We, the members of G25, wish to express our deep disappointment with the current government for being secretive on the reports produced by the several independent committees of inquiry and special committees appointed by the government to investigate into and deliberate on matters of public interest to Malaysians. Two of our members were involved in serving on such committees and they are highly frustrated that the reports of their respective committees, which have been submitted to the respective ministries or Cabinet months ago, are still in cold storage. Having discussed with them, we decided that it is in the public interest that G25 issues this statement.
One such report that has not seen the light of day is the Report of the Independent Committee on the October 2016 Fire Tragedy at the Hospital Sultanah Aminah in Johor Bahru that was submitted to the Ministry of Health in June last year. The fire tragedy that led to the death of 6 patients and injuries to nurses caused public alarm. It led to speculations about the failure on the part of the hospital management to prevent or minimise risks of fire hazards at the hospital and the fear that other hospitals may also be at risk. The Government responded correctly to the tragedy by setting up an independent committee of inquiry headed by an eminent retired Judge. He was also the Chairman of another independent committee that was established in October last year on the management of foreign workers, following criticisms from industry, civil society and other stakeholders on the shortcomings in the policies and procedures pertaining to the engaging of foreign workers. The criticisms portray a foreign worker management system that is in disarray and dysfunctional. The public has also been speculating on the dual authority between two ministries on the inflow of foreign workers.
Both reports are not related to national security and therefore they should not be classified under the Official Secrets Act and hidden from the public.
Through their thorough and painstaking closed door and town hall engagements with relevant stakeholders including Government departments and civil servants, as well as experts and professional bodies, the committees discovered major shortcomings in the administrative system of control. In the case of the committee on foreign workers, its members heard complaints about abuse of powers and corruption. In the inquiry into the hospital fire, the committee found serious weaknesses on budgetary allocations and operating procedures related to safety measures and administrative responsibility. The committee also found breaches of the relevant laws. In both reports, the committees made recommendations for improvements at the policy making level and for ministerial responsibility to give clear directions and sufficient resources to the operational and enforcement staff. Both reports stress on strengthening the system of accountability and internal controls to avoid confusion in implementation and to close the loopholes for avoidance of responsibility, or passing the blame to somebody else. Both committees recommend that their respective reports be made public.
The findings and recommendations of the investigative reports should be brought into the open for the public to know what actually happened, the mistakes that were made and the lessons that we can learn to prevent future disasters and abuse of power from happening again. In most democracies, such reports would be tabled in parliament for scrutiny and debate at the parliamentary select committee level. The Ministry officials would be called to explain whether they agree or otherwise with the findings and recommendations in the report. Experts and interested groups from professional associations and civil society such as NGOs would also be called to testify on the findings in the reports.
The interactive process between the Government, the legislature and the public is how developed countries improve the functioning of their Government. It is inevitable that when a controversial report is brought to parliament, as we can see happening in the most advanced democracies, there will be politicians in the committee who will take the opportunity to play the blame game instead of giving constructive ideas. That cannot be helped because not all politicians are mature and well educated. Despite the dirty politics, we in G25 believe that overall, the advantages of being open are far greater than being secretive.
G25 also calls upon the Government to make public the reports of the Council of Eminent Persons Institutional Reforms Committee and the Committee established by the Rulers Council on the Administration of Islam in the Federal Territory. These committees were set up after the present Government came into power for the purpose of gathering the views of civil society organisations to provide inputs into the reform agenda. G25 was one of those called to make a presentation. We would like to know how much of our suggestions have been accepted by these high level committees. These reports should also be tabled and discussed in parliament to make the public aware about the issues confronting the country. If the public can be trusted to vote in elections, there is no reason to keep the people out of the reports dealing with their future.
We believe that by showing a willingness to be transparent and open to scrutiny, as the principle of good governance demands, the Government can set the country’s democracy on a high level and create confidence among the public that whatever changes that may happen in political power, the country will be safe and continue to progress because of the institutional strength under the parliamentary system of checks and balances to deal with any crisis that may surface in the future.