny.

Hence, it is critical that the government fulfil the G25 and indeed the Malaysian people’s hopes and aspirations to establish new parliamentary select committees urgently. This will show the need to have more transparency in government and less politicking. We will then have better government performance to provide more progress for all Malaysians irrespective of race or religion.

TAN SRI RAMON

NAVARATNAM

Chairman

Asli Centre of Public Policy Studies

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