The Reform Agenda & Role of the CSOs

5th June:

The Roundtable Discussion on the Reform Agenda & Role of Civil Society: Rebuilding on the Foundations of Human Rights and Sustainable Development was organised by the Centre for Public Policy Studies.

It was refreshing to attend this event to witness the spiritedness and energy of the CSOs present. The speakers were very vocal in their criticisms and fair in their judgements. The audience were equally frank in their questions and comments, and with the excitement of having a new government, the potential for reform was in the air. The aim of the event was to discuss some of the institutional reform proposals that were being submitted to the government and to get input on them from members of the audience who were mostly from other CSOs. The SDGs: Policy Coherence & Malaysian Society document was also launched at the event by Mr Stefan Priesner, the Resident Coordinator for the United Nations in Malaysia. It is a document published by the CSO-SDG Alliance and ASLI.

The panel featured eminent speakers from SUHAKAM – Tan Sri Razali Ismail, WWF – Ms Lavanya Rama Iyer, G25 Malaysia – Dato Noor Farida Ariffin, Malaysian Economic Association – Tan Sri Mohd Sheriff Kassim, Pakatan Harapan – YB Dato Saifuddin Abdullah and the Malaysian Bar – Mr George Varughese. It was chaired by Dr Denison Jayasooria.

Ms. Lavanya Rama Iyer brought up the issue of the environment amidst all these reforms. She importantly categorised these natural resources such as clean air, water and other aspects of the environment as natural capital.

“Our development has exceeded the environment’s regenerative capacity. We need to be more considerate of our natural capital.” she said decisively. She called for the environment to be more directly integrated into all other aspects of the reforms, to stop relying on the culture of extracting resources, creating externalities and to manage the resources better. She added that this would avoid the culture of dependency and rather be enabling.

She called specifically for a focused environmental ministry and the creation of an overarching committee that would look into all aspects of governance in a sustainable development lens.

The other panelists were very frank and detailed with their recommendations for reform. Tan Sri Mohd Kassim outlined the economic situation that Malaysia was in. Tan Sri Razali Ismail was emphatic in his call for CSOs to be more independent. Dato Noor Farida Ariffin was on fire as she detailed a long list of reforms for the judiciary, the police, the MACC, JAKIM and the AG just to name a few.

The audience brought up some challenging and controversial points as well regarding Malaysia’s governance structure. There were calls for children, indigenous people and refugees’ rights – a couple of them in attendance who questioned JAKOA’s relevance.

However, there was a distinct lack of reference made to the SDGs, climate change or the environmental pillars of sustainability in most of the recommendations put forth with the exception of Ms Iyer. This was somewhat disappointing as most of the speakers focused on the economic and social pillars. However they had incorporated various aspects of the SDGs in their recommendations, most of them being indirectly.

From Ms Iyer’s speech, it was evident that we need a fundamental restructuring to the way we do business, run our economy and carry out our day to day activities if we are to slow down and turn back the degradation of our environment and to remain within the regenerative capacity of the planet. Hopefully more CSOs can include such environmental aspects into all their forthcoming policy recommendations and actions.

“What is the use of a house, if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?” – Henry David Thoreau in Familiar Letters.

 

Written by Lhavanya
Edited by Varun

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