Where are the reforms we were promised?

A call on the government to deliver on its reform agenda to enhance accountability and transparency in the country.

Joint statement by 22 organisations, MalaysiaNow

We want to express our grave concern and disappointment at the government’s continued backtracking on its reform agenda.

The recent decision by the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) to grant a discharge not amounting to an acquittal (DNAA) to Ahmad Zahid Hamidi in relation to the 47 charges involving millions of ringgit in connection with Yayasan Akal Budi is the latest in a series of indefensible actions by the current administration since the formation of the Pakatan Harapan-Barisan National government.

The decision to take such action despite a prima facie case having been established raises serious questions about the government’s commitment and ability to govern our country with integrity and in accordance with our Federal Constitution and the rule of law. The decision will result in an erosion of public trust and confidence in our institutions, particularly in the AGC’s competence to investigate matters thoroughly and impartially so that we can hold corrupt elites accountable for their conduct.

The 11 reasons cited by the AGC to justify its position are not convincing in the least and demonstrate a tragic waste of taxpayers’ money in what has become a futile exercise in integrity, accountability, transparency, and trust.

Furthermore, the decision to discharge Zahid from such serious charges suggests a disturbing departure from the principle of equality and sends a dangerous message that those in positions of power and influence can act with impunity and escape accountability for their actions. This perception of a two-tier justice system, one for the elite and another for the masses, is corroding the very foundation of our democracy and undermining people’s faith in the rule of law and good governance.

Since November 2022, we have witnessed a slew of actions that undermine our trust and confidence in Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and his government, whose promises of reforms to uphold our fundamental freedoms and human rights have come to naught. This has been demonstrated regularly by the constant backtracking on promises to review, amend, or repeal draconian laws such as the Sedition Act, the Printing Presses and Publications Act, the Official Secrets Act, and Sosma, amongst others.

There has also been an increased stifling of our freedom of expression, including censorship of media and other online content, banning of films and publications, restrictions on academic freedom, and infringements on gender-based expressions. There has also been no visible commitment or action to pursue institutional reforms, including making the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) independent and accountable only to the Parliament and establishing an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) as demanded by civil society to replace the watered-down Independent Police Conduct Commission, or IPCC. Prior to Zahid’s DNAA, the reform calling for the separation of the attorney-general (AG) from the public prosecutors’ office was nowhere to be seen until recently, when it was announced by the law minister.

Instead, there are efforts, using taxpayers’ funds, to promote or endorse conduct that promotes division and polarisation based on race and religion, most notably the decision to include Hadith lessons in schools.

Our expectations, which are in line with the multitude of promises made during the election campaigns leading up to the last general election, are that our ministers and government agencies will promote the development of an educated, informed society of critical thinkers who are fully equipped with contemporary skills and knowledge so that we can compete in the global arena. As voters and taxpayers, we have a right to be informed on decisions about how public resources are used equitably and distributed fairly.

This crisis of confidence in the government’s ability to deliver on its reform agenda must be dealt with, and in order to enhance accountability and transparency, we demand the following:

  1. The establishment of an independent committee to reaffirm and develop a detailed roadmap (including timelines) of the current government’s reform priorities. This independent committee should include civil society representatives and build on the recommendations made by the IRC, established in 2018;
  2. Immediately separate the roles of AG and public prosecutors and establish a mechanism to ensure that the appointment of public prosecutors is independent of political interference;
  3. Reaffirm, without delay, the government’s plans to review, amend, or repeal all arbitrary and oppressive laws that restrict our human rights and freedom of expression; and
  4. Reaffirm, without delay, the government’s plans for institutional reforms in relation to independent MACC and IPCMC.

We also urge the public to reclaim our voice as Malaysia and undertake the following on Sept 16, 2023, to commemorate Hari Malaysia in support of our demands:

  1. Use #REFORMforMalaysia or #REFORMdemiMalaysia on Saturday and repost our demands.
  2. Sign the online petition and write to the prime minister to reiterate the call for accountability by following the links below:

https://chng.it/MSQpRFCDvh (English)
https://chng.it/HBjFMwXGmZ (Malay)
https://chng.it/LWVBtpxxnZ (Chinese)

The above is signed by the following organisations: Agora Society Malaysia, Altsean-Burma, Beyond Borders, Centre for Independent Journalism, Gabungan Bertindak Malaysia (GBM), Geutanyoe Aceh, KL & Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall Civil Right Committee (KLSCAH CRC), Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall Youth, Instant Cafe Theatre, Myanmar Ethnics Organization, North South Initiative (NSI), Parastoo Theatre, Pemuda Sosialis (Youth Wing of Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM)), Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor, Pertubuhan Anak Muda Maju, Pertubuhan Harapan Al-Ikhlas Kuala Lumpur dan Selangor, Persatuan Umany, Refugee Emergency Fund (REF), Selangor and Kuala Lumpur Hokkien Association Youth Section, Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram), Suara Siswa Universiti Malaya, Tenaganita.