Good Governance Grows With New Transparency and Disclosure Moves

Good Governance Grows With New Transparency and Disclosure Moves

Penang’s executive council, after nearly four years of trying, finally managed to bring on-line its members’ assets this week. Chief Justice Tan Sri Arifin Zakaria has announced that the judiciary would work closely with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) to bring the same process on-line, strengthening MACC and adding transparency to a judicial system the independence of which was vindicated with Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s recent acquittal.

On Wednesday, MACC proposed a similar measure for Cabinet Ministers and their families to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, a move aimed at strengthening MACC’s independence and increasing transparency in government.

As the New Straits Times notes, “Technically if the proposal is accepted it means MACC can immediately and silently launch an investigation into any allegations made against any cabinet minister, deputy minister, their spouses, children and immediate family members by using the asset declaration record.”

If 2010 was the year the Government launched its reform and transformation movement, and 2011 the year the work was done to bring those plans from words to reality, 2012 is looking to be the year that they bear fruit.

Najib’s 1Malaysia concept takes more than its share of ridicule from the Opposition, but this Prime Minister seems absolutely determined to guide Malaysia’s public and private spheres into the 21st century, even where his own party and coalition do not always wish to come along. Now 1Malaysia is beginning to make its weight felt. Now the atmosphere of transparency and reform being pushed by Najib is spreading.

In related news, Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced that the Government would be selecting a private auditor for the National Feedlot Corporation (NFC), in order to protect the government’s interest in the project. With nearly three-quarters of the RM250 million in government loans spent and MACC’s investigation of the troubled concern heavily underway, an outside audit not only makes good monetary sense, but also promotes the same sort of transparency catching on elsewhere.

This move toward openness and transparency is an unalloyed good for public governance. It is a credit to the Government that it is moving forward on this, despite some old guard preferences to keep matters hidden; it is a credit to Najib’s transformation programme that what Malaysians have typically thought of as tectonic traditions of secrecy are being moved aside for sunlight.

This is one of those rare times when Pakatan Rakyat can take the opportunity to bask for being in the right side of an issue, and work with, rather than against, the Government on this critical project. The question is whether it is willing to do so, especially as the Government is now getting ahead of Pakatan on the reform front.

All of the ingredients are there: Penang, arguably the Opposition’s crown jewel, became the first state government to undertake this project, albeit turning a month-long endeavour into a nearly-four-year unveiling. Pakatan has spent most of 2011 and all of 2012 so far calling for transparency and openness. Its various leaders even marched in Bersih 2.0; whether their intentions were pure or not.

Pakatan can show its seriousness and commitment by naming a Shadow Cabinet, today. Each potential minister — almost all of whom will be defending seats in Parliament in GE13 anyway — can then take the logical step of filing the same sort of statutory declaration that the Government’s Ministers currently do.

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim can lead the way in this, and take his roadshow — which has been marked by petty accusations against Malaysia and its Government abroad — to a level all Malaysians can respect.

While this seems unlikely — appointing a Shadow Cabinet appears to be a nearly Herculean task for the Opposition, and Anwar has never been a huge fan of disclosure of his own dealings — the brass ring lies before Pakatan, not only to vindicate its ideals, but to show that it stands for something more than mere opposition.

The run up to GE13 looks more exciting by the day.