Wednesday, March 20

Government-NGO partnership is vital

0

A Town Hall meeting. ‘An excellent forum for ordinary citizens to talk with their YBs.’ — Bernama file photo

IT appears that the Malaysian political tsunami in May this year has produced an aftershock of a benign kind: the important role of the non-government organisations (NGOs) in helping to realise the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 2000-2015; that transformation programme has been extended until 2030.

Called the UN Millennium Goals, each member country of the world body was expected to produce blueprints plus implementation programmes in respect of almost everything under the sun – from “No Poverty; Zero Hunger; Good Health and Wellbeing; Quality Education; Gender Equality; Clean Water and Sanitation; Affordable and Clean Energy; Decent Work and Economic Growth; Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure; Reduced Inequalities; Sustainable Cities and Communities; Responsible Consumption and Production; Climate Action; Life Below Water; Life on Land; to Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions.

For the past 15 years, many member countries have discovered that it was almost impossible for their governments, even for dictatorships and communist regimes, to achieve most of those goals due to lack of active participation by NGOs, especially the quasi autonomous ones. These are operating, in some countries, under difficult conditions, at times under suspicion by government and are refused cooperation when cooperation is a necessary element for the success of a particular programme.

It is now realised that while NGOs are not indispensible, they are necessary evils because of their world-wide connections.

Of course, there are other reasons why the UN Transformation programme has not been spectacularly successful: political ideologies; governments run by politicians suffering from kleptomania or addiction to graft; greed and unrestrained power of vested interests; mismanagement of resources; natural disasters; man-made disasters such as wars and endless conflicts – these are among the worst constraints for a successful transformation of any country. Ours is no exception.

Interest revived

Since May this year there has been an upsurge of interest on the part of the present Administration to play an important role in international affairs. Malaysia, as a member of the community of nations, ought to do more towards achieving the UN goals by 2030. Incidentally, these are basically the same goals that the Malaysian governments – State and Federal – have been pursuing for the past 55 years, UN or no UN.

Our little effort

We will oblige the UN for our own good. On 28th July I attended a seminar held in Kuching and organised by the Alliance of Civil Society Organisations in Sarawak. The aim is to deliver, rather to help deliver, the UN sustainable goals in 12 years’ time. A tall order, isn’t it?

At the meeting in July participants were told about the importance of the Sustainable Development Goals and the role of Civil Society in Malaysia (Dr Denison Jayasooria). We heard lectures on ‘Reducing Inequalities: Across Gender and Within’ (Alexandra John); ‘Environment: Wise Use and Care’ (Dr Henry Chan); ‘Inclusivity & Diversity: Addressing Needs of Marginalised Communities’ (Thomas Jalong); ‘Health & Wellbeing: Urban and Rural Settings’ (Dr Andrew Kiyu); ‘Improving The Quality Of Our Education’ (Dr Phillip Nuli Anding); and ‘Strengthening Social Institutions for Justice and Peace’ (Simon Siah).

The audience was given an opportunity to ask questions only and there was very little time for more exchange of ideas and ideals. Nevertheless, I profited a lot from the meeting. I wish, however, that more politicians or officials from the state government were present that day to listen to the presentations and to contribute towards a fertilisation of ideas.

We can push for better results from synergic effort between the Government and NGOs if there is a mutual understanding between the government and NGOs. For most NGOs, there is no secret agenda. Most of them are voluntary organisations run by retired people who want something to do before they pass on.

Needless to say, the major responsibility of implementing the UN plans rests largely on the shoulders of the government of the day, the role of the NGOs is complementary. The understanding from the government is essential. NGOs’ leaders have no elections to contest, no gallery to play to and no constituents to please.

Their constituents are everywhere.

For example, the constituents of the Sarawak Women for Women Society (SWWS) are the women in trouble with the law, either of their own making or being aided and abetted by men. Remember the unfortunate case of a girl in the case of a rape which was not a rape. Blame the definition of ‘rape’ according to the statute law; it’s the job of legislators to redefine rape.

There are other welfare programmes that the SWWS has carried out and is planning. They need help and understanding, appreciation and thanks are secondary.

So it goes with the other NGOs clustered under ‘Social Welfare’. There are subjects under other clusters. We will deal with them one by one.

Ikram

Persatuan Ikram Malaysia (Negeri Sarawak) – according to Dr Sadiah whom I had the privilege to talk to two weeks ago – is concerned with many social problems faced by young people in the villages in Kuching and, if I may add, among other members of other communities too.

Ikram has organised awareness campaigns to highlight the danger to young people of exposure to pornography.

Ikram leaders are concerned stiff that with the easy access to Internet, pornography will cause untold damage to human character of the young. Isn’t it also the concern of all of us?

The role of government in managing its institutions like the Radio and the TV and that of the management of mass media by its owners is vital.

We will support this reform agenda, requesting that the local chapter of the Alliance now being structured to take Ikram on board.

Another NGO is Persatuan Kebajikan Harapan Kuching (Hope Place) – not to be confused with the Coalition of Parties called by the same name.

This NGO has done a lot to help the needy in several areas in the state – providing basic food for the poor, responding to appeals for help in cases of fire and bad flood; helping to repair and rebuild houses and shelters for the needy. Good on them.

There are many more NGOs that I wish to write about by way of my small contribution to highlight their good work to society; unfortunately, space is a problem here. Give me space and I will do a better job in future.

Before I finish, I wish to address political party activists in Kuching. During the several meetings organised by the NGOs on topics such as those listed above, I did not see any of you from the ruling parties in the State. I might have missed sight of someone – which is perfectly possible – but I’m quite familiar with the faces of the usual crowd from your camp. At the meeting called by R.O.S.E on 15th September, only three Honourable Members of Parliament turned up – the Federal Minister for Works, YB Baru Bian, down from his pedestal in Putrajaya; YB Dr Michael Teo, flying all the way from Miri, and YB Dr Kelvin Yii, like a good doctor appearing at a moment’s notice.

Twenty-eight other MPs had other more important engagements elsewhere that day and couldn’t make it, but they should have sent their agents to listen to the presentations made by the representatives of the NGOs.

I say: You did not know what you were missing, mates. Matters of great importance to Sarawak were discussed – Education, Gender Equality, Social Welfare, Healthcare, Democracy, Human Rights and International Reform and Environment.

You should have heard about their ideas on reforms and could possibly adopt some of them for the good of Sarawak. Any additional information such as the statistics on certain subjects obtained by the NGOs will not do any harm to your political cause.

See you there next time.

Comments can reach the writer via [email protected]