Hornbill Unleashed

October 6, 2014

Open Government Partnership for Malaysia?

Filed under: Politics — Hornbill Unleashed @ 8:00 AM
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The unprecedented response from the Hong Kong people to the Occupy Central movement has pushed the question of democratic reform to the forefront for the Chinese government, who seemingly is used to the Tiananmen-type response.

The more than 50,000 strong protesters who insisted on Hong Kong’s need for political reforms and democratic elections comes as a surprise as the country has always been viewed as an affluent place that prides itself on its civility and its freedom.

Thailand in 2013 saw more than 200,000 peaceful protesters demanding for the Thai government’s resignation and the need for democratic reforms to restore democracy and eliminate corruption in Thailand. And in Malaysia, we held two mega rallies to push for electoral reform. This has fired up the imagination of Malaysians to pressure the Najib Abdul Razak administration for democratic reforms.

What’s happening in these countries reflects people’s deep disappointment with the system and therefore they now demand for transparency, accountability, clean and fair elections and better governments.
Indonesia went through political turmoil in 1998 with the downfall of Suharto and thus ending three decades of the New Order period. This pushed the country through a period of transition, an era which is now commonly referred to as the Indonesianreformasi period. Since then, Indonesia has made concerted efforts to build its open and democratic political-social environment.

In the Indonesia reformasi period, the country introduced amazing democratic reforms. It managed to establish an electoral system that is widely considered to be fair, transparent and efficient. In the April 2014 elections, the world witnessed a peaceful transition of power at the presidential election, where all competing parties accepted the results.

Most importantly was the clipping of the powers of the military which was done through a constitutional amendment. The reserved bloc for the military was stripped away by the House of Representatives and direct elections were reinstated – from the president position right down to the mayor at the council levels.

All serving military officers were barred from government posts and political party activities, and it was made mandatory for them to sell off their commercial business interests.

Another groundbreaking reform was when Vice-President Boediono played a key role in the formation of the Open Government Partnership (OGP), where Indonesia became one of its co-founders and chair from 2012 to 2014. To date, OGP has been the buzzword in Asia and it is an initiative that is gaining momentum as more and more governments are motivated towards strengthening their democratic reform.

Instituting democratic reforms

The OGP is about instituting democratic reforms especially in public institutions such as government agencies, police, military, and judiciary, where these are often instruments of corruption, repression and systemic violations of human rights.

The OGP brings forth an attractive narrative and that is “to provide an international platform for domestic reformers committed to making their governments more open, accountable, and responsive to citizens”.

This means creating and strengthening mechanisms to review, reform, monitor and transform legal frameworks that are on par with the national constitution as well as with international human rights standards which protect and promote human rights, freedom and democratic governance.

Co-founded by eight countries in 2011, namely, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, Philippines, South Africa, United Kingdom and the United States, the OGP has since grown from eight countries to 65 participating countries. In all of these countries, efforts are made by the respective government in partnership with civil society to develop and implement open government reforms.

The expectations on each member are high and these are captured the OGP Declaration where there are four key areas that a member has to adhere to, implement, monitor and be evaluated on.

They include availability of information about government activities; inclusion of civic participation; “implement the highest standards of professional integrity throughout the government’s administration”; and to increase access to new technologies for all in support of openness and accountability.

Indonesia’s Open Government Partnership

The advancement made by Indonesia in putting into place democratic processes is more than encouraging. Indonesia’s success story on their open government Indonesia (OGI) was shared at the Asia Regional Civil Society Experience Summit held in Jakarta from Sept 8 to 10, 2014.

In 2008 prior to Indonesia joining the OGP, the government of Indonesia enacted the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act and it was implemented by 2010. A guidebook was issued to all government ministries and departments to explain about the FOI Act, followed by a series of capacity development initiatives to help accelerate local government appointment of Information Management Officers (IMOs).

According to Sad Dian Utomo, the executive director of Pattiro, a regional monitoring organisation in Indonesia, she verified that by 2014, 63 percent of the local government (provincial and municipal levels) had appointed their IMOs and they are working to civil society to facilitate access to data.

Civil society organisations are able to access information regarding development of public services and budgets including right down to the district levels. This has helped to ensure delivery of quality public services to the people. While there are gaps in the implementation as 12 ministries have yet to have IMOs, Indonesia has definitely come a long way since the downfall of Suharto.

So is OGP a possibility in Malaysia?

Not at the moment. Malaysia still lags behind most Asian countries, and especially in comparison to Indonesia where it is now being hailed as a shining star in democratic reforms in the Asean region.

Unfortunately, despite the rhetoric, Malaysia has to date not joined the OGP. Transparency International-Malaysia (TI-M) secretary-general Dr KM Loi (left) in July 2014 has urged the Malaysian government “to embark its journey towards Open Government Partnership and to adopt the Open Data Policy and engage more with multi-stakeholder groups (MSGs)”.

The government definitely needs to come to terms with the need for multi-stakeholders’ participation and engagement and this means including civil society as well as the public as partners and not treated as sidekicks. The spate of arrests under the archaic Sedition Act, 1948 is not helping in the agenda of nation-building.

The Najib administration is stamping out freedom of expression and ruling the country with fear, repression and exaggerated sieged mentality. Any efforts towards OGP or to introduce transformational programmes by the government will resonate with hollowness if persecution and arrests are still justified as the order of the day.

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