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Monday, 3 June 2013


 By Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria 

Forty one people from civil society and academic institutions gathered on May 14, 2013 to review the outcome of GE 13 and to set a new agenda for inclusive development and national reconciliation.
In moderating the discussion, Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, the former Higher Education Deputy Minister called for a new social consciousness and realisation that the people have made their choice and the people have spoken. In this context he affirmed that there was a real need for a new conversation.

We recognise the link between national reconciliation, inclusive development and human rights where the focus must be that all people irrespective of the ethnic, religious, political, socio-economic, age, gender or geographical location must have access and equal opportunities to prosperity, harmony, happiness and quality of life
In the course of the discussion we identified four major themes which have a direct impact on inclusive development, human rights and national reconciliation.

The discussion on May 21, 2013 further reviewed these ideas and built on them. These are now tabled for the discussions on May 28, 2013 to build on add further content to these.

1.         There is a need to recognise the new socio-political realities which are changing the landscape of Malaysian politics in the Post GE 13 context
There is a shift from traditional race -religious politics to other social-political realities. While certain sections have articulated the GE 13 as a ‘Chinese tsunami’, the dominant view based on voter analysis is an ‘urban tsunami’. The ‘axes of polarization’ which moves beyond the inter-ethnic to encompass intra-ethnic and takes the urban-rural divide, the inter-generational divide (Merdeka generation to Generation X), the prosperity-poverty gap of class; the tradition media oriented rural population with the social media community of the urban must be the dominant analysis.
It was well articulated that there is a power conflict between the state (political & bureaucratic machinery) on the one hand and the general society including civil society on the other where there is a demand for greater public space and accountability.

In this context there must be a shift away from over simplification of socio-political realities from a race-religion divide and recognise the emergence of a two-party system both with political parties supporting an appreciation for diversity of ethnicity, religious persuasion and cultural richness and diversity. An appreciation and acceptance of these are essential in modern political thought in Malaysia society.
2.         There is a need to review the development paradigm towards one that that is holistic,              comprehensive and integrated.

While Malaysia has a good track record of development planning, the priority and focus has been on economic and social development. This has had a right impact in improving the overall quality of life shifting a majority of Malaysians out of poverty. This improvement in the socio-economic position has resulted in citizen’s demand for beyond basic needs toward democracy, human rights, transparency and good governance
There is therefore an urgent need to review the development paradigm towards one which will give equal balance to economic, social and cultural rights on the one hand but without suppressing civil and political rights on the other. In this context of good governance are also environmental and sustainable concerns which must be part of the development process and not an after-thought. 

This balance approach is consistent with the nine challenges identified in Vision 2020 as the overall development goal for Malaysia. That vision is balance and therefore we must ensure compliance to this vision as it is only 7 years away.

Malaysia is a signatory to a number of UN declarations which has not been adequately recognized in the planning and implementation process. While declarations are not legally binding like the UN conventions nonetheless Malaysia signing them implies that we are in support of this aspiration and vision. Therefore it must be logical for Malaysian policy makers to be consistent with the UN aspirations which Malaysia is also a part of.
Three key documents are helpful in this context of inclusive development. They are:

The UN Declaration on the Right to Development (1986)
The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007)

The UN Rio Declaration on Environment & development (1992)
The UN Rio + 20 Declaration “The Future we want”

Malaysia made commitments for inclusive and sustainable development agenda along with nations of the world. Now it is important that at the national level we apply these principles into public policy and for effective implementation.
In addition Malaysia should also sign all the major human rights conventions and work towards ensuring every law and program is inclusive and in compliance with international standards and consistent with the Federal Constitution.

Malaysia has had a very good standing in fulfilling its Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) however a similar development for a National Human Rights Action Plan is essential over the next five years.
There is a need to undertake impact assessment and review of data from a disaggregated analysis especially to review micro community realities.

There is a need to focus attention on inequalities not just across inter-ethnic lines but also intra ethnic divide. The disparities between the top 20% and the bottom 40% are indeed wide in Malaysian society. This must be addressed not with cash handouts but in addressing the structural and institutional concerns which is impacting uneven growth.
3.         There is a need to strengthening inclusive & participatory development 

Very often the poor and disadvantaged are seen as mere recipients of services and cash hand-outs. There must be a rights based approach which enhances human dignity, human rights and responsibilities.
In this context the authorities must introduce social dialogue process and increase people’s participation in the decision making process. A stronger consultative process must be instituted especially when development impact the Orang Asli community and other indigenous people of Sabah and Sarawak.

The empowerment of the grassroots and self-determination is most essential. Consultation must be really meaningful engagement towards “free, prior and informed consent”. This theme of consultation and participation is fundamental to a partnership and people centered development approach.
The Social Impact Assessment component to development is very weak and priority is low. This must be reviewed and strengthened along with Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). In this context the terms and conditions must be altered to ensure that it is an independent process under a regulatory agency and not commissioned and funded by the contractors and business parties as it is now undertaken.

In addition the Federal government must introduce local government elections for grassroots democracy to be operations. There is currently a lot of urban grievance, discontentment unrest and political awakening. This is largely due to ineffective local government services which are not accountable and responsive to ordinary people.
The current urban suffering is experienced by dwellers at public and low cost urban high rise housing. There is much neglect of urban public space and the flat dwellers are alienated from local governance.

Malaysia is party to the Rio Declarations (1992 and 2012) and therefore there is a need for a review of Agenda 21 for effective engagement with citizens and be inclusive in managing the city and urban neighborhoods. A number of pilot projects were implemented in Malaysia with the MBPJ (Petaling Jaya City Council) being the most effective and well known in this implementation. This could be reviewed and expanded. Therefore, mechanisms for people’s participation in development are most essential.

4.         There is a need for major Institutional changes which will enhance democracy and inclusive development
Institutional transformation for inclusion and reconciliation is most essential – twelve major aspects are highlighted.

Civil Service
The civil service must be sensitive to the diversity of Malaysian society and provide service which is free from ethnic, religious, political, age, gender biases. The composition of the civil service must take both the Constitutional balance and changing social realties especially in urban areas.

Pubic democratic space
The public space must be protected so as to enable open discussions and conversations. Government agencies must institute public discussions and open to civil society discussion. In a similar way there must be more open discussion with young people.

The Police and authorities must adopt a more liberal reading of the laws especially for peaceful engagement and must be seen as the protectors of this human right without fear or favor.

Political parties
It was proposed that there should be an end to race and religious based political parties and the focus should be towards a more inclusive and ideology based politics. The Barisan Nasional should seriously restructure itself in this process.

Parliamentary Democracy
Parliamentary reform is at the heart of this change. The Parliament must be free from executive control and must manage its own affairs.

In this context there must be great bipartisan work among the MPs of the political divide.
More parliamentary select committees must be established including public funds used to establish a shadow cabinet and strengthening the role of the opposition in parliament as an effective check and balance.

There has to be some review of the Upper house so as to fulfil the original vision of the Senate so that it can serve as an effective check and balance
Independent Mediating institutions

The independence of these institutions such as MACC, Election Commission, Suhakam, & EAIC is most critical to ensure public confidence is high at all times. They should be accountable to Parliament. They should not operate from Putrajaya but be closer to Parliament.
Their reports must be debated in parliament and parliamentary select committees to review their work. The selection of these commissioners must be free from political control and must have greater public consultation including that with opposition leader in Parliament.

The essential task must be to ensure that these institutions have the public trust of the general population. Their credibility must be ensured through transparency, accountability and public engagement.
Media Freedom

There must be greater media freedom especially editorial freedom in traditional newspapers and electronic. This is fundamental to democratic freedoms and transparency. Investigative and responsible journalism must be order of the day. In this context media must be free from political party ownership and regulated by a media council.
Public Intellectuals

Academics must play a key role in public discussions especially in the defense of rational and open discussion especially public reasoning.  There should be no academic restrictions to their intellectual freedoms and in the interest of knowledge they should be enabled to exercise it and not face academic censorship in Institutions of Higher Learning.
Civil Society

Civil Society must play a dynamic role. In this context it is proposed that A Network for Inclusive Development and National Reconciliation be established with civil society leaders & public intellectuals to play a key role in monitoring and public policy advocacy.
Educational System
While Malaysia has recently release the Education Blueprint, there is a need to review it especially to enhance greater appreciation for ethnic, religious and cultural diversity in the schools. The calls to review the place of English and the reintroduction of English type schools must be seriously considered. In addition the issues faced by under- achieving is most critical

Religious Institutions
There is an urgent need to include religious communities in the movement for reconciliation. Religious values can enhance inclusive development. In this context the authorities must appreciate all the religious traditions and also institute effective mechanism to resolve difference in a peaceful and respectful way.

Department of National Unity & Integration
This department is very important and must be the driver for national unity. However we feel the Federal government has not given adequate priority to this department. The grade of the DG must be on par with EPU and ICU as central agencies. In addition the Department must have a larger unit for policy, mediation and harmony work. It must build a stronger network and partnership with civil society and community groups.

The Department must play an active role in the formulation of A National Harmony Act replacing the Sedition Act. It must undertake a socio-economic audit by monitoring the level of harmony and address the root causes that continue to impact inter-ethnic and intra-ethnic relations in Malaysian society which is based on the quality of life and happiness index.
The Biro Tata Negara must be reviewed and made more inclusive under the framework of the 1 Malaysia concept. In this context its staffing, orientation, structure and operations must be reorganized. It could be placed under the Department of National Unity so as to ensure consistency for implementation with the 1Malaysia agenda in the spirit of Rukun Negara, Vision 2020 and the Federal constitution.

Neighbourhood Security & Community Policing
There is a need for the authorities to engage more with local communities on neighborhood security especially in urban areas. A review of the Rukun Tetangga, neighborhood program and the idea of gated communities are needed especially to enhance community relations between affluent neighborhoods and low income flats areas.

5.         There is a need to identify common issues and concerns affecting all the communities which can serve as a template for inclusive development
An outline of 15 common cutting concerns identified in the CPPS-ASLI book entitled Malaysian Issues & Concerns, Some Policy Responses (2013). These common concerns were derived though a series of conversations between Oct 8 and 11, 2012. These can serve as common denominators that build bridges. We need monitoring teams which will ensure

The 15 concerns are presented here under three major heading:-
Nation Building Concerns.

Ensuring equality of citizenship (holding article 8 and 153 in balance)

Enhancing democracy and human rights
Instilling a deeper sense of patriotism and respect for King & nation, thereby enhancing the role of Monarchy in public life

Increasing inter- religious understanding and ensuring a shift from tolerance to appreciation
Strengthening national unity and integration agenda with a deeper sense of celebrating diversity of cultures & languages of all Malaysian groups without diluting the importance of the national language

Socio-Economic Development Concerns
Addressing poverty and inequality with a focus on the bottom 40% and intra ethnic concerns

Empowering through education and skills training
Enlarging employment opportunities

Enlarging business and economic opportunities
Addressing crime and ensuring public safety and security

Governance Related Concerns
Recognizing youth potential and creating new measures for engagement

Tapping the full potential of civil society and grassroots organisations as partners in Development
Ensuring effective decentralization of local government

Fostering greater autonomy for States especially in Sabah and Sarawak
Ensuring effective governance and implementation

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