I did not need a university degree to realise that something was fundamentally wrong with the accountability of our institutions. The 17-year-old Nacha craved to do something, anything – so she attended her very first Bersih rally in 2011 even though it was taboo for a school student to discuss, let alone attend such rallies with the whole family. She was in awe, however, when she discovered that she was one of the hundreds of thousand other people who were defiant and driven for a better Malaysia.
Over the next few years, the yellow T-shirts would signal a rallying cry to all Malaysians to stand in solidarity to demand cleaner and more accountable institutions. When Malaysia experienced an almost miraculous turn in history for the first time in 60 years with the Pakatan Harapan coalition’s win in the recent GE14, my family and I simply had to join the masses again – not in apprehension, but in joyous celebration.
We were united once again albeit under a different flag. It was in these rallies that I truly saw the Malaysian spirit; in form and energy. But I knew, that this was just the beginning – from here on, how Malaysians collectively harness the Malaysia Boleh spirit and convert it into action and results, is crucial in shaping a future the people want to see.
When I read about the Committee on Institutional Reforms accepting written representations, I was filled with anticipation. I now have a platform upon which I can hold our leaders accountable and express my opinion on environmental and climate policy; I intended to put it to good use.
So Karee (MYD 2018) put together the initial skeletal draft and we worked on it from there – looking at Malaysia’s commitments to the UNFCCC, the First Biennial Update Report to the same, 8th to 11th Malaysia Plans, National Urbanisation Policy, as well as the Second and Third National Physical Plans among others.
Reviewing and recommending structural reforms, however, required a critical understanding of the institutions they operated in. This led to a mini study session where Kelvin (MYD 2016), whose forte is in Malaysian policy, was kind enough to spare some time explaining the various functions of each department bodies, and possible overlaps and mismanagement.
For example, although Jabatan Perhutanan Semenanjung Malaysia (JPSM) functions to manage forests and sustainable use of forest resources while Jabatan Perlindungan Hidupan Liar (PERHILITAN) functions to protect wildlife, both departments involve biodiversity conservation. Due to the silo approach though, issues that would be better solved by cooperation between the two departments were instead dealt with separately, leading to functional overlaps and lack of accountability. We addressed this in the submission to the Committee.
While I was encouraged with the help from the team, especially Kelvin and Karee’s effort in editing and organising the content, without whom the submission would not have been possible, I was not prepared for an ‘intervention drafting’ frenzy situation. We were short on hands and we were also running out of time – we needed to submit a hard copy of the representation at Ilham Tower on the same day (28th May 2018).
It was unfortunate that some of the ideas that poured in, such as Malaysia’s livestock industry, were way past the deadline I set to finalise the document. A passionate debate about the carbon footprint of the livestock industry on a global scale and the need to mention in our paper the oft-neglected issue despite and perhaps because of the lack of data on the matter ensued. However, the issues with the livestock industry were inappropriate in a submission on institutional reforms, as it was mostly policy-related.
Balancing the need to be inclusive and mindful of the team’s various opinions with the responsibility to tie things up and submit it on time, we managed to tailor this according to the theme. By the time I managed to print and take off to Ilham Tower, I was walking on a razor’s edge. It would have been ironic to have worked so hard on the submission to near-perfection, only to be turned away at the door for our tardiness. Rushing like mad through KL’s traffic, I managed to reach on time and strode towards the door excitedly…
After a moment of awkwardness as I waited outside for someone to notice me through the glass doors (no bell), a man opened the door, took the envelope from my hands and thanked me.
Well, that was anticlimactic.
But it was okay. I felt a lightness in my body, not only because I was reminded of the euphoria of passing up an assignment 1 minute before the deadline, rather it was a sense of accomplishment that the Malaysian Youth Delegation has actively participated in the New Malaysia’s first steps in an active democracy. I walked away feeling empowered as a youth and excited for MYD in the upcoming months. As more Malaysians glue their eyes on the new Harapan government, MYD will continue to strive for greater youth participation in the local climate policy scene and hold our leaders accountable to the Harapan manifesto.
Written by Nachatira Thuraichamy
Edited by Diyana Rahim