By LIM SUE GOAN
Translated by SOONG PHUI JEE
Sin Chew Daily
Public consultation is one of the indispensable condition to create a transparent government. Unfortunately, some government officials still do not understand what it means and we are still distant from transformation.
The Election Offences Amendment Bill was tabled in the Parliament without collecting views from the society while the relevant departments were also kept in the dark. The Dewan Rakyat passed it at a midnight in April and the Cabinet recently decided to withdraw it following resistance from lawmakers. It is a typical example of opaque practices.
There are two most outrageous flaws in the Election Offences Amendments Bill. Removing the provision requiring printed campaign material to carry the name and address of the printer and publisher, means that anyone can print and distribute defamatory and slanderous publications to harm their rival candidate's images. It will only cause the election more dirty.
Also, how are they going to monitor vote delivery and calculation if election agents or candidates are not allowed to be present at election booths? According to EC chairman Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Yusof's explanation earlier, the amendment is proposed as election agents or candidates would interfere the work of EC officers if they were allowed at election booths. We can imagine the EC's standard of professionalism as it had actually issued the injunction just because of the complaint from its officers, without bothering about the principle of fair elections.
The Prime Minister's Department would not let the EC to make amendment freely just because of its "independent status". Any bills must first be audited by the Cabinet before being tabled in the Parliament. However, there were still errors found in the bill.
The absence of public consultation has also been reflected in the Lynas rare-earth refinery plant issue. At the recent International Symposium on Rare Earths organised by Academy of Sciences Malaysia (ASM) and the National Professors' Council, Datuk Dr Lee Yee Cheong, the lead spokesman of a working group that had produced the Rare Earth Report under the auspices of the ASM, pointed out that the controversy was triggered mainly because the government and Lynas did not fully communicate with the community and consult local experts in its early planning stage.
One must first obtain his or her neighbours' consents before applying for a dog license. Why didn't they consult local residents before they set up the rare-earth refinery plant? Since the bill can be withdrawn, why can't the rare-earth refinery plant project be stopped?
Thus, we can see that the government has not done enough in response to the people's demand for a greater democracy and transparency. Many officials are still having the mentality that "members of the public understand nothing" and do according to their own wills.
Two weeks ago, tens of thousands of people joined the Bersih 3.0 rally to demand fair elections and the revocation of the Lynas rare-earth refinery plant project. The authorities have not yet responded positively so far, while the actions taken seem strange.
The EC will choose another colour to replace yellow as its corporate colour, to show its determination to draw a clear line with the Bersih. It seems like a child's play.
How is the six-man independent panel to investigate allegations of police violence against journalists and other participants of the Bersih 3.0 rally headed by former Inspector General of Police Tun Hanif Omar convince the people? Particularly when police officers were involved in the allegation?
The police has taken hard actions against troublemakers of the rally, but no investigation has been conducted so far on the police officers alleged to have used violence.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak will deliver a speech on Friday night in conjunction with Umno's 66th anniversary. How will Umno respond to the challenges of the civil society? Will the reforms be carried on?
Former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad does not agree with the repeal of the Internal Security Act and the withdrawal of the Election Offences Amendment Bill. He represents the conservative voice within the party. If Umno retreats to defend its own fortress, it will then lose the open land in front.
The BN government and Umno must stand firm to go on amidst the unprecedented surging tide of democracy.