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LETTER | On May 28, six CSO leaders from the ‘CSO Platform for Reform’ met up with the Institutional Reform Committee (IRC) at Menara Ilham, Kuala Lumpur.

The team members were Adli Zakuan (Pusat Komas), Rozana Isa (Sisters in Islam), Jeffery Phang (MyPJ & Friends of Kota Damansara), Euguene Yap (Gabungan Bertindak Malaysia), Mansor Saat (Bar Council Human Rights Committee) and myself on behalf of Proham and the Malaysian CSO-SDG Alliance.

We had a fruitful discussion with the five IRC members with KC Vohrah chairing the meeting. Our presentations were on three main themes namely national unity & ethnic relations, addressing poverty and inequality, and the National Human Rights Action Plan.

We did note that while the theme of institutional reform and the focus could be on major institutions such as Parliament and judiciary, we hoped that these three themes that we highlighted have key significance to institutional reform from the point of view of everyday living in Malaysian society such as ethnic relations and delivery of services to the most vulnerable sections of our society.

We made twelve major recommendations in our 78 page document which we submitted to the IRC.

Needs based development

We highlighted the need to shift from race and ethnicity to needs based in our policy and delivery priorities. This is especially needed in all poverty and inequality addressing initiatives of the government.

Ethnicity, gender, disability, age and location will be indicators to monitor the theme of 'leaving no one behind' in response to human need. Therefore all the agencies of the government must reach out to all groups and be sensitive to the needs of all.

National unity and social cohesion a key policy goal

We called for the federal government to release the National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC) consolidated report and all the attachments for public review and study. This report was submitted to the government on June 19, 2015. These recommendations and plan of action would become a useful reference point for strengthening ethnic relations in Malaysian society.

National Harmony Act

We reiterated the need to abolish the Sedition Act and enact the National Harmony Act. A draft bill was prepared earlier could be strengthened for consistency with the Federal Constitution.

National Unity Commission and community mediation centres

We proposed in line with the NUCC recommendations the establishment of a National Unity Commission. In this context we indicated that the Pakatan Harapan manifesto promise of a National Unity Council should be strengthened with an independent commission with power to handle community conflict and strengthening ethnic and religious understanding among the various communities.

The establishment of community mediation centres is also a key vehicle to address inter-ethnic and religious conflict through a non-judicial mechanism

The Ratification of Icerd

The ratification of the International Convention on the elimination of Racial Discrimination is a must as we are among only 14 countries in the world which have not done so. We believe that ratification will not contradict the affirmative action of Article 153 of the Federal Constitution but will ensure no abuse of these provisions will take place in the future.

Code of conduct

We called for the adoption of the code of conduct for the promotion of equal opportunities recommended the elimination of racial discrimination especially in the workplace. This code was formulated by Pusat Komas and the Penang Institute

Equal Opportunity Commission

We called for the establishment of the Equal Opportunity Commission which was originally recommended by the National Economic Advisory Council (NEAC) in 2010 with a focus on both the public and private sector workplace discrimination.

Review all cash handouts and foster self-reliance

We called for an in-depth review of all the cash handouts and assistance programs provided by various agencies in assisting the poor and needy, especially in the Bottom 40 category by means of direct cash transfers or subsidies including BRIM. We feel that all these are more politically motivated rather than seeking to empower the poor towards self-reliance and self-help

Foster multi-dimensional poverty measurements and monitoring unit

We called for a multi-dimensional understanding of poverty and addressing inequality. We noted the numerous initiatives and agencies and called for a well-coordinated approach in terms of poverty measurement, database on all assistance provided and ensuring all groups including women, informal sector, rural and forest-based communities, urban poor have access to all these provisions. There must be effective monitoring of delivery as well as social mobility of the poor

Review the Social Inclusion Act & Social Workers Act

We highlighted a private members bill namely the Social Inclusion Act which provided the legal protection and mandate for delivery of services and ensuring access. We called for its review and adoption in ensuring all irrespective of ethnicity, religion, gender, age, location, disability have access to all public sector provisions for human wellbeing and participation in the prosperity of our land.

Qualified and well trained social workers are needed to work with families in addressing the multi-dimensional and complex nature of inequality. In this context we called the IRC to speed up the already drafted Social Workers Bill to be tabled in Parliament in the first sitting of Parliament in June 2018 so as to enhance empower workers to undertake this multi-dimensional task effectively.

Strengthen compliance to SDGs by localising implementation

We noted that the Sustainable development Goals (SDGs) with 17 goals, 169 targets and 230 indicators provide a comprehensive framework for adoption. This is a good development framework as it draws a commitment to economic, social and sustainability aspects in line with a human rights commitment. The theme of leaving no one behind is the key tag line and imperative for monitoring and impact assessment.

National Human Rights Action Plan (NHRAP)

We called for the withdrawal of the NHRAP as the framework and action plans are not consistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the Federal Constitution. We recommended that Suhakam be entrusted with the reformulation by convening a new committee composed of government, Bar Council, CSO-NGOs and academics to formulate one consistent with UDHR and the Federal Constitution.

The IRC welcomed these views, interacted with us on these and in a number of matters asked for supporting data which have promised to pass to them. It was a very fruitful and educative session and it was really a great privilege to participate in this discussion with some eminent personalities in the IRC.

The climate for change especially in strengthening institutional reforms is now possible. We can make Malaysia great again. It gives me great confidence in Malaysia that we can truly build a nation which is better for all Malaysians.

DENISON JAYASOORIA is the Principal Research Fellow at the Institute of Ethnic Studies, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, and the co-chair of the Malaysian CSO-SDG Alliance.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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