KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 18 — Civil rights groups expressed concern with Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) slowness in implementing substantive reform to fight corruption and protect minority rights.
Centre to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4) executive director Cynthia Gabriel said the PH government has made important announcements in combating graft and enhancing the independence of public institutions, besides forming a committee on the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) corruption scandal of which she is a member.
“But substantive change has yet to come,” Cynthia told Malay Mail.
“Despite promises that Cabinet members will declare their assets, this has not been done and we urge that this happens at the turn of 100 days,” added the anti-corruption activist.
The Governance, Integrity and Anti-Corruption Centre said last week that the prime minister, ministers, deputy ministers, and PH MPs could start declaring their assets to the prime minister once a code of ethics and asset declaration form are finalised.
The government has yet to decide whether the asset declarations — which will also be submitted to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) — should be made public. Members of the previous Barisan Nasional (BN) administration had similarly declared their assets only to the prime minister and these were not made public.
Cynthia also called for greater clarity on the regulation of political financing and freedom of information legislation.
“While we realise law reform and law making take a long time, we see clarity on the roadmap, the time frame and how civil societies’ expertise can best be utilised in such processes,” she said.
“The restructuring of the GLCs (government-linked corporations) and procurement processes remain unclear and must adhere to separation of business and politics, better corporate governance and high levels of checks and balance. It requires better scrutiny and checks, to prevent abuse of power.”
The activist noted, however, that despite a few “gaffes” by several ministers, the space for reform was encouraging.
“Sixty-one years of one-party rule and unbridled power cannot be undone in 100 days and it could take years to fix a corrupt system. We urge PH to govern and govern with their feet forward!”
Transparency International Malaysia president Datuk Akhbar Satar said PH has been doing “quite well” in its first 100 days.
Akhbar suggested that senior government servants like secretaries-general be made to declare assets to MACC too, while the MACC chief should declare his assets to Parliament.
“As for political funding: TI-M has been fighting for several years and provided suggestions — law alone is not enough. Make sure there are enforcers to enforce the law. This is lacking in the present EC (Election Commission),” he told Malay Mail.
LGBTIQ and women’s rights
Justice for Sisters, a transgender rights group, said the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer (LGBTIQ) people continued to regress under the PH administration.
“In the 100 days, stigma, discrimination and violence against LGBTIQ persons have definitely increased and it’s extremely worrying,” Justice for Sisters representative S. Thilaga said.
She said Justice for Sisters has received a number of complaints from LGBTIQ people over the past 100 days and saw an increase of those from the community being outed, reported to the police and internet regulators, and cyberbullied.
“Justice for Sisters has also received several complaints of ‘pengkid’ (tomboys/ lesbians) being reprimanded by officers of the state Islamic departments, old cases of arrest of trans women being reopened (some of these cases took place three years ago), being subjected to discriminatory practices and policies at government agencies,” said the LGBTIQ activist.
She urged the PH government to cease all anti-LGBTIQ policies and rhetoric.
“The policies and practices on LGBTIQ persons must be informed by engagement with LGBTIQ persons, our lived experiences, and must seek to eliminate all forms of discrimination and marginalisation, not exacerbate them.”
Women’s groups Sisters in Islam (SIS) and Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) both criticised the PH government’s reluctance to ban child marriage.
“As in the case of the 11-year-old girl’s marriage, the Women’s Ministry took over 40 days to conduct investigations before issuing a statement.
“If the government takes this long to take a position over a straightforward case such as child marriage, we are very worried about more complicated issues such as law reforms,” SIS told Malay Mail, referring to issues like polygamy, divorce, maintenance, and other areas of Muslim family law.
WAO executive director Sumitra Visvanathan acknowledged that a government transition is challenging, but pointed out that people expect that governance from now would be based on equality and inclusion.
“The Women’s Ministry must perform better to meet the expectation that they will reform laws to fulfil women’s and children’s constitutional rights, pass the Gender Equality Act and the Sexual Harassment Act.
“Women’s and children’s human rights are non-negotiable and must not become subservient to political expediency,” Sumitra said.
Free speech and good governance
Fortify Rights legal director Eric Paulsen said although prosecutions involving sedition, public assembly, and online speech in certain politically motivated cases instituted under the previous BN administration have been withdrawn, other similar charges were pending.
The PH government has dropped charges against cartoonist Zunar, Deputy Rural Development Minister R. Sivarasa, and independent Batu MP Maria Chin Abdullah who ran under the PKR logo.
“The Attorney General should, as a matter of policy, withdraw all politically motivated cases and appeals — and all the more so if they involve laws that the PH government has promised to repeal or amend like the Sedition Act, Peaceful Assembly Act (PAA) and Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA),” Paulsen said.
He also said investigations under those laws should cease, even if they were technically valid.
“The government must not waiver on their commitments, they can certainly do better — so far they have only tabled a Bill to repeal the Anti Fake News law,” said the lawyer.
Yesterday, the government repealed the Anti-Fake News Act 2018 that was introduced by the Najib administration.
G25 member Datuk M. Redzuan Kushairi said the PH government was doing well as a whole.
“The rakyat are also looking for crucial institutional reforms and with a strong system of checks and balances,” Redzuan said.
The member of the group of retired senior civil servants said the formation of parliament select committees that allowed for public engagement would help reform Parliament.
“The new PH government is moving in the right direction of bringing about the administration of Islam as a religion of peace ” said Redzuan, as he called for a stop to arbitrary arrests and raids by religious authorities.
Selamatkan Kuala Lumpur (SKL) deputy chairman Datuk M. Ali said there has not been “real effort” by the government to engage with the people on infrastructure or city planning in the capital city.
“But PH government has only been hearing the sweet stories from DBKL (Kuala Lumpur City Hall) on the DKLCP (Draft KL City Plan) 2020.
“Hence, the reason, we at SKL been emphasising to the FT Minister that he must direct DBKL to display again the proposed final version of the City Plan which they intend to gazette,” Ali told Malay Mail.
He said SKL requested Federal Territories Minister Khalid Samad in a meeting on July 26 to get DBKL to publicly display the DKLCP to ensure that the “correct” city plan would be gazetted, not the “mutilated, butchered” version.
“We reliably learnt that ‘Environment Zone’ had been removed from the City Plan they planned to gazette. We suspect there would definitely be gross damages in the so-called final DBKL version,” said Ali.
He said Khalid’s office and DBKL have yet to contact SKL to show them the 2020 draft City Plan — which was launched a decade ago in 2008 — that the government intended to gazette by year end.
“Until the City Plan 2020 is gazetted after review by SKL, there must be a moratorium on any approvals for developments by DBKL,” said Ali.