Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Suaram Penang calls upon the Penang state government to exercise asset declaration of its EXCO’s.


Suaram Penang calls upon the Penang state government to exercise asset declaration of its EXCO’s.

Suaram Penang in a survey conducted this week found that up to 73% of Penang voters hope that the state government will make good its promise of a Competent, Accountable, and Transparent administration by declaring to the public assets owned by the Chief Minister and his Executive Committee. The survey, done over two days at various places in the island, received 508 respondents.



The Penang state govt should declare assets of its Chief Minister and EXCO members.



Total no. of respondents


Following the Selangor state government’s step to take up the asset declaration exercise on 13 March, 2009, the results of this mini survey indicate that the people would like the state government to follow suit and do what is only right and reflective of democratic governing practices. We fear failure to do so at the soonest will cause the people to lose confidence in the promises of reform once proudly proclaimed in election manifestos. Instead of delaying with the excuse of “uniformity” with other states or even the federal government, it is time, and perhaps even overdue (since Selangor has taken the lead), that the Penang government shows its commitment to democratic reform.

We believe that by declaring assets of state office bearers, this will not only be symbolic of true transparency but also allow the people to regain trust in the democratic process. As Pakatan Rakyat parties have endorsed the People’s Declaration before the 12th General Elections of Malaysia, it should not be an exercise too hard to be undertaken when governments in other countries have long before us established this good practice.

Suaram Penang hence calls upon the state government to promote democratic governance as its top priority. This hope for the advancement of democratic ideals needs political will from the ruling party. Likewise, people who want a government that is accountable to them must hold those in government accountable. The need for a mechanism of checks and balances must, however, not be confused as an attempt to attack or discredit the one-year-old Penang Pakatan state government. Instead this call should be seen as a way the grassroots exercise their responsibility as citizens of the state. Democracy is not only about voting and elections, it is also about making it possible for people’s participation in the process of decision making.

The attainment of democratic ideals should not also be a pawn on the political chessboard separating the Pakatan state government and BN federal government. By electing into office the new state government on March the 8th last year, voters have already spoken their wishes and certainly do not expect now for the promises of yesteryear to remain only as dangling carrots.

A glance of our surrounding region will show that neighbours like the Philippines and Thailand have already instituted mechanisms that ensure assets of public officials can be monitored. Malaysia’s lagging behind in terms of internationally recognised good practices is further compounded by frequent events that highlight the plight of human rights in this nation. Therefore, the Penang Pakatan state government should take this chance of being in power to institute changes and reform that have not been able to see the light of day in our nation’s first fifty years of existence.

Although the Selangor state government has taken the lead in declaring assets of its EXCO members, the model and (the lack of) depth of its exercise is not something that needs to necessarily be copied wholesale by Penang. We note that the Selangor exercise was too simplistic in nature and does not allow for effective and meaningful monitoring to be done by the people. Any serious assets declaration exercise should be in line with the United Nations International Code of Conduct for Public Officials.

Under section III of the abovesaid code, Public officials shall, in accord with their position and as permitted or required by law and administrative policies, comply with requirements to declare or to disclose personal assets and liabilities, as well as, if possible, those of their spouses and/or dependants.

Suaram Penang hopes that the Penang state government will truly live up to its slogans promoting Competency, Accountability, and Transparency (CAT) by actually instituting policies and practices that reflect the meaning of democracy. Mechanisms that not only allow for active public monitoring but also encourage public participation in the democratic process - i.e. questioning and actually getting answers - should be introduced.

Suaram Penang therefore politely reminds the Penang state government about its promises in their election manifesto, as it is certainly expected of them now that they are in power to be unwavering in the struggle for a more democratic Malaysia.

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