Transparency the key to trust

From the Sundaily

WE the people need to have faith in the government. Believing in what it says and does. And its promises for the future. For this to happen, the government must disclose its plans and policies in a way that is easily understood by the people. And then engage them in a participatory process, seeking their feedback and shaping its policies and plans to accord with the wishes of society. This requires it to be transparent to help strengthen citizens’ trust in policymakers and thus enhance the accountability of public administrations.

In short, transparency is the key to citizens’ trust. This appears to be sadly lacking in the New Malaysia as pointed out at a forum organised by the National Human Rights Society (Hakam) last weekend. It centred around the failure of the government to release the report of the Institutional Reform Committee (IRC). Recall that the reform agenda was central in PH’s election campaign: reforms to ensure that public institutions will be insulated in the future from being subverted. Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in his recent Che Det blog posting acknowledged as much. That PH took over from a kleptocratic government, which among other ills, had “destroyed its finances, undermined its administrative agencies and abused the laws … and generally undermined the moral of the people”.

What is now taking the wind out of the sails of reform is the refusal of the government to release the reports not just of IRC but as well that of its superior body – the Council of Eminent Persons. The people participated in these processes with an unrestrained gush of passion and enthusiasm. And the IRC’s panel worked tirelessly to produce its recommendations.

The expectation was that this new participatory process would form the new ethos of good governance. Resonating with the caution delivered by Lord Bingham head of the UK judiciary in a 2003 court decision (R v Shayler): “There can be no assurance that government is carried out for the people unless the facts are made known, the issues publicly ventilated. Experience shows that publicity is a powerful disinfectant”.

You can hardly blame the electorate for handing a litany of by-election defeats to PH and its allies. An unconditional declaration of its disillusionment. And, charitably, the expectation that the government will heed the signals and return to the path of delivering on its promises with public involvement. Promises which roused the electorate to sweep it into power.

Let’s survey the “disenchantment landscape”. First, the laws either enacted or employed by the previous government in its twilight years to suppress the people – laws like Sosma and the Sedition Act.

All are very much alive and kicking under the new regime. I remain convinced that the IRC made concrete and incredibly useful recommendations for reform, which the government has kept under wraps. The peoples’ disenchantment was reflected in a well-patronised vigil last Saturday against the continued use of these laws.

Then there is a cheerful and optimistic forecast of the economy. When the reality may not be quite that – with ministers telling us that all is hunky-dory, as a columnist wrote in the Sunday Star. The cost of living is the biggest problem. On the ground, SMEs, retailers and hawkers will tell you their business is bad, by one account. The cost of doing business is high, they complain. There have yet to be solutions proffered, discussed and implemented that inspire confidence in the rakyat that all will turn out for the better sometime soon.

Then the lack of verve and commitment to curb strident voices spewing hatred that spawns racial disunity and religious animosity. Racial and religious disunity is at an all-time high.

An opposition leader recently spoke of ministers talking without a clear policy and considerations of the viability of the projects they propose. And that Cabinet ministers leave meetings saying they do not agree with some decisions. While there may be little truth in these allegations, yet these views gain currency when the people are delinked from policy formulation and implementation.

Such is the frustration that it led Ambiga, a member of the IRC, to announce at Hakam’s forum that people will take to the streets if the promised reforms fail to materialise timeously.

The message is clear. Gain the trust through transparency. The quality of transparency, like “mercy” in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice “… is not strained. It droppeth as a gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed. It blesseth him that gives and him that takes”. So it benefits the government and the governed.

Trust and accountability go hand in hand. Trust in political institutions is a key element of representative democracies. Trust in the rule of law is also the basis for democratic participation of citizens. All clear indications that trust is an essential condition of good governance.

Dato’ Dr. Gurdial Singh Nijar is the President of HAKAM.

Institutional Reform Committee (IRC) Report: Why the Secrecy? HAKAM Forum dated 18 January 2020

“IRC Report: Why the Secrecy?” was the first HAKAM forum of 2020, held on 18 January 2020 at the KL and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall. The well-attended forum started at 10:00 am and was led by a panel of distinguished guests, who all had been involved and well-informed of the IRC process; Dato’ Ambiga Sreenevasan (IRC member and former President of HAKAM), Ms. Siti Kasim (Maju), and Mr. Sevan Doraisamy (Suaram) and the panel was moderated by Dato’ Dr. Gurdial Singh Nijar (HAKAM President). The presentations of the forum speakers were followed by a Q&A session, and the forum ended at 12:00 pm.

In October last year, prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said the confidential report by the IRC and its seven recommendations that have been passed to the quasi-official Council of Eminent Persons can only be made public once all Pakatan Harapan (PH) component parties agree to it.

Key points from the forum on the issue of the release of the IRC Report to the public included:

  • Dato’ Ambiga suggested a pilot pilot project by “releasing just one set of recommendations [by IRC] and see whether the government falls down the next day.”
  • Dato’ Ambiga said she does not know the real reason why PH did not want it to be released but she would “charitably” assume that it is because of public and voters’ perception towards the already much-criticised administration.
  • By withholding the report, the government has denied the public and their own supporters the opportunity to be involved in making the country a better place, something that was promised by PH when they rolled out their election manifesto before 2018 election.
  • Siti Kasim pointed out that transparency is the cornerstone of good governance, hence the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government should make public the Institutional Reforms Committee (IRC) report.
  • Sevan suggested that all CSO and NGOs who have contributed to the making of the report, can release their own recommendations to the IRC, which in effect is a major part of what the IRC has referred to in its process, and this way the public can have access to the institutional problems pointed out and recommended reforms.
  • Dato’ Dr. Gurdial mentioned that HAKAM has been following up the release of the Report with the PM, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and will continue to do so until the people can know the content of the report.

Gallery:

HAKAM wishes to thank everyone who came to the forum and the media for covering the event. See you all next time!

HAKAM Forum Media Coverage:

The Malay Mail Online

Malaysiakini

Malaysiakini

The Malaysian Insight

Sinar Harian

 

Institutional Reform Committee (IRC) Report: Why the Secrecy?

Institutional Reform Committee (IRC) Report: Why the Secrecy?

The Institutional Reform Committee (IRC) finalised their report in June 2018, with seven recommendations for revamping the structure of judiciary appointments; limiting the concentration of executive power on a single individual; abolition of oppressive legislation, namely the Anti-Fake News Act 2018 and the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012; reform in enforcement and government agencies; parliamentary reforms; and vetting processes for key public appointments with the aim of achieving a corruption-free society, according to IRC member and former HAKAM President, Dato’ Ambiga Sreenevasaan.

The IRC, which falls under the Council of Eminent Persons, comprises retired Court of Appeal judges Datuk KC Vohrah, Mah, Ambiga, National Patriots Association president Datuk Mohamed Arshad Raji, and constitutional law expert Prof Datuk Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi.

The report then was submitted to the Council of Eminent Persons. However, the report has not yer been released to the public. You can read further on the secrecy surrounding the report and why it is important for the public to know the findings of the IRC in the piece written by HAKAM President, Dato’ Dr. Gurdial Singh Nijar. The importance of the findings has prompted HAKAM to hold a forum discussion on the secrecy of the IRC report, with eminent speakers to discuss aspects of the IRC, the reasons given for keeping the findings and recommendations from the public, and how to push for reform in Malaysia.

The speakers on the forum include, lawyer, activist and Founder of Malaysians for Justice and Unity (MAJU), Ms. Siti Kasim, former HAKAM President and member of IRC, Dato’ Ambiga Sreenevasaan, and Executive Director of SUARAM, Sevan Doraisamy. The session will be moderated by HAKAM President, Dato’ Dr. Gurdial Singh Nijar.

You can get more details about the forum here: IRC Why the Secrecy Forum 18 Jan

As seats are limited please RSVP via the following link: https://forms.gle/DbLcid6yBnUQAgTg8  OR email us at info@hakam.org.my to register.

 

Agenda

Time

 

Activity
 9:30 am Registration
10:00 am Opening Remarks
10:15 am 15-Minute Presentation by Panel Members on the Topic
11:00 am Q&A session
12:45 pm Closing Remarks
1:00 pm End of the Forum Discussion

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