ON May 15, 2018, the Council of Eminent Persons (CEP) set up an Institutional Reform Committee (IRC) to review improvements for the country’s public and democratic institutions. The establishment of the IRC was in line with Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) institutional reform agenda after taking over Putrajaya.
The IRC report involved consultations with civil society bodies and individuals to improve the country’s governance system. The IRC also touched on reforms in the electoral system, parliamentary democracy, Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) and also draconian laws, including the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (SOSMA) and Sedition Act 1948.
The IRC report, which was presented to former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad in July 2018, has 223 recommendations on improving governance and integrity, and strategies to tackle corruption. However, to date, the report has not been presented to Parliament nor been made public.
The PH government’s actions to classify the CEP and IRC reports under the Official Secrets Act (OSA) 1972 was also not welcomed by experts, civil society and citizens alike, as they said it contradicts PH’s principle of promoting openness and transparency, and commitment to reform the country’s institutions. Other measures Pakatan Harapan failed to complete were repealing the Sedition Act 1948 and reviewing the Police Complaints Commission Complaint Bill (IPCMC) 2019, two important laws it had vowed to review prior to wrestling power from Barisan Nasional.
Pakatan Harapan did, however, establish a National Centre for Governance, Integrity and Anti-Corruption (GIACC), led by Abu Kassim Mohamed, to improve anti-corruption measures and also implement several IRC proposals. The GIACC has successfully drafted the National Anti-Corruption Plan (NACP) 2019-2023 as a long-term plan, involving 22 strategies that comprise 115 anti-corruption initiatives. These initiatives cover areas such as politics, public procurement, law, public sector administration, the judiciary and corporate governance.
Other successes by PH include parliamentary reforms, such as the establishment of 11 select committees. The PH government also amended the University and University Colleges Act (AUKU) 1971, allowing greater opportunities for students to participate in political activities.
In 22 months, PH was able to restructure public institutions such as Tabung Haji, Felda and the Prime Minister’s Department, which was previously used by past political leaders to safeguard personal interests and political cronyism.
Pakatan Harapan’s institutional reform agenda gained global recognition when the Democracy Index 2019 named Malaysia among the top 50 countries in its index. Malaysia also climbed 10 places to 51st in 2019, according to the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) 2019. This achievement comes from PH’s commitment to tackling endemic corruption, which saw the coalition take on major scandals, such as the 1MDB, Tabung Haji and SRC International issues.
These glowing references, however, were not particularly lauded by Malaysians as the PH government was slow in implementing institutional and legal changes in the country. The rise of political identity based on race and religion further complicated the PH government’s move to reform the country, which has been ruled by BN for more than 60 years.
The institutional reforms prove to be increasingly difficult to carry on today as the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government struggles with questions of integrity and transparency, especially on issues of political appointments in government-linked companies (GLCs) and government agencies to PN lawmakers. The dismissal of high-profile cases, such as Riza Aziz’s and Musa Aman’s, and the use of draconian laws against opposition leaders have raised questions about whether the PN government is interested in any reforms at all.
It is undeniable that the greatest test facing the PN government now is a commitment to the principles of integrity and openness in governance. This does not help when the party that Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin openly declared war against in the previous election, Umno, is now a coalition partner in the fragile PN government. Muhyiddin must shoulder this responsibility if PN is to survive as the government, should a snap election be called soon.
I propose to the government today to present the IRC report in Parliament to ensure that the government’s commitment to reforming public institutions can be continued. This is to prevent 1MDB 2.0 and other major scandals from happening again, which will dampen investor confidence in Malaysia and reduce public confidence.
Institutional reforms, integrity and the fight against corruption are key to all political parties and the government. Hence, they should not be compromised on at any cost, especially when Malaysia is adapting to a new normal. The commitment to institutional reform must go beyond the lens of political rivalries, hence, the federal government must work vis-à-vis with relevant stakeholders to ensure Malaysia can reach greater heights in democracy and good governance. – June 23, 2020.
* Fakhrurrazi Rashid is a research coordinator at the Research for Social Advancement think-tank.
* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight.