March 20, 2016
Need for concrete reforms, not sloppy slogans
COMMENT: Before long, the 14th general election will be upon us and you can bet the opposition slogan will be ‘Save Malaysia: Najib out’ and politicians will have a field day reeling off BN scandals at ceramahs while their election manifestos remain in microscopic print. We can assume that the GE14 campaign has started.
Putrajaya must be the Model of Democratic Governance,not a Rat Hole of Corruption
And what does the opposition coalition promise us in a post-BN future? You would think that a detailed blueprint for an alternative Malaysian future would be foremost in their campaign to win a democratic election.
Malaysian voters deserve more than sloppy slogans such as ‘Save Malaysia’ and other fluffy concepts.And if we are serious about wanting a significantly better future, it is vital that we voters demand to know what concrete reforms are in store for us. Without such a plan, if ever the opposition coalition comes into power, they can say they never promised us anything concrete in the first place.
Here are the main demands in ‘Agenda for Concrete Reforms’ by Malaysian civil society at GE13, and civil society leaders are reminded that they were committed to these concrete reforms, rather than sloppy slogans like ‘Save Malaysia’:
1. Eradicate institutional racism
Who cannot see that racism and racial discrimination are the biggest obstacles to inter-communal understanding in Malaysia, especially policies and constitutional amendments introduced after May 13, 1969? So which political party is committed to abolish the ‘New Economic Policy’ that was supposed to have ended in 1990? I do not see this commitment in any of the parties’ manifestos. Malaysians must ensure all political parties commit to,
- Corrective actions that are based on need, sector or class and not on race, with priority given to indigenous people, the marginalised and poor communities;
- Means testing for any access to scholarships or other entitlements;
- Merit-based recruitment in civil & armed services;
- An Equality Act to promote equality and non-discrimination irrespective of race, creed, religion, gender or disability with provision for an Equality & Human Rights Commission;
- Ratification of the Convention on the Eradication of Racial Discrimination (CERD).
2. Accountable & representative democracy
Parties in the opposition still do not live up to these demands despite their rhetoric about democracy and giving opportunities and participation to more young people. Some are still clinging on to their seats and have done so since the era of the Tunku claiming their “readiness to serve the people”! Others hog federal seats as well as claim their indispensability in the state assembly based on their monopoly of power in the party. Let us ensure a truly accountable and representative democracy that gives more people opportunities to participate in our political institutions by:
- Limiting the office of the Prime Minister, Menteri Besar and Chief Minister to two terms in office and elected representatives to four terms in office;
- Electing representatives to the Dewan Negara (Senate);
- Limiting elected representatives to serve only at federal or state levels;
- Requiring all elected representatives to publicly declare their assets and incomes as well as those of their wives and children;
- Re-introducing elected local governments and decentralising social services such as education, housing, transport and even community policing, to be managed by elected local councils.
3. A Progressive Economic Policy
“Save the Malaysian economy” is a just a mushy slogan. What precisely will a saved Malaysian economy look like? If political parties are really different from the BN, they must take a stand on the neo-liberal policies that have been steadily privatising our national assets since Mahathir came into office in 1981 and they must commit to the following demands:
- Nationalise all utilities and essential services including water resources, health, public transport, energy, ensuring they are owned and controlled by the Malaysian peoples at federal, state and local levels;
- Implement a master plan for all federal and state land to ensure judicious use for the public purpose and/or their sale to the private sector at appropriate prices;
- Rights to concessions and other licences to be paid for at economic prices;
- Promote self-governing workers’ cooperatives to produce goods that are useful for society;
- Ensure open tendering for all privatised contracts;
- Stop subsidies to big business which invest in environmentally unfriendly enterprises and are energy guzzlers;
- Promote a sustainable agricultural policy to ensure self-sufficiency in rice and basic food items and to cut down on food imports;
- Provide fair and adequate support to all sectors and distribute land justly to all farmers in need of land, irrespective of ethnicity;
- Modernise the New Villages by giving land titles, improving infrastructure and government assistance for the small and medium enterprises;
- Ensure rights to natural resources such as oil and gas belong to the oil-producing states and thus proportionately more revenue from these resources should accrue to these states.
4. A progressive fiscal policy to reduce income inequality and fund public services
Political parties in most countries that claim to be democratic are expected to make public their fiscal policy to see how progressive or regressive their tax policies are. Malaysians must ensure all political parties commit to a progressive fiscal policy if they are serious about reducing income inequality and in order to fund sustainable public services by:
- Imposing a higher marginal tax rate on high income earners and a correspondingly lower tax rate for lower income earners;
- An incremental Capital Gains Tax on property;
- A progressive inheritance tax;
- Regular review and monitoring of the tax laws and implementation to ensure there are no tax loopholes;
- Review capital allowances and tax holidays for foreign firms;
- Regulate and impose a tax on all international financial transactions and hedge funds;
- No Goods and Services Tax;
- Progressive tax on all luxury goods.
5. A far-sighted and fair education policy
The Malaysian education system and standards have deteriorated through the years and we have fallen behind even Southeast Asian countries in the global standards ranking. Political parties must commit to these urgent reforms to recover our educational standards by,
- Abolishing discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, religion, age, gender or creed relating to entry into educational institutions;
- Promoting quality holistic education, equal opportunities, social justice, creativity, critical thinking as well as scientific and technological knowledge required for research & development and vocational skills;
- Upholding the spirit of the Education Ordinance 1957 by supporting mother tongue education, building Chinese, Tamil and English-language schools in areas where they are needed, ensuring proportionate financial support and training of adequate teachers for these schools;
- Providing financial support for the non-profit community-run mother tongue secondary schools;
- Preserving and developing indigenous peoples’ mother tongue language and education;
- Recognising certificates and degrees based on academic accreditation and not politics.
6. An improved public health service
The privatisation of our public health services started from the time of Mahathir’s rule. The steady encroachment of the private health sector is threatening to make health care unaffordable to the majority of Malaysians and to destroy the public health service we have enjoyed since Independence. An improved public health service should ensure that:
- Malaysians are entitled to free healthcare in the public sector;
- At least 10 percent of the GDP in the annual budget is allocated to healthcare;
- There are better conditions for doctors, nurses and hospital workers in the public sector;
- Homes and day-care centres are provided for the elderly and disabled through benefits, support services, including access to mobile health care.
7. Providing better social services
Political parties must commit to providing better social services through:
- Affordable public housing for the majority of Malaysians instead of allowing our commons to be privatised for middle class and luxury housing and resorts;
- Instituting a Housing Development Board, managed by elected local councils to implement an effective low-cost public housing programme throughout the country for the poor and marginalized communities with adequate space for community activities, recreation and green areas;
- Respecting the rights of urban settlers in any development plan to upgrade their area or to re-house them;
- Introducing concrete measures to improve the public transport system in the country while regulating highway construction and car traffic in city and town centres.
8. Defend workers’ rights
Workers’ rights and unionisation have been steadily denuded since the spate of privatisation policies by Mahathir in 1981. Political parties must show their commitment to workers’ rights and greater democracy by the following reforms:
- Review all labour laws to ensure they are compatible with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention;
- Promote the right of workers to unionise;
- Legislate a progressive guaranteed minimum wage for all workers, including foreign workers;
- Abolish the Contractor for Labour System and restore direct two-party employment relationship between principal/owners of workplaces and the workers;
- Ensure all workers are employed as regular permanent employees and enjoy all benefits including maternity rights and extended retirement age;
- Extend equality and non-discrimination to all workers in the private sector;
- Let workers and their trade unions to be part of economic influence and decision-making, especially control of their pension funds;
- Divert company stock ownership and profits into employee share funds to enable workers to have a stake in these companies;
- Elected workers’ representatives should be equally represented in the management and to decide corporate decisions, including investments, technology, wages and prices.
9. Uphold women’s human rights and dignity
Women’s rights and dignity are still not adequately addressed in Malaysian society and the plight of the LGBT has been highlighted recently by the homophobic taunts of the “superman” in one of the Pakatan Harapan parties. In order to uphold women’s rights and dignity,
- Implement at least 30 percent quota for women’s representation in all decision-making bodies of government, the judiciary and political parties in order to encourage greater participation by women in public life;
- Incorporate the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (Cedaw) and its provisions into national law guaranteeing equality for all in both public and private spheres of life;
- Review and amend all laws and constitutional provisions that discriminate on the basis of gender including the acquisition of citizenship status of non-citizen spouses;
- Confront sexism and prejudice based on gender stereotypes;
- Implement equal pay for women holding similar posts as men and establish competent national tribunals and other public institutions to ensure the effective protection of women against any act of discrimination.
10. Protect the rights of the indigenous peoples
It is time for a new government to seriously and adequately protect the rights of the Orang Asal to self-determination, including:
- The right to own, control and use their traditional lands, territories and resources on their own terms;
- Their right to sustainable development, access to basic needs and advancement of their traditions and languages;
- Policies and institute legislation that comply with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) already endorsed by the Malaysian government;
- Enact or amend state laws that recognise and protect the native customary rights of the Orang Asal to their traditional lands and territories.
11. A society based on human rights & rule of law
All political parties must commit to building a new society that genuinely respects human rights and the rule of law by:
- Repealing all laws that allow torture, whipping, detention-without-trial and incommunicado detention;
- Abolishing 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;
- Ratifying the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social & Cultural Rights, the Convention against Torture and the Convention on Refugees;
- Implementing the Independent Police Complaints Committee (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;
- Establishing a law reform commission to restore the independence of the judiciary;
- Reviewing the federal constitution and all laws that are unjust and violate human rights, and resolve the conflict of jurisdiction between civil and syariah laws;
- Establishing 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 of Malaysians, as well as the problem of undocumented migrants in the country;
- Guaranteeing social justice and dignity for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgenders (LGBT) just as for heterosexuals’ rights.
12. Root out corruption effectively
Corruption will not disappear when the BN is replaced by a new political coalition. To ensure that corruption is more effectively dealt with, we call for,
- Establishment of a truly independent Anti-Corruption Commission answerable to parliament with the power to recommend prosecutions for all offences of corrupt practice;
- The Public Accounts Committee in Parliament to be chaired by an Opposition Member of Parliament;
- Opportunities for corruption to be eliminated by proscribing the “revolving door” opportunities between the civil/armed services and the private sector;
- Government ministry/department heads to account for every discrepancy in the annual auditor-general’s report and pay for any negligence or corruption involved;
- All privatised projects to be openly tendered.
13. Free and fair elections
The Malaysian electoral system is in desperate need of reform. We demand:
- Fair representation in delineation of parliamentary constituencies, viz. discrepancy in the number of voters in different constituencies should not exceed 15 percent as existed at the time of Independence;
- Automatic voting eligibility from the age of 18 using identity card;
- Cleaning up the electoral rolls and ensure that migrants have not been illegally enfranchised;
- Use indelible ink to prevent multiple voting;
- Reforming postal voting to ensure transparency and to enfranchise Malaysian citizens abroad;
- Minimum of 21 days for electoral campaigning;
- Fair access to the media for all parties;
- Strengthening public institutions involved in the electoral process, including the judiciary, the Election Commission, police, MACC and broadcasting media to ensure their independence and professionalism;
- Curbing corruption and vote buying by compulsory auditing of all election expenses, campaign financing;
- Full disclosure of sources of financing and expenditure, and setting a limit on campaign expenditure;
- Ending dirty politics and unethical practices such as religious or communal appeal, false statements, defamatory or personal attacks, wilful distortions, unproven allegations, racist, racial or other forms of intolerant statements against women, minorities and marginalized groups;
- Inviting international election observers as a norm in general elections for greater credibility.
14. Uphold freedom of expression and information
Freedom of expression and information must be an important part of a reformed Malaysia. A new government must commit to:
- Abolish the Sedition Act, the Printing Presses & Publications Act, the Official Secrets Act, and the Film Censorship Act;
- Enact a Freedom of Information (FoI) Act at federal and state levels which is reflective of the peoples’ right to know, with the public interest as the overriding principle;
- Take appropriate action to prevent monopoly of ownership and control of the press and broadcasting stations by political parties or corporate bodies;
- Transform the national broadcasting authority into one that is independent and non-partisan, answerable to Parliament and not to the Information Ministry.
15. Uphold the freedoms of assembly & association
A reformed Malaysia must uphold the democratic freedoms of assembly and association by:
- Repealing the Police Act, the Societies Act, the Universities & University Colleges Act and other relevant laws which restrict these fundamental freedoms;
- Repealing the Peaceful Assembly Act 2011, and grant students of voting age the full freedoms enjoyed by other Malaysian citizens.
16. Defend migrant workers’ and refugees’ rights
In a reformed Malaysia, migrants and refugees must be accorded due recognition as human beings who are entitled to human rights and accorded,
- Full rights as workers irrespective of their immigration status;
- Given full access to avenues of justice and there shall be no deportation until all pending claims and cases, including at labour tribunals, criminal and civil courts have been fully heard, disposed of and finally settled;
- Given the right to hold their passports and relevant visas and accorded the right to be heard before their visas are cancelled and/or refused renewal;
- The right not to be arbitrarily deported or their visas cancelled based on justifications such as their having contracted certain diseases, medical conditions and/or they have become pregnant;
- An Asylum Seeker Refugee Law to ensure proper procedures and safeguards are in place for dealing with asylum seekers/refugees in Malaysia, which should also include the right to judicial review;
- Malaysia should ratify the United Nations Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families and the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.
17. A vibrant and diverse cultural policy
A reformed Malaysia would have a democratic cultural policy allowing all the diverse cultures in Malaysia to flourish by:
- Abandoning the National Cultural Policy of 1971 which is not inclusive of all Malaysian cultures and was not democratically decided upon;
- Preserving heritage in all its forms as a record of human experience and aspirations so as to foster creativity in all its diversity and to inspire genuine dialogue among cultures;
- Involving artists and arts experts in the planning of both formal and informal education, while developing youth provision policies and programmes with specific intercultural goals;
- Providing funds for young artists and arts institutions of all ethnic groups through specially targeted programmes.
18. Protect animals and the Malaysian environment
A new government should take serious actions to stop effectively the degradation of the Malaysian environment by:
- Re-gazetting all previously gazetted forests and wildlife reserves that have been de-gazetted since Independence;
- Disallowing any degazettement of forests without public hearing and clear notice;
- Imposing strict energy and water conservation measures including incentives for energy efficiency and other forms of demand management;
- Banning all toxic industries which affect the health of residents and ensure full consultation with people affected by development projects;
- Giving incentives for development of solar energy and other sustainable energy sources;
- Enforcing recycling measures in all local authorities;
- Enacting laws to prevent cruelty to animals and actively promote animal welfare.
19. Reduce crime and increase public safety
The rising crime rate and threats to public safety in Malaysia must be checked through,
- Redeploying more police personnel on the streets to reduce crime instead of using them to crack down on peaceful assemblies and snooping on civil society;
- Setting up a Special Multi-Ethnic Peace-Keeping Force to be deployed rapidly to any conflict involving ethnic communities;
- Curbing corruption and ensuring the highest standards of professionalism in the Police Force in bringing drug dealers and drug gangs to justice;
- Involving the community in policing and the criminal justice system.
20. Defence Cuts and a Culture of Peace
Apart from criticising the BN Government’s arms procurements and corruption scandals, Opposition parties have to date not put forward an alternative defence policy. We call on a new government to:
- Review our national defence policy in order to promote a culture of peace and disarmament;
- Promote ASEAN cooperation in order to pool resources and slash arms spending in all ASEAN countries;
- Cut the defence budget to below one percent of GDP and apportion a correspondingly higher budget for health, education and social services;
- Set up a Parliamentary Defence Committee chaired by an Opposition MP as well as an independent ombudsman to oversee the defence budget.
To conclude, Malaysians must start to ask the alternative coalition what reforms they promise us in a post-BN future. We want a concrete blueprint for an alternative Malaysian future and not just sloppy slogans, corruption slanging and other theatrics.
Malaysian civil society provided such an agenda for concrete reforms in 2013. Do the opposition parties commit to this?
KUA KIA SOONG is adviser to human rights movement Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram).