Curing Malaysia’s ills

Leaders of the country must lead. They should not just think about winning the next election.

Mohamed Awang Lah, Free Malaysia Today

As a layman and non-partisan observer, I would like to share some thoughts on our country’s governance and well-being.

We are proud of being a democratic country with a written constitution. We have three branches of government – administrative, legislative and judiciary – which are supposed to be independent of each other.

However, we have a fundamental flaw. The head of the ruling party in Parliament (the legislative assembly) is also the head of the administrative branch – the prime minister. The advice of the PM, which must be followed, is required for appointments of judges (the judiciary) and heads of commissions. Hence, the three branches are not actually independent of each other.

Checks and balances are very weak and sometimes become just a shadow play. Many things can be decided behind the scenes.

Over the last decade, we have seen the worst of it, leading to the fall of the previous ruling party which had governed the country since independence. It was a wake-up call. There is nothing to stop this from being repeated in the future, depending on the person who holds the position of PM.

To make matters worse, most of our political parties are race-based. Even religious-based parties are normally perceived as having a racial bias. Our school system further divides the country with some race-based primary schools in addition to the national schools. Religious schools have their own systems. So, we are moulded to be divided at all levels of society.

Where do we go from here? Can we remove racial bias completely? Can we judge something based on “what” rather than “who”, family ties, social status or skin colour? Can we have a unified value system which is acceptable to all races and religions? Can we respect everyone practising whatever religion they want?

Of course, religious people want to expand their groups of followers, but this must be voluntary. In Islam, for example, the duty of a Muslim is to convey Islamic messages, not to force others to follow. At the end of the day, everyone is responsible and accountable to the Creator.

We have to change. We already have a process to elect MPs, but they should not be involved in the administrative branch. Their role is to legislate, not to administer. We need a separate process to elect a PM, who can then form his own Cabinet from among professionals who are not MPs or members of the judiciary, to lead the administrative branch of the government.

No, we are not talking about becoming a republic or about changing our constitutional monarchy system. We just want to have an independent PM, elected by the people, not by a political party. What is wrong with having our own governing model, without being tied to any Western or Eastern ideologies?

The appointment of judges and heads of commissions should be done by a separate body, whose members are not in the legislative or administrative branch. The three branches can then be truly independent and provide the necessary checks and balances so that the country can be governed fairly and transparently.

Their roles are simple. Legislators create/amend laws and policies, administrators enforce them, and judges interpret and make judgments when disputes arise.

An MP should be considered as having a full-time job with a full salary and the necessary perks. MPs should not conduct any business while holding office. Their job is to consider and approve laws or policies proposed by the administrators and, at the same time, understand the needs and aspirations of the people.

Their view should be independent of any political party. Ideally, they should be elected based on individual merit, not those of the party. They should be free to express their views in the interest of the people, not the party or anyone else.

We should also remove the cultural bias in our life starting from young. We should only have one type of primary school which every citizen must go through. We should have compulsory subjects which are common to all, and which can be taught in the morning session (for example). In the afternoon session, we could have elective subjects which are related to specific interests – religion, language or culture.

We should not have any exams in primary school. These can be done in secondary school and beyond. Primary schools should be to inculcate living skills. Secondary schools, colleges and universities are for career development.

At the end of the day, everyone must respect each other, young and old, with full honesty. Democracy does not mean just freedom to express but also freedom to be respected. We must be sincere and fair, not just to ourselves but also to others. Don’t do to others what we don’t want them to do to us. This must be a self-imposed discipline. There should be no compromise.

Leaders of the country must lead. They should not just think about winning the next election. We need some kind of mental revolution at the family and political leadership levels.

Economic success is meaningless without a good value system for harmonious living. Every citizen must have shelter and sufficient food. It is the responsibility of the government to identify them and provide their basic needs while creating opportunities for them to be self-sufficient. There must be something wrong with our society if we have people without shelter or food, irrespective of race or religion. These are basic human rights.

To sum up, I have just described my thoughts on three major sicknesses – governance sickness, political sickness and education sickness. I have not touched on another one – bodily sickness due to too much intake of sugar, carbohydrates and processed foods. That is another story.

Can we cure all these sicknesses? It may be hard but not impossible. It may take a long time. But one day, I hope our country can be “cured”. I hope this is not just my dream.