Monday, January 30

It’s no secret


A MISSTEP of poor governance is always a spoiler to the breakfast coffee. In fact, it can be hazardous to the health of a political worker.

Wong was all pale as he stood up hurriedly.

“Anne called. We need to get to the State Election Commission (EC) office to check on the public display of the outcome of the delineation exercise said to be completed”, he said, looking at his just delivered cup of coffee.

The coffee must have turned cold and sour in an instance.

The evening before, EC chairman Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof was quoted on online newspapers and web portals as saying while the delineation notice for the peninsula was not gazetted in December 2014 as planned, due to serious flooding, the delineation notice for Sarawak had been gazetted and the outcome displayed publicly.

I read that news report earlier and dismissed it. It was outrageous to think our generally good state officials would not make a prior public statement on the gazette notification and their display of the delineation proposal.

Wong and his colleagues of a coalition of NGO activists in the state monitoring the current electoral delimitation and delineation exercise would not want to write off the possibility the EC would stage such a stunt.

I can’t blame them, given the EC’s not-so-impressive track record. I was – and still am – actually pleased civil societies have shown an intense interest in it.

Though the visit was futile, it did prompt State EC director Datuk Takun Sunggah to make a public clarification in The Borneo Post ( that the study on the delineation exercise had been completed but the Election Commission had yet to put forth the proposal for public display.

The gentlemanly Datuk Takun refuted news reports for creating the confusion, saying the part of the news that the EC’s delineation proposal for Sarawak had passed the stage of public display was not correct.

He explained the EC needed to gazette a notice to say it would start the exercise and this notice needed to be published in local newspapers first before public display could be carried out.

He said there was no notice that had been gazetted.

Without the Umno factor and influence, I always believe Sarawakian officers make better and more rational departmental heads.

Of course, our State Director needs the big boss’ clearance to reveal details of the 11 new state seats in Sarawak in which everybody is interested.

Our question is – why is the process of such delineation study and exercise conducted as if it is a secret mission?

Under the Federal Constitution, Article 114 paragraph 2, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong is to have regard to the importance of securing an independent EC which enjoys public confidence in the appointment of members of the Commission.

By that, it is inferred the EC is responsible and answerable to the rakyat – almost 30 million of them.

We would have hoped it was the EC’s pre-requisite and responsibility to ensure Parliament, State Assemblies and ALL the Rakyat are informed about their proposals on delimitation and delineation of constituencies, affecting the country and states, before Parliament and State Legislative Assemblies decide on the composition of memberships.

This is, unfortunately, not the case. Parliament, and State Legislative Assemblies such as in the case of Sarawak, can only amend the State Constitution to enlarge the composition of memberships and kick-start the delimitation process.

The state legislators are also kept in the dark as to the rest of the delimitation and delineation process. There isn’t a clue as to the EC’s proposal on the localities of the constituencies.

One of the fundamental tenets of good governance is public consultation – engaging all stakeholders, including citizens and concerned groups, in enacting laws, formulating public policies and generally, exercising public duties and functions.

Needless to say, public consultation enhances transparency, accountability and credibility of the authorities and their public functions and will certainly raise the level of public confidence.

The present process of leaving the delimitation and delineation of constituencies entirely to the EC certainly does not meet the basic standards required of good governance. Without any public consultation, the EC really does not command public confidence.

Tindak Malaysia, a Malaysian NGO that undertakes strategic actions to bring about changes in the country, has come out with an elaborated proposal to re-delineate the country’s constituencies to make them more equitable and without an increase in the number of constituencies.

Notably, it was a young and humble Sarawakian system engineer, Sean, who designed and created a software to re-delineate the constituencies.

With his brilliant work, the system can re-delineate electoral boundaries according to number of seats, number of voters, even taking into consideration known variables territorial features such as local government jurisdictions and terrains.

Though, as is with any computer systems, it is not altogether faultless and human inputs on variables such as specific local conditions should be factored in to perfect the delineation.

Despite their momentous efforts, the EC refused to meet any of these well-intended members of the civil movement to deliberate on their proposals.

Naturally, the process of delimitation and delineation being shroud  in secrecy was mocked as an ensuing exercise to serve the interests of certain quarters.

We will then expect the EC delineation process and proposal to be met with fierce objections from political parties and civil rights groups at each and every stage, draining and wasting valuable human resources and hefty personal and public finances.

The country is on the verge of attaining developed-nation status. The populace is educated. The majority is well-informed, socio-politically aware and equipped with the technical knowledge and skills to contribute to better the country.

Unfortunately, the governance of this country remains backward, devoid of civil and public participation.

Now that the gazette notification to start the delineation exercise has been delayed, the EC can make use of the time to initiate inclusive and meaningful public consultation, thus enabling concerned bodies and citizens the opportunity to contribute and better the electoral boundary delineation process and outcome.

The EC can choose to maintain itself as an authority which enjoys little public confidence. It has put up with the criticisms of gerrymandering, electoral frauds and unfair conduct of elections all these years.

However, the EC can choose to improve itself and become more transparent, accountable and independent. That will certainly bring the first New Year cheers all Malaysians welcome.