Good governance? Err, what’s that?

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Good governance could help to transform our nation, and youths too must be involved. Anil Netto takes a peek at an awareness-raising workshop that opened the eyes of a group of young adults.

Take 25 youths and young working adults, throw them into a room with academics, veteran activists and “senior youth” who had plunged into civil society work, get them all to talk about good governance – and what do you get?

Bewildered looks (“What’s that got to do with us?”), animated discussion, laughter – and in the process, some new awareness of how youth can get involved in promoting good governance. .

Aliran held this one-day workshop at a hotel in Penang on 26 September 2009, aimed at identifying issues that are important to the youth and then discerning how youth can participate in influencing the decision-making process of those issues.

The workshop, which was funded by the Canadian High Commission,  also introduced the participants to the role of civil society groups and activists who are already involved in good governance issues. The hope is that it would encourage the youths to live up to their role as active citizens and inspire them to get involved in issues that are of concern to them.

The proceedings

Icebreakers were held to lighten up the proceedings and to encourage participants to interact. In the first session, led by Prof Francis Loh, the youth were divided into groups and asked to discuss and highlight the issues that were important to them. The participants sat at a round-table and listed down the issues that they felt were important. The rapporteurs for each group then presented their findings to the rest of the participants. Perhaps not surprisingly, issues related to education and the working environment figured prominently in their discussions.

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In the second session, Subramaniam Pillay outlined what good governance was all about. He listed and elaborated on half a dozen principles of good governance: participation, transparency and accountability, effectiveness and efficient use of resources, equity and inclusiveness, rule of law and responsiveness to the needs of citizens.

This was followed by an activity, a game designed by Prema Devaraj. The participants were divided into two groups and each participant was called up and given a slip of paper with an example of a specific governance issue. They were asked to state whether this was an instance of good governance or bad governance and identify the good governance principle involved. If their answer was correct, the group was awarded points. Subra and Francis served as the judges.

In the afternoon session, three older youths – Kris Khaira, Joachim Xavier and Soon Chuan Yean – shared their experience of how they got involved in governance issues, through their involvement in civil society work, academia and church groups. They recounted the reasons that drove them to get involved in participating in the governance issues of the day with each explaining how they wanted to make a difference in the issues that mattered instead of remaining as passive observers.

Next Lim Kah Cheng and Subramaniam, who have both engaged with government officials in the course of their civil society work, shared their experience and stressed the importance of youth taking an active part in the decision-making process.

Kris and I then talked about the role of new media and how social networking tools like Facebook, Twitter and even certain online computer games could be used as tools in creating awareness of governance issues among youth. These tools could also be used to push for greater accountability from governments and corporations.

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Finally, Soh Sook Hwa facilitated the last session, encouraging the youths to speak up about their impressions of the workshop and what it had meant to them.

A new awareness

For many of them, the workshop was an eye opener as it was their first encounter with issues of good governance, participation through activism and civil society involvement in governance issues.  

For a few, it was too much to take as they had never come into contact with public interest and governance issues – but all the same, seeds of awareness had been planted and the participants could see that that they need not remain as passive observers in the decision-making process..

On the whole, the workshop provided the participants with an insight into how they could be empowered to play a role in governance by making their voices heard on issues that matter to them.

Aliran hon treasurer Anil Netto is a freelance writer and blogger. 

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