JUST over a year and a half ago, 25 former top Malay civil servants came out of retirement “to band together as social activists”.
They were alarmed at the direction in which the country was heading, says former director-general of the Public Service Department Tan Sri Alwi Jantan. He was overseas when the group published an open letter calling for consultation on the position and application of Islamic laws in Malaysia in December 2014, but he joined what is now known as G25 when he returned a month later.
“Secularism, liberalism and pluralism, which are embodied in the Federal Constitution, are under attack,” he says.
“We see daily occurrences of racial and religious extremism raising their ugly heads, which would lead to serious polarisation and anarchy. What is even more alarming is that this has been fanned by people in authority like the muftis.”
G25’s open letter asked the Government to set up a council of experts to find solutions to the overlap of civil and syariah laws, and the group met Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak in February last year to talk about their request.
But the Government has yet to set up such a council, prompting the group to conduct the research themselves, before talking to the states about it, “since religion is a state matter under the Sultans and the King.”
G25 members with constitutional and syariah legal experience have begun working with other groups to research and review current laws, says Alwi. The goal is to identify areas of adjustment to align the state Syariah Criminal Offences laws with the Constitution.
And the plan is to start with selected states. Once the proposals have been reviewed by religious and legal experts, they would be forwarded to the state religious authorities.
G25 has also expanded its scope to include good governance and tackling corruption. As not only the former head of the PSD but also former secretary-general in the Local Government and Federal Territory Ministry, Health Ministry and Agriculture Ministry, Alwi has focused on good governance, which he calls the precondition for a constitutional democracy: “Those in power must be made accountable for their actions and conduct.”
During his time, civil servants were able to do their jobs without fear or favour, he recalls. “The division of responsibilities between the politicians and civil servants was fairly clear cut.”
But over time good governance has been eroded at an alarming rate, he says.
“There are hardly any more checks and balances.”
G25 heads a coalition of 70 non-governmental organisations which signed a declaration last September on transparent and accountable political funding as the underlying framework to eliminate corruption and promote clean governance.
The coalition submitted its proposals on political funding to Najib in November last year.
G25 also contributed suggestions to the National Consultative Committee on Political Financing set up by Najib last year and headed by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Paul Low. The committee has since prepared a proposal to regulate political funding, incorporating ideas from G25 and other groups.
And G25 has consulted the private sector for their views, giving their input to University of Malaya Faculty of Economics and Administration professor Dr Terence Gomez, who has drafted a detailed proposal titled “Political Financing Reforms for Transparent and Accountable Political Funding in Malaysia”.
It includes recommendations for a Political Parties Act which would set limits on political funding contributions and expenditure, require public disclosure and regulate financing of party elections.
G25 posted this new proposal on their website in late July.
They have submitted it to Najib and Low and the Committee has acknowledged receipt.
“We are pursuing this independently,” Alwi adds.
“We are reaching out to like-minded organisations, the youth and those in the rural areas.”
It will also take part in forums organised by other NGOs, he adds. “We will use whatever platform is available to us.”
But, he stresses, “We are being very careful not to cross the line into the political arena. We resisted the call to initiate a ‘third force’. We are not out to topple the Prime Minister or the Government.”
Instead, G25 sees themselves as torchbearers for the founding fathers.
“We want to see the country get back on track towards progress in achieving their vision for a progressive, democratic and secular state where racial harmony and multicultural and religious freedom prevail.”
“We have no choice,” warns Alwi.
“The alternative would be chaos and at best, a regressive state and at worst, a failed state,” says Alwi.