A FEW weeks ago, President Obama gave his last press conference to world leaders at the conclusion of the APEC meeting in Peru.
His message echoed what he had been saying at various times when he travelled to Third World countries.
He said he may be the most powerful man in the world but the US President cannot make policies without the approval of Congress.
He would love to stay on for another term as president but the constitution does not allow it.
He often reminded leaders that democracy is not easy. He had himself faced a lot of personal criticism and racial insults which hurt him and his family but that’s the burden a leader of a democracy has to deal with in office and which he has to accept as part of the risks of the job.
He commented that democracy was often messy and noisy, but despite its imperfections, it’s the best system of government to resolve the internal differences and ensure stability against the terrorism, religious extremism and racial intolerance that often plague Third World countries.
It is quite evident to me from the underlying tone in Obama’s several speeches that the international community, including foreign investors and fund managers, are watching closely the Third World leaders in their practice of democracy and human rights.
Western leaders are also concerned about Malaysia, their beacon of hope as a progressive Muslim country, especially in the light of the world-wide publicity on the governance issues surrounding 1MDB, the rising religious and racial intolerance and the frequent harassment and arrests of pro-democracy activists.
When scholars and political scientists write about the success or failure of a democracy, they often pin it down to the system of governance that exists in the country to ensure checks and balance against abuse of power.
In Malaysia, our Constitution has the same provisions as in other countries on the separation of power between the legislature, judiciary, legal service, and the executive which includes the cabinet and its implementing institutions such as the civil service, the police and MACC.
This separation of powers is important as it reflects on the integrity of the institutions in upholding the rule of law.
The legislature, which is parliament in our case, is the highest institution of government and therefore, its role in making laws and monitoring how the cabinet ministers and their civil servants implement their responsibilities, constitutes the highest aspect of governance.
It should be common practice for Parliament to appoint select committees to conduct open enquiries on matters of urgent public interest such as the 1MDB or the proposed amendment to Act 355.
Parliamentary scrutiny on such important matters should involve participation of experts, professionals and civil society who should be called in to testify so that all the issues can come out for open debate.
This is the kind of governance that will give comfort to the public and the international community that Malaysia is a well governed country with proper checks and balance to uphold the rule of law.
Good governance is a crucial factor in determining business and investor confidence in an economy. In the light of the pressures on the ringgit and the economic slowdown, there is greater urgency now to restore the credibility of our institutional governance and empower parliament and other institutions to exercise their authority without fear or favour.