Quicken the pace from regime change to good governance

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Graphic: csj-ng.org

An increasing number of people sense that the new government is moving too slowly on this reform journey, writes Ngu Ik Tien.

Nine months have passed since the takeover of the government by Pakatan Harapan on 9 May 2018, and the hope for positive policy and rule changes in the education sector has steadily ebbed.

Indeed for many of us who serve in the public education sector, the change of personnel at the top leadership of the Ministry of Education has been uninspiring and disappointing.

Recently, my university management issued a circular to all staff seeking leave to go abroad to conduct research or attend conferences. The circular said staff would now have to apply for leave for duty abroad at least two months (previously one-and-a-half months) before the date of travel.

According to the circular, the amendment was made to accommodate a new rule set by the Ministry of Education, which requires all leave for overseas duty to be approved by the ministry secretary-general (ketua setiausaha) at least seven days before the departure date.

This new requirement adds to the bureaucratic red tape and has not been well received by most serving academics. Frankly we cannot understand the rationale behind the decision other than to assert greater control and oversight. One would think that the ministry under the new government ought to be working towards encouraging greater autonomy and freedom in the respective universities and not the contrary.

Just imagine how many civil servants the ministry would need to screen all the overseas leave applications. One wonders if they will have sufficient knowledge to make informed decisions about our impending trips abroad. The new education minister has occupied himself with a lot of fancy ideas but many of us think he has not yet demonstrated clear determination or taken serious efforts to look into the real problems embedded in the education system.

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Peaceful regime change on 9 May 2018 was a great achievement and a major boost for democracy, raising much hope for good governance to follow. Indeed both goals of deepening democracy and ensuring good governance practices were promises made by the current government.

To achieve these goals, strong political will is required. But an increasing number of people sense that the new government is moving too slowly on this reform journey. In many cases, it would seem that personal political agendas override national interest.

Over the last two weeks, civil society questioned Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s party, Bersatu, over its decision to accept the former Umno leaders. Gabungan Bertindak Malaysia warned in a press statement that the party’s acceptance of former Umno leaders may destabilise the current balance of power balance among Pakatan Harapan component parties and intensify political bickering among them.

Meanwhile, the allegations of judicial irregularities involving certain judges has shocked the nation. A chorus of calls rang out from concerned individuals, civil society groups, NGOs and the Bar Council urging the government to set up a royal commission of inquiry to investigate these allegations of judicial improprieties. Former Aliran President Ramakrishnan also wrote an articleon this matter.

In the meantime, good citizens have been persistent in forging strong neighbourhood bonds and creating a more liveable environment for society. Articles such as “Bangsar’s little farm of hope” and “Where are all the cars? Comparing Singapore with Malaysia inspire us to think of the improved urban planning that would lead to a better quality of urban life.

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Jeyakumar Devaraj’s article addresses the housing and unemployment problems faced by not just the urban poor but also various groups in the bottom 40% of household income. In Penang, a small coalition known as Jaringan Perumahan Pulau Pinang – comprising Aliran, Suaram, PSM and other concerned individuals – has been at work. The coalition is planning to hold a one-day workshop on the housing woes of the bottom 40% of society on 31 March from 9am to 6pm at Masyarakat Penyayang. Look out for the publicity on this.

As a prelude to this workshop, Aliran is organising a talk by Dr Clarence Shubert on “Housing for the lower-income groups – The way forward” about improving their access to housing and related infrastructure and services. This will be held on 7 March at 8 pm in the Aliran office. You may register online at https://goo.gl/forms/GBaFnNMqwSnDUvmI2

Do make an effort to attend these events if you are in Penang.

Ngu Ik Tien

Co-editor, Aliran newsletter

23 February 2018

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