IRC Report – why the secrecy?

From the Sun Daily

A CRUCIAL expectation of people in voting out the old and ushering in a new government was the promise of participatory politics. Where the voices of the rakyat will be heard and responded to; with accountability of those in power; the abolishment of all arbitrary laws; and the removal of those who had compromised the public trust.

Indeed the PH government responded brilliantly. With the prompt establishment especially of the Institutional Reform Committee (IRC) comprising persons of impeccable integrity.

The IRC sat through endless hours listening to countless voices: from the professional to ordinary persons clustered in groups. It produced, so says the grapevine, a comprehensive report of moving the nation forward in ways considered anathema in the past.

What should have followed was an active debate of the report and ultimate feedback from all and sundry. And the implementation of those recommendations considered doable. On a scale and time-span: immediate, mid-term and long term.

But the IRC report has yet to be released, thwarting a public discussion.

The reason given by no less than the prime minister himself at a recent forum in response to a question from the floor by past Bersih chairperson, Ambiga Sreenevasan (which question received a thunderous audience response) was that there were parties within the ruling coalition that objected to its release.

Who are these parties? What is their reason for this stance? What do they make of their manifesto promise of an inclusive governance system and institutional reforms to implement just that?

The manifesto promised openness in government. That institutions will be established or strengthened to ensure that future governments will have no space to abuse its powers. And the public will be able to contribute to the making of policy; and the actions of government are properly scrutinised and evaluated and decision-makers held accountable. This makes essential disclosure of the report.

Significantly, the PH manifesto promised to revise the Official Secrets Act; and enact a Freedom of Information Act. Promise of a new ethos of governance.

As Lord Bingham head of the UK judiciary remarked in a 2003 court decision (R v Shayler):

“Modern democratic government means government of the people by the people for the people. But there can be no government by the people if they are ignorant of the issues to be resolved, the arguments for and against different solutions and the facts underlying those arguments. The business of government is not an activity about which only those professionally engaged are entitled to receive information and express opinions. It is, or should be, a participatory process. But there can be no assurance that government is carried out for the people unless the facts are made known, the issues publicly ventilated. Sometimes, inevitably, those involved in the conduct of government, as in any other walk of life, are guilty of error, incompetence, misbehaviour, dereliction of duty, even dishonesty and malpractice. Those concerned may very strongly wish that the facts relating to such matters are not made public. Publicity may reflect discredit on them or their predecessors. It may embarrass the authorities. It may impede the process of administration. Experience however shows, in this country and elsewhere, that publicity is a powerful disinfectant. Where abuses are exposed, they can be remedied. Even where abuses have already been remedied, the public may be entitled to know that they occurred.”

Secrecy begets arbitrariness and misgovernment. It deprives the electorate of information about the processes of government. As the past reveals: an AG dismissed, investigative committees and other institutions scuttled or undermined. So, processes “where they are bad remain bad and get worse in the dark”.

When the 1980s scandal surrounding the massive losses of Bank Bumiputra Finance in Hong Kong emerged, the Inquiry Committee Report was not made public, raising allegations of whitewash and complicity. Given that Bank Bumi is government-owned and monitored by the Ministry of Finance and Bank Negara. It took massive public reaction and even a court action before the report was finally released.

Of course for cogent reasons (national security and the like) specific parts can be redacted.

The electorate is now savvy and reacts unkindly to what it perceives as cover-ups or broken or delayed promises. Secrecy fans these perceptions. The Blair government’s concealment of proper information on weapons of mass destruction led to Britain’s participation in the Iraq war. For which several young British soldiers paid dearly with their lives.

So a timely reminder. “The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them”: Patrick Henry, renowned American colonial revolutionary.

Gurdial a former law professor is currently president of Hakam, the national Human Rights Society.

Institutional Reforms Committee submits seven immediate proposals

Source: The Malay Mail

KUALA LUMPUR 19/06/2018. Dato’ Ambiga Sreenevasan with Dato’ Mah Weng Kwai leaves after meeting with councils of elders at Ilham Tower in Kuala Lumpur.
MALAYMAIL/Azneal Ishak.

KUALA LUMPUR, June 19 — The Institutional Reforms Committee (IRC) has submitted seven recommendations for immediate institutional reform to the Council of Eminent Persons.

However, the IRC did not disclose the nature of the recommendations submitted to the Council as the final report, including the total sum of recommendations presented, would only be known on July 15.

National Human Rights Society (Hakam) president Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan said the recommendations submitted to the Council in the final report next month will be separated into three categories — immediate, mid-term and long-term.

“It is not a lot of time, but we have key recommendations which we will put forward that are going to make a difference in the country.

“Our priority agenda remains the same, that is zero tolerance for corruption and appointing the right people to key positions,” Ambiga told reporters at Ilham Tower here after meeting the Council. Read more

Make it so 1MDB never happens again, says Ambiga

Source: The Malaysian Insight

Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan is one of the committee members of the Institutional Reforms Committee comprising legal experts as well as retired judges. — Picture by Azinuddin Ghazali

THE Institutional Reform Committee’s job is to initiate reforms so that something like 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) never happens again, said IRC member Ambiga Sreenevasan.

Ambiga said the committee’s task was not to investigate 1MDB, but to ensure reforms were made in institutions and agencies.

The IRC gave seven immediate recommendations to the Council of Eminent Persons, which it met today.

Ambiga said the recommendations prioritised combating corruption.

“We are not looking at the 1MDB case per se. We are looking at institutional reforms of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, and other agencies like the police and the Attorney-General’s Chambers.

“We are looking at all that because we don’t ever want to have another 1MDB in this country,” she told reporters at the Ilham Tower after meeting the council.

“The biggest issue is corruption, without a doubt, and appointing the right people to these institutions. That’s the priority,” said Ambiga, who is also the National Human Rights Society’s chairman. Read more

New law needed to protect human rights defenders, reforms committee told

Source: The Malaysian Insight

IN the new Malaysia, the state must recognise the need to protect human rights defenders and stop treating them as troublemakers, activists told the Committee on Institutional Reforms (IRC).

“Human rights defenders face threats from police and non-state actors like companies for speaking up for human rights, doing their job,” Josef Benedict, from Johannesburg-based global non-profit Civicus Alliance, told reporters after a meeting at Ilham Tower in Kuala Lumpur today.

“There is no (legal) protection mechanism for them, unlike in countries in Africa, Latin Africa and parts of Asia, where they are treated with greater respect. Here, they are still seen as troublemakers.”   Read more

Filmmakers call for reform of Film Censorship Act

Source: The Star Online

PETALING JAYA: In line with the new government’s commitment to freedom of speech and expression, a group of filmmakers and human right activists are urging for the Government to reform the Film Censorship Act 2002.

The Freedom Film Network (FFN) has called on Home Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and Minister of Communications and Multimedia Gobind Singh Deo to enable an environment where independent film makers can flourish.

“FFN would also like to see the de-politicisation of film regulating bodies such as Lembaga Penapisan Filem and FINAS, who should be made independent and transparent in all their dealings,” FFN said in a statement on Sunday (June 3).

“We urge the government to assure the Malaysian public that films dealing with human rights issues or matters of public interest will be free from politically motivated censorship,” it said.

FFN said it strongly believes that film making should not be seen as an industry solely for its entertainment or commercial value and should be celebrated for its role in nation building. Read more

G25 moots separation of powers for PM, MACC, AGC in meet with reforms committee

Source: The Malay Mail

KUALA LUMPUR, May 31 — A limit to the prime minister’s authority and making the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) answerable to Parliament were among the key proposals submitted by civil group G25 to the Institutional Reform Committee (IRC) today.

The group of retired senior civil servants also suggested separating the role of the public prosecutor from that of the attorney-general to promote full independence in public institutions.

“Institutional reforms are very important to bring back confidence on the economy, apart from creating a true system of check and balance to avoid abuse of powers.

“MACC, for instance, should be independent of the prime minister. It should be answerable to a commission sitting above it which is then answerable to the Parliament,” Tan Sri Mohd Sheriff Mohd Kassim who led the six-member G25 team in its meeting with the IRC told reporters at Ilham Tower here. Read more

Ambiga, Shad Saleem members of newly-formed Institutional Reforms Committee

Source: The Malay Mail

Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan is one of the committee members of the Institutional Reforms Committee comprising legal experts as well as retired judges. — Picture by Azinuddin Ghazali

KUALA LUMPUR, May 15 ― The Council of Eminent Persons advising the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government today announced the formation of an Institutional Reforms Committee comprising legal experts as well as retired judges.

The committee members are National Human Rights Society president Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan, Emeritus Professor Datuk Shad Saleem Faruqi, retired Court of Appeal judge Datuk KC Vohrah, National Patriots Association president Brigadier-General (Rtd) Datuk Mohamed Arshad Raji and former Court of Appeal judge Datuk Mah Weng Kwai who is also a member of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia.

“Economics reform on its own cannot bring the desired change unless accompanied by institutional reforms. Towards this end, a committee on Institutional Reforms has been formed..” the council said a statement.

The findings and recommendations of the new committee will be presented to the council before it is then shown to Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Read more

Government forms Committee on Institutional Reforms

Source: The Sundaily

From left: Datuk K.C. Vohrah, Datuk Mah Weng Kwai, Datuk Mohamed Arshad Raji, Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan, and Datuk Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi. Image from The Sun Daily.

PETALING JAYA: The Council of Eminent Persons has announced the formation of the Committee on Institutional Reforms aimed to assist the newly-formed Pakatan Harapan government on economic and financial matters.

In a statement, the council also stated that it had appointed five prominent figures, including former Malaysian Bar president Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan, to sit in the reform committee.

“Economic reform on its own cannot bring the desired change unless accompanied by institutional reforms,” the statement read.

The five persons appointed into the committee were:
1. Retired Court of Appeal judge Datuk K.C. Vohrah
2. Retired Court of Appeal judge and Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) commissioner Datuk Mah Weng Kwai
3. Persatuan Patriot Kebangsaan (Patriot) president Brig-Gen (Rtd) Datuk Mohamed Arshad Raji
4. National Human Rights Society (Hakam) president Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan
5. Universiti Malaya Law professor Datuk Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi

Members of the committee would present its findings and recommendations on institutional reforms to the council, the statement read. Read more