Policy making: ‘Are we there yet?’

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Are we moving towards a progressive culture of policy making or are we being stumped by political rhetoric, wonders Running Out Of Inspiration.

Parliament
MPs in Parliament – Photograph: anwaribrahim.info

I have been following the news – mainstream newspapers, on Philippine’s congressional and senatorial debates especially on its two major issues, the Reproductive Health (RH) Bill and the Sin Tax (ST) Bill. In brief, under Benigno ‘Nonoy’ Aquino III’s administration, the President has taken the bills seriously.

In RH Bill debates, he dares to challenge the church, which plays an essential role in the Christian-populated country. The said bill became an issue of concern due to an uncontrollable population rise that contributed towards rising socio-economic problems in the country. The bill’s amendment will eventually mandate the government to provide necessary tools and information for family planning.

Likewise, the ST Bill has become the President’s “priority” to improve tax collection of two major ‘sin’ products, namely alcohol and tobacco. By increasing taxes, it is estimated that additional revenue of P31bn (from its original P60bn) will be generated for the government. These additional funds can then be channelled to public health via subsidies and facilities where the poor majority will be the main beneficiaries.

At the same time, I am (quite reluctantly) following the mainstream news in Malaysia. Thus far, I cannot identify any major policy debates on improving the welfare of the people. What I have encountered most from news reports are issues pertaining to… (pause). I really cannot think of one!

The ‘pause’ is mainly because in Malaysia we do not have much debate on policy and policy analysis. There is abundant “news” regarding political party propaganda and nationalistic goals to protect the rights of certain groups of people; personal attacks and mockery among power holders, and so on. Hardly do I observe any genuine policy debate.

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The Philippines’ GDP still lags behind Malaysia’s GDP growth. But does this reflect mean that their policy makers are less capable and professional than ours? Not quite. Even though we cannot reduce the existence of corrupt and immature politicians in the Philippines, at least in the public sphere – on the news and in the legislative domain – Filipinio legislators are debating concrete policies that concern the tao (people).

Meanwhile in the Malaysian public domain, there is a vacuum; an absolute absence of any policy debate on issues such as health, environment, children and women, public transport, indigenous people, education, and etc. To be fair, these issues are being debated in civil society and by the alternative media but unfortunately not by the legislature. Our public institutions only trumpet political rhetoric which has nothing to do with public welfare and interests.

Are we thus making progress or otherwise? Is GDP the best indicator for the measurement of ‘development’? Whither our policy debate culture?

‘Running Out Of Inspiration’ is the pseudonym of an occasional contributor to TA Online.

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