Creating the change

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The change we seek will have to take place on many levels – but each of us must participate for that to happen, writes Prema Devaraj.

It has been just over six weeks since the 2018 general election.

The new government has forged ahead in certain areas such as the formation of the Council of Eminent Persons, the Committee for Institutional Reforms and the appointment of ministers to key ministries.

We have seen changes in heads of key institutions. For example, the chief commissioner of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), Dzulkifli Ahmad, sent in his resignation in May after the general election.

Electoral Commission chief Mohd Hashim Abdullah will be vacating his position on 1 July. The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0) welcomed his decision to go on early retirement and suggested that other electoral commissioners should also tender their resignations.

Chief Justice Md Raus Sharif and Court of Appeal President Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin will vacate their positions on 31 July. We have also witnessed (finally) the termination of Attorney General Mohamed Apandi Ali and the appointment of Tommy Thomas as his replacement. P Ramakrishnan voiced his opinion on the judiciary and the new attorney general.

These changes really look like a purging of the old guard where institutions are concerned. Heads are rolling.

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Meanwhile, investigations into 1MDB and other financial scandals have begun. Dominic Damian wondered about the extent of unbridled greed in the many acts of corruption the country has seen and called for accountability.

K Haridas made readers take an honest look at issues surrounding corruption, religion and the royalty and called for accountability if serious change is to take place. Media reports suggest shake-ups in the police force and the Immigration Department are in the pipeline, as are other plans to rebuild the integrity of the government.

What a time it is for the country! After years of seeing wrongdoing whitewashed, we are now witnessing palpable change: the media have changed their tune and many Malaysians are now watching Astro Awani, buying the national newspapers and retweeting Bernama news!

Civil society organisations and interested individuals are full of ideas and initiatives for the new Pakatan Harapan (PH) government. Aliran submitted a proposal on “Centralised Federalism in Malaysia: The Urgent Need to Decentralise “ to the Committee for Institutional Reforms.

Tota provided a wish list to the PH government.

Pergerakan Tenaga Akademik Malaysia (Gerak), in which Aliran members are involved, put forward 10 proposals for higher education reform.

A call was made for women to make up at least 30% of policy makers in the new government.

The air is certainly bubbling with excitement and hope.

Many other civil society groups are working together and coming up with action plans for the new government. In a thriving democracy all this and more is to be expected as the new government finds its footing and charts a way forward, using the PH election manifesto and the 100-day promise as guidelines.

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A multitude of issues confront the country, some of which are in the PH manifesto while others are not. But whether these are big picture (national/international) or smaller (state) picture issues – they are linked.

In this respect civil society organisations, community groups and individuals have an important role to play in ensuring that the righting of ‘wrongs’ takes place and a different paradigm of development emerges, if we are to move forward and rebuild a country which will be more people-centred and has a social justice framework.

Aliran was recently part of negotiations involving the relocation of some families who were evicted from People’s Housing Project (PPR) flats. The Penang state government was able to offer alternative housing on the mainland to three families.

This process highlighted the many and difficult issues surrounding low-cost housing. These include design, quality, affordability and whether or not the environments created in low-cost housing schemes allow for communities to thrive and be empowered.

This is tied to the issue of people’s incomes. There has to be a decent minimum wage which allows all workers (including migrant workers) to live in dignity, including in affordable housing.

As for migrant workers’ housing, the Penang state government recently acknowledged the presence (and hence reliance on) of around 200,000 migrant workers as part of the state’s labour force and economy. While commending the state for attempting to address the problem of housing for migrant workers by building separate hostels with dormitories, concerns were raised about xenophobia and the reasons for the segregation rather than the integration of migrant workers.

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Aliran believes that all human beings have rights and every person is equally entitled to human rights without discrimination. And if we understand that rights are indivisible, interrelated and interdependent, then our solutions need to be about inclusion and integration and not exclusion and segregation. It is obvious that a major shift in thinking is needed.

In wanting to create the change the country needs, it is clear we need to think beyond reforming institutions, stopping corruption and recovering funds. There are ideological (eg how we view indigenous people, migrant workers, refugees or sustainable development) and structural changes (eg how we encourage people’s participation in governance, how services are made accessible or delivered to rural areas) which need to be made to address the many issues affecting especially the economically disadvantaged, the vulnerable and the marginalised.

The journey towards change has been ongoing. The general election was a manifestation of part of that journey. The change we seek will have to take place on many levels. But each of us must participate for that to happen. It will be a long uphill climb but definitely a worthwhile one.

Prema Devaraj
Co-editor, Aliran newsletter
20 June 2018

Thanks for dropping by! Apart from the views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed, the opinions in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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