G25 is playing an active role in civil society as an advocate for moderation in Islam and higher standards of governance in the administration of the country. Good governance means upholding the integrity, transparency and accountability of public institutions to ensure clean and responsible government. These institutions also have a primary duty to protect the rights and freedoms of citizens under the Federal Constitution and uphold the rule of law to ensure fairness and justice for all. We believe that with sensible policies and good management, especially in dealing with the delicate issues of race and religion, Malaysia has bright prospects to be a successful country.
Malaysia is a multiracial country with great diversity in religion and culture. It is closely linked to the international community via trade, investment, education, travel and the wide access to modern technology and fast communications. We are a society that is more urbanized, educated and open to new ideas than other Muslim countries. After decades of sustained economic growth, and with a relatively high standard of living, the middle class has grown in size and influence to become the voice of moderation and reforms. The growing pressures for change is a welcome sign of maturity in our society. The authorities should accept dissent and opposition from civil society, the media and political parties as part of the democratic process of the people exercising their rights as citizens.
One major area where there are differences in views is the administration of Islam. Muslims accept that certain aspects of their life pertaining to marriage, divorce, inheritance, family and community matters and morality offences under the "precepts of Islam" are subject to syariah laws, as duly provided for in the constitution in recognition of the Islamic traditions in the Malay states over the centuries. While all Malaysians accept the special status of Islam in the country, and its position as the religion of the Federation, there are concerns over recent trends to expand the scope of syariah laws to cover a wider area of Muslim social life and to increase the punishments for offences under the Syariah Criminal Offences Enactments of the various states beyond the limits imposed by the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965. As the constitution is the supreme law of the country, which is basically secular in character, containing the same fundamental principles of human rights and freedoms as found in other modern democracies, any efforts to expand Islamic laws will give rise to uncertainties over the system of law and justice in the country. This inevitably will have major implications for racial harmony and the social and economic stability of the country.
Malaysia has big ambitions under TN50 to be in the front ranks of the most advanced countries by the year 2050. These ambitions must be accompanied by progressive reforms to achieve the desired results. In addition to modernizing the institutions of Islamic administration, there is also urgency in introducing reforms on the system of governance. As studies on modern development have shown, countries which have a high level of transparency and accountability are more predictable and stable and therefore more attractive to investors and corporations. They are also the countries which can attract the best talents to work and live there. The skills to innovate, create and experiment with bold ideas are motivated by a system of governance that allows space for freedom of expression without fear of the law punishing those who are controversial to the political establishment, society or religious authorities.
The institutional reforms that are most important are those related to law and order. The institutions that need reforms include the parliament, judiciary, legal and administrative services, the MACC and the police. Their independence and professionalism are essential for good governance in protecting the rights of citizens to hold government ministers, civil servants and religious authorities accountable for their actions. The basic principle of good governance is that the institutions of law and order and the regulatory agencies should be free of ministerial control and that they should have the integrity to act in accordance with their legal mandate, in line with public expectations that their primary role is to uphold the supremacy of the constitution and the rule of law.
G25 recognizes that the government has embarked on a series of reforms including the tough fiscal and financial measures to restore stability in public finances and restructure the banking system in the effort to protect the country against adverse developments internally and externally. Under the Government and the GLC Transformation Programmes, remarkable progress has been made in modernizing the administrative delivery of public services and raising the standards of corporate governance to international levels.
Education has also seen changes with the introduction of the Dual Language Programme to raise English proficiency in the schools. Ongoing efforts to grant more freedom to schools and universities to manage their own affairs will have a good impact in raising the quality of education. New legislation is being drafted to regulate political financing, which is aimed at reducing money politics and the nepotism and corruption associated with unethical elections.
All these economic, fiscal, financial, administrative and education reforms have been well received both by Malaysians and foreigners. However, they remain sceptical of the government on the issues of public sector governance and the integrity of government institutions especially in terms of their transparency and accountability. Civil society and our people are also concerned about the excessive politicisation of race and religion in our country and would like to see a return to the religious freedom and tolerance for diversity and modern living that have been the pillars of strength for our social and economic stability in the past. We hold the view that any laws made by parliament or the state legislatures whether on civil or religious matters are public policies and as such, all citizens have the right to express their views, as long as they do so within the law. This is a fundamental right in all constitutional democracies which must be upheld to enable the voice of the people to be heard locally and internationally.