G25, a group of reform-minded Malaysians, is watching the current state of politics in the country with concern.
While it is normal in vibrant democratic systems for there to be leadership changes from time to time, these should not cause anxieties and tensions, especially in the business community, if we have strong institutions to provide confidence that whatever changes may happen at the political level, the government and the administration will continue to function as usual and that the rule of law will not be affected.
Strong institutions play an important role in providing an assurance of stability and continuity irrespective of the political changes at the top.
Our group would like to repeat the previous public statements that we have issued on the areas of reforms that we believe are essential for creating a high level of confidence on the governance of the country, based on strong institutions.
1. The institutions of law and order: We would like to reiterate the importance of safeguarding the integrity and independence of the key government agencies involved in the maintenance of justice. These agencies include the police, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, the Central Bank (Bank Negara Malaysia), the Attorney-General’s Chambers and the Judiciary.
In the case of the police, it should be free of ministerial control in the enforcement of the law especially in relation to the citizens' rights on freedom of assembly and expression. Further, the government should implement the recommendation which has been made before, to establish an independent commission to investigate into public complaints of excesses and abuses in the use of police power.
As seen in other police forces, accountability and transparency are important factors for building trust and confidence in the role of the police force in protecting the people's safety and security.
On the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, it should be restructured to be directly responsible to parliament, instead of to the prime minister, as in other countries and be given administrative autonomy to hire and fire, without interference from the civil service in managing its staff resources. It should also be given prosecutorial powers and its investigative powers should be strengthened.
Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM), as a central bank, has its own powers under its act to ensure its independence not only in the conduct of monetary policy but also in regulating the banking industry including powers to impose administrative sanctions against non-compliance with regulations on flows of funds. BNM’s integrity and its authority in enforcing its law must not be compromised in order to maintain public confidence in the financial system and the economy.
The Office of the Attorney-General (AG) and the Office of the Public Prosecutor (PP) are fused. In this regard, there is an inherent conflict of interest as the AG is also the chief legal adviser to the government as well as a civil servant.
We recommend the creation of a separate office for the AG and PP with the public prosecutor being granted the mandate to act autonomously in accordance with public interest. There are several countries where the office of the AG is distinct from that of the PP. This will avoid an unhealthy concentration of power in the hands of one individual.
Further, the appointment and removal of the AG and proposed director of public prosecutions (DPP) should be in the same manner as the appointment of a Judge or the auditor-general, so that the AG and the DPP should enjoy a security of tenure to encourage carrying out duties without fear or favour.
On the judiciary we advocate the enhancement of the independence of the judiciary; and this is best achieved if the appointment and promotion of judges are determined by an independent body and not solely by the prime minister.
Currently although there is the Judicial Appointment Commission (JAC), its role is merely to recommend names to the prime minister, with the prime minister having the ultimate say in the appointment and promotion. We are also of the view that the composition of the JAC should be enlarged so as to take into account other relevant interests such as the AG, the Bar and the academia.
2. Money politics and corruption: It is internationally recognised that money politics is a major source of corruption in all parts of the world.
G25 led a coalition of 70 NGOs to recommend reforms on the financing of political parties. While recognising that all political parties need funds to contest in elections, there is an urgent need to ensure that political financing is properly regulated to avoid unethical practices, which often lead to corruption among those competing in the elections and after they get into positions of power.
The reform proposals are comprehensive as they require transparency and full accountability of the donations and include institutional changes to set up an independent elections commission that will provide a level playing field for all political parties.
We urge all political parties to support these proposals in the interest of making the elections clean and fair and our democracy respectable.
3. Parliamentary oversight: A good system of governance means the existence of checks and balances between the legislative, executive, judicial and administrative branches of government so as to avoid the excesses and abuses of power in the formulation and implementation of policies and programmes in the various ministries and departments.
The oversight role of parliament is conducted through the establishment of select and standing committees with powers to investigate into the functions of ministries coming under the responsibility of the respective committees and to hold public enquiries on matters of national interest, with a view to addressing the people's concerns about any scandals, especially those involving public funds.
G25 urges parliamentary reforms to be introduced urgently to establish these oversight committees, to strengthen the democratic process of making the government accountable and transparent to parliament. The role of parliament is not only to pass legislation. It should also follow up in monitoring how the ministers and the civil servants perform in carrying out their responsibilities.
This oversight function through select committees can cover a wide range of portfolios such as on finance and banking, management of public expenditures, education and health, national security and defence, natural resources and the environment, Federal-state relations, the administration of Islam, etc.
4. Administration of Islam: In its open letter dated Dec 7, 2014 to the people of Malaysia, G25 urged a consultative process to be set up in the government to provide all stakeholders and civil society with the opportunity to deliberate on the formulation of syariah laws, so as to uphold the constitutional principles of fairness and justice to Muslims and non-Muslims in relation to their rights to freedom of assembly and expression.
We maintain that in legislating on Islamic laws in the respective state assemblies, all Malaysians should be consulted on the constitutional issues arising from the legislation proposed by the religious authorities. We urge the government to establish the consultative process to facilitate this fundamental principle to be institutionalised in the system of law and justice.
5. Education Reforms: G25 takes note that the government has taken concrete steps to improve the quality of education by formulating the Malaysia Education Blueprint in consultation with a wide cross section of stakeholders.
Recently it has introduced the Dual Language Programme (DLP) to enable the subjects of science, mathematics, ICT and design and technology to be taught in English based on the voluntary decisions of the schools and parents that wish to adopt the DLP.
G25 supports the introduction of the DLP as an effective way of making school children apply and practice the English language. Many parents are anxious for their children to be proficient in English so that after completing their studies, they have a better chance to get the jobs of their choice, either in the country or outside.
We also support the new emphasis on higher order thinking skills (HOTS) particularly at the secondary level of teaching and learning as well as in examinations which is a very significant change in our educational system. We strongly believe if properly implemented will bring a sea-change to our educational system whose results should be reflected in future PISA evaluations.
Last but by no means least, G25 strongly recommends that we return to championing the national philosophy and ideology as embodied in the Rukunegara to restore a stronger sense of unity among all segments of the population.
The five principles of Belief in God; Loyalty to Agong and Country; Upholding the Constitution; Rule of Law; and Good Behaviour and Morality are founding principles which are reflective of the core concepts in the Federal Constitution, designed for nation building of a multi-cultural and multi-religious country.
G25 comprises a group of eminent Malays.