Let stakeholders have a say
I NJuly 2013, a controversial amendment to the Administration of Islamic Law (Federal Territories) Act was withdrawn after objections from all sections of society. The amendment would mean granting either parent of a child below the age of 18 the right to convert the child to Islam.
The front-page headline said it succinctly: “Mom or dad?” Since both parents gave life to the child and are responsible for his or her growth, why should it be that only one is enough to decide?
In the aftermath, I pieced the events that preceded that historic withdrawal and asked some noteworthy questions: “For the deputy prime minister (DPM) to come down from the pedestal and make a U-turn, is indeed noteworthy and a humbling experience. Earlier in supporting its tabling, the DPM said it had been discussed at length in the cabinet, that it was based on a Federal Court decision and constitutional provisions. Now in withdrawing the Bill, he says the Cabinet has decided to withdraw it due to various views from component parties.
“It is an anomaly of sorts. If it was discussed at length in the Cabinet, we can only assume that none of the ministers from component parties objected. If there had been objections, are we to assume that such objections were over-ruled? Did we have to go through all these verbal skirmishes and ugly arguments if some serious thought had been put into it or if there was consultation in the first place?”
Now, we are finding ourselves in the same sticky situation with the pronouncement by the urban wellbeing, housing and local government minister, Tan Sri Noh Omar, that housing developers could start lending money to house buyers. When ministers make policy statements, the public assumes that he is the voice of the government and his take is that of a collective Cabinet decision.
Now, after all the brouhaha and tonnes of newsprint and several hours of airtime, we are told by no less than the deputy prime minister that Noh shot his mouth and in the process, his foot, without fellow ministers knowing a word about his preposterous proposal.
In short, this man whose propensity to open his mouth without engaging his brains in gear, has been chronicled and archived in several major publications.
But the issue is not about an individual and it should apply to all Cabinet ministers. Shouldn’t there be a consultation paper when the government makes new policies or changes to major policies.
I have said it before and it’s worth repeating. We take pride in practising the Westminster system but why isn’t the government consulting stakeholders before making decisions?
In the prelude to the last general election, the prime minister admitted that the “days of the government knows best were over”. He gave an assurance that the rakyat would be consulted.
That was in March 2013. Four months later, the amendments were prepared and tabled with no consultation whatsoever. This whole page will be needed to list out other issues which were either presented or forced down the throat of citizens.
The decision by the Human Resource Development Fund to use employers’ money to congratulate the minister for being bestowed a Datukship is one. To landlords to conduct immigration status checks on tenants before providing residential accommodation, with financial penalties for those landlords who let property to illegal migrants having failed to conduct the necessary checks.”
Similarly, our minister could have put out a simple note: “The consultation seeks views from interested parties on a proposal to allow housing developers to give loans under the Money Lenders Act to prospective buyers. This proposal is to enable those who are not eligible for loans from the banks to own house …”
I am not asking for everyone to be consulted but invite responses from stakeholders and organisations with specialist knowledge in that area. Responses from Joe Public who is a specialist or well-versed in a particular area could also be called to give his expert views.
To the government and its ministers, please accept the PM’s view that the days of you know what’s best for the people are gone. Treat the rakyat as intelligent human beings who can no longer be convinced with just promises.
theSun’s front page on July 3, 2013.