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The real reforms we expect from Harapan

Kua Kia Soong  |  Published:  |  Modified:

COMMENT | After the historic vote by the Malaysian electorate in 14th general election, we expect serious transformational reforms that will reconstitute truly democratic institutions and improve the lives of the 99 percent, and especially B40 Malaysians.

Of the highest priority, we expect urgent initiatives to implement the eight key reforms cited below, and already raised in our ‘Manifesto of the 99%’.

An end to race-based parties and policies

After 61 years of race-based political parties and policies, it is time to call an end to it. For a start, once we ratify the UN International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, our race-based political parties will have to go.

The new prime minister can set a gracious example by changing his ‘Pribumi’ party into a ‘Harapan’ party, for instance. To reciprocate, I suggest that the other race-based parties Umno, MCA and MIC morph into one party, Barisan Nasional.

If they can do that, then our country will be truly on the way to building one nation without the taint of racism.

It is high time to replace race-based policies with needs-based measures that truly benefit the lower-income and marginalised sectors.

The New Economic Policy was supposed to end in 1990, but has become a populist never ending policy to win over the bumiputera while benefiting mainly the political elite. It is common sense that poor rural Malaysians should be assisted based on their needs in their particular economic sectors.

Today, with the lack of ethnic diversity in the civil and armed forces, it is also time that recruitment and promotion in these services be based on merit. At the same time, racist and hate speeches must be dealt with by appropriate laws and an Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Reinstate our democratic institutions

Authentic democracy involves ensuring neutral accountable mechanisms are in place: fixed terms for elected office bearers, free and fair elections, as well as local elections in which empowered communities can make their voices heard. It is time to bring back elected local councils that have been suspended since 1965.

All elected representatives and senior civil servants should be required to publicly declare their assets and incomes as well as those of their wives’ and children’s and they should not be allowed to be involved in government projects or corporations.

Existing laws should be amended to allow freedom of assembly and association and freedom of expression and information as guaranteed by the fundamental liberties in the Federal Constitution: enact a Freedom of Information Act at federal and state levels; ensure no monopoly of ownership and control of the press and broadcasting stations by political parties or corporate bodies; and making the national broadcasting authority independent and nonpartisan, answerable to Parliament, not to the Information Ministry.

Judicial freedom to be instituted by devolving the appointment of judges to an independent commission comprising judges, Bar Council representatives and NGO representatives in order to ensure the independence of the judiciary.

A Law Reform Commission should be established to restore the independence of the judiciary; review the Federal Constitution and all laws that are unjust and violate human rights; and resolve the conflict of jurisdiction between civil and Syariah laws. Suhakam commissioners should also be truly independent and its annual report debated in Parliament.

All laws that allow arbitrary declaration of emergency; torture, capital punishment, detention without trial and incommunicado detention, including the National Security Council Act, Security Offences (Special Measures) Act, Prevention of Terrorism Act, and the Prevention of Crime Act must be repealed.

Abolish the death penalty in Malaysia, impose an immediate moratorium on all executions pending abolition and commute the sentences of all persons currently on death row.

Implement the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) and other recommendations of the Royal Police Commission to ensure transparency and accountability by the police and other enforcement agencies, such as the MACC.

Establish a Royal Commission of Inquiry to solve once and for all the problem of citizenship for Malaysians who were born here or have lived here for more than 10 years; permanent residence for foreign spouses (regardless of gender) of Malaysians, as well as the problem of undocumented migrants in the country.

Zero tolerance for corruption

It is time we had a truly independent anti-corruption commission answerable to Parliament, and not to the prime minister, with the power to recommend prosecutions for all offences of corrupt practice, nepotism and abuse of power especially by the political elite.

Every discrepancy in the annual auditor-general’s report must be accounted for, and the officers in charge and political leaders responsible must pay for any negligence or corruption involved. Political leaders who have been charged with corruption must step down while their case is pending in the courts.

A progressive economic policy

We need to renationalise assets – especially those pertaining to land, water, energy – which belong to the Malaysian people instead of local and foreign capitalists. This will not be that difficult to do as at present many of these assets are under the ownership and/or control of various government funds and GLCs.

A pro-people government will be able open these GLCs to democratic control of the people and direct them to implement good labour and environmental policies. It is time that Petronas’ revenues are invested in a sovereign wealth fund as a pension fund for future generations and the oil-producing states.

We also want a strong and fairly distributed public sector health, education, housing, transport services, including highways, which have been privatised to crony capitalists at the expense of the public good.

Our SMEs, farmers and fisherfolk need adequate support in order to develop our local food and industrial production.

Redistribute wealth fairly

The increasingly serious gap in income inequality needs to be addressed through progressive taxation on high-income earners, their wealth and property and effective tax laws to ensure there are no tax loopholes for the super rich.

Transfer pricing that enables the largest corporations to stash their profits in off-shore tax free havens has to be curtailed by proper legislation. Capital allowances and tax holidays for foreign firms must be reviewed, while a tax should be imposed on all international financial transactions and hedge funds.

A far-sighted and fair education policy

Education should not be politicised as it has been since Independence. There should be equal opportunities for all without any racial discrimination with enrolment into all schools including tertiary educational institutions.

Besides building national schools using Bahasa Malaysia, mother tongue schools for the various ethnic groups should be built in education precincts sharing facilities to promote integration, ensuring proportionate financial support and training adequate teachers for these schools. Schools should be built according to demand by the local communities under the respective elected local councils.

Defend workers’ rights and interests

The right of all workers to unionise is a universal right and we want a progressive guaranteed living wage for all workers, including foreign workers. Workers must be given the right to association, full employment, retrenchment, pension funds, and workers’ representatives should be part of decision-making in enterprises.

We want a retrenchment fund for laid off workers and implement universal pension for citizens aged over 70 years. At the same time, we would promote self-governing workers’ cooperatives to produce goods that are useful for society.

People-centred and caring social policies

Institute a Housing Development Board, managed by elected local councils to implement an effective low-cost public housing programme for rental or ownership throughout the country for the poor and marginalised communities, with adequate space for community activities, recreation and green areas.

For too long, the BN federal and Harapan state governments have allowed free rein to the private developers at the expense of the poor and marginalised.

We need to prioritise the public transport system in the country for the benefit of the majority while regulating highway construction and car traffic in city and town centres.

We also want childcare and crèche facilities in all public and private sectors for working parents, homes and day-care centres for the elderly and disabled through benefits, support services, including access to mobile health care.

Further, allocate at least four percent of the GDP in the annual budget to healthcare; a separate service commission for healthcare workers so that better conditions for doctors, nurses and hospital workers in the public sector can be instituted while the expansion of private hospitals should be frozen to nurture the public health sector.

Prioritise Orang Asal rights and livelihood

It is a priority that we put the rights and livelihood of the Orang Asal at the top of the national agenda by recognising their rights over the land they have been occupying for centuries, prohibiting logging in their lands and ensuring all Orang Asal villages have adequate social facilities and services.

The autonomy of the Orang Asal must be respected by ensuring their participation in all policy making involving their interests and introducing policies and laws that comply with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), especially their right to customary land.

Sustainable development and environmental protection

All local people must be consulted before any development projects and all permanent forest and wildlife reserves gazetted. We want renewable energy projects that do not destroy forests or Orang Asal land and reject nuclear power and other toxic industries.

The government should lead in the development of renewable energy and not rely on the private sector to suggest environmentally harmful and socially destructive projects. A people’s government will enforce recycling measures, responsible waste disposal and enact laws to protect animal welfare.

After suffering 61 years of oppression, warped democracy and misrule, Malaysians have finally been seen to be 'mature' after their GE14 vote.

We therefore deserve nothing less than the end of race-based parties and policies; restitution of our democratic institutions; the political will to end corruption; a progressive economic policy; fair wealth redistribution; far-sighted and fair education policy; reinstatement of workers’ rights and interests; people-centred social policies, and the prioritisation of Orang Asal rights and livelihood.

Many lawyers have pointed out that the repeal or review of our laws that violate basic human rights can be expeditiously accomplished within the first 100 days of the new PH government. Efforts to initiate the other urgent reforms listed above should be likewise implemented within these 100 days.

The Malaysian people have voted for your government. We hope you do not disappoint them.

KUA KIA SOONG is the advisor to human rights organisation Suaram.

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

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