It’s Not Malaysia Baru Without Institutional Reforms

Posted on August 28, 2018



So, it happened. We have a new Government after 61 years. It came as a shock to many including, I’m sure, the over 6 million Malaysians who voted for Pakatan Harapan and its ally in Sabah, Warisan. The euphoria was palpable and to some, even the air smelt fresher the next day. The term Malaysia Baru just seemed so apt.

Pre-GE14, most people probably didn’t bother to scrutinize the Pakatan Harapan Manifesto beyond the summary versions presented by the media. Suddenly on 10th of May, the 60 promises made in it are been quoted like scripture, even by opponents to remind the new Government of its commitments. There are the populist promises that were deemed necessary to win elections like abolishing the GST, the highway tolls, and bringing back the fuel subsidy. But in my book, the most important promise made by PH was to reform our public institutions.

Thanks to 1MDB and former Prime Minister Najib Razak, the glaring weaknesses of many of these institutions were exposed and left us, as a nation, vulnerable and ashamed. Instead of playing their roles to ensure that the rule of law reigned, these institutions were used to protect those in power and persecute the critics of 1MDB.

If we do not want to see another mega scandal like 1MDB or Najib Razak, we must insist that the Judiciary, the Attorney-General’s role, Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, Royal Malaysian Police, Election Commission and the Parliament must be reformed and be set free from the control and influence of the Executive, especially that of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).

Reforming institutions and entrenched mindsets are not something you can do within 100 days but so far, the PH Government under the nonagenarian Tun Dr Mahathir has shown commendable commitment to honour institutional reforms. It has been reported that several government agencies have been released from the clutch of the PMO as of early July and are acting as independent bodies, reporting to Parliament only.

The agencies are the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), Election Commission (EC), National Audit Department, The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam), Public Prosecutor’s Office, Public Service Commission, Education Service Commission and Judicial Appointments Commission.

PH has also pledged to empower Parliament through the establishment of Parliamentary Select Committees that will oversee the operation of government ministries and agencies and vet key appointments to agencies such as Suhakam, MACC and Judicial Appointments Commission, to reduce the possibility of Prime Ministerial interference.

Another positive sign of the new government’s commitment to enhance parliamentary democracy is the appointment of an Opposition MP to chair the important Public Accounts Committee in Parliament.

If these reforms are fully carried out, our fate, as a nation, would not depend on the good graces of the people we elected but on independent bodies that would keep them in check. While three months into Malaysia Baru is still early days, citizens and civil society organisations must remain vigilant to push the new government to fulfil all its promises, especially those that reform and restore the independence and professionalism of public institutions, for without doing so, there will be no Malaysia Baru.

This article was published in the Special Merdeka Edition of The Edge (Printed Edition) on 27th August, 2018.