How checks and balances are supposed to be

Yee Siew Ming

Modified 19 Oct 2015, 5:39 am

We should not be in a situation like this. In a properly functioning democracy, any alleged incident of wrongdoing by any public figure or leader no matter how senior would be investigated by a team independent of his or her influence. Within the police force there will be sufficient checks and balance from various departments to ensure the investigation is fair and just.

If there is wrongdoing, the attorney-general would decide to prosecute or not. If that fails, the evidence can be brought before the Parliament and an investigative committee is set up to ascertain if there was wrongdoing.

Checks and balances was coined by Charles Montesquieu, a political thinker in the 17th century, and it was based upon the observation that people by nature act selfishly and in their own interest. This was perhaps influenced by the Biblical belief that man is naturally sinful and would tend toward sin. Thus Montesquieu promoted what was known as the separation of powers in various branches of government - the legislative, the executive and the judiciary.

It is true that they are independent to varying degrees in any democracy, but to the extent they are independent, the better off the country will be.

Malaysia in the 80s and 90s was growing at breakneck speed and it was then that the over-ambitious executive began to strip the country of many checks and balances. The political goal was primary at the expense of properly functioning government. The goal was ‘zero opposition’. Parliament would become a mere ‘rubber stamp’,approving projects and expenditure and laws at the command of the executive.

To ensure continued support, Umno, the predominant party in Malaysia, would indulge in patronage and money politics. The economy was too strong for anyone to take notice or bother that the structure of governance and the fundamentals of democracy in Malaysia were being eroded for expediency.

Two decades later, we have a stalemate. A prime minister who has allegedly misappropriated funds and received a huge amount of money into his private account. At this point, a functioning democracy would set into motion an avenue for an independent investigation. This investigation would be without fear or favour and its results would be promptly brought to the attention of Parliament.

The AG would have no choice, based on the evidence made public to prosecute the wrongdoer. Unfortunately we have no such mechanisms anymore. The over-reaching hand of the executive has wielded its power to prevent any independent investigation into any alleged wrongdoing. The attorney-general has been removed and individuals in the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) and police replaced.

The people in a democracy are sovereign. However in this instance the people are frustrated, with nowhere to turn.

Few understand this concept but in Selangor great strides have been achieved towards greater democracy. Any policies leading to any decentralisation of power would lead to greater checks and balances.

YB Hannah Yeoh for example, the first lady speaker of Selangor, has given great responsibilities and wider powers to the opposition to ensure checks and balances. The opposition by law is to chair the public accounts committee (PAC) in Selangor. This would ensure the Selangor government be kept on its toes and the House accountable to any actions. Kudos to YB Hannah for advancing the course of democracy and the people’s interest.