DRAMATIC exchanges between past and present occupants of our country’s highest offices provide an opportunity to evaluate whether our constitution is working as intended. Over the years civil society has explored whether those intentions are still appropriate today. If the answer is yes, we explore what reforms are necessary to ensure those still-valid intentions become reality. If the answer is no, then more serious thinking about the basic structure of our country needs to be considered.
Thankfully, the majority sentiment among civil society and indeed politicians and bureaucrats is that our Federal Constitution is a sufficiently good enough document from which to continue building our nation. Indeed, recent amendments to lower the voting age, enable automatic voter registration and prevent Members of Parliament from switching parties show that our democracy can be strengthened by improving what we have inherited, instead of seeking a radical or revolutionary alternative.
A few days ago, the climax of the latest dramatic exchange between the judiciary and a former Prime Minister came to an end after the Federal Court unanimously agreed with the Court of Appeal in upholding the High Court’s guilty verdict on the misappropriation of RM42 million from SRC International, a former 1MDB subsidiary, sentencing Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak to 12 years in jail with an RM210 million fine.
Of course, many Malaysians already had strong feelings on the debacle, with some senior officeholders resigning or losing their jobs by speaking up against their bosses. Indeed, in October 2015 the Conference of Rulers issued a rare statement on the 1MDB issue, saying, “The failure to give convincing clarifications and answers is feared to have resulted in a crisis of confidence. As a consequence, the people believe, that this is among the causes for the plunge in the value of the ringgit, impacting the country’s financial market and economic climate negatively and at the same time, adversely affecting the world’s view of Malaysia … The findings of the investigation must be reported comprehensively and in a transparent manner so that the people will be convinced of the sincerity of the government which shall not at all conceal facts and the truth.”
The General Election results of 2018 answered that question.
The next institutional reform being advocated by us at the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (Ideas), as secretariat to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Political Financing, is the Political Financing Bill. The Minister in charge of Parliament and Law has committed to tabling this in the Dewan Rakyat in October, and hopefully it will mean that contributions to politicians and spending on campaigns will be more transparent and accountable for future elections. It is precisely such spending, of course, that motivates so much misappropriation of funds in the first place.
While I often highlight our work on institutional reforms in this column, the occasion of our 12th anniversary dinner recently drew attention to our other work. Indeed, since 2020 we have produced 46 publications, on topics ranging from education during Covid-19, structural changes and prospects for Felda; impact assessments of CPTPP; improving access to treatments for rare diseases; procurement legislation; corruption in the supply chain; Belt and Road Initiative Monitors; and our recent findings on Budget Transparency in the states.
Fifty-one public events have been hosted in the same time, covering digital economic development post Covid-19; workshops on understanding Parliament; the future of 5G; education policy to empower Orang Asli children; supporting SMEs during Covid-19; and public procurement and Bumiputera company development in the construction industry.
In addition, six dedicated websites have been maintained – Pantau Kuasa to monitor political appointments in statutory bodies and Government Linked Companies; Sekolah Kita which shares aspirations of Orang Asli kids in schools; Kita Bukan Kami to cultivate empathetic conversations on national unity; Pantau Wang Kita that monitors federal and state budgets; the BRI Monitor website; and Asean Prosperity Initiative that highlights opportunities and challenges presented by the Asean economy up to 2025.
And all this is separate to the work of our charitable arm, comprising the two Ideas Autism Centres operating in Rawang and Nilai.
I am immensely proud of the brilliant work of my colleagues led by CEO Dr Tricia Yeoh, and I know that their work is often cited by policymakers, academics and students interested in public policy, contributing to meaningful change in Malaysia in the short-, medium-, and long-term.
We must also acknowledge those who supported us since our early days, and in this regard there was a sombre tone as Bapa Malaysia’s eldest child, Tunku Khadijah, passed away last week. She often attended our events and commended our efforts to rejuvenate her late father’s vision and principles. May Allah bless her soul.