Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Give us a transparent government
Several of us from the Penang state government are now in Kerala, India to attend a week-long cross-cultural learning. After 9 hours of traveling, the first thing we looked for at the airport was not food or toilet but mobile data plan! 

While in a telco shop listening to the heavily Malayalam-accented sales pitch given by the promoter, I could sense our entourage’s anxiety in not knowing whether were we being conned or given a real good deal. There was no official contract shown to us, but a brochure highlighting 4G speed. All that we are told to give them 500 Rupees (RM30) and they will give us mobile data. And there was no receipt. 

After waited until the next working day for our registration verified, we finally had access to mobile data. But only at 2.5G speed, slower than the publicised 4G. There is nothing we can do about it. 

One obvious lesson I learnt from this is the need for transparency. 

Recently Y.B. Datuk Paul Low, our Minister in-charge of governance and integrity, has commented that the federal government is not ready to provide official information to the public. He raised questions on the demand for more openness as akin to wanting the government to be ‘naked’ and so is similar to promoting pornography. He also cited the lack of administrative structure in place to facilitate public access to official data as another reason why the federal government cannot be transparent. 

In one broad stroke, Datuk Low has dismissed the need for the federal government which has ruled the country for more than half a century to work on being transparent to the public. While Penang and Selangor, ruled by the opposition for less than a decade, have already put in place a law to allow the public to have access to official data. 

We are not talking about 500 Rupees telco service here but financial scandals amounting billions of public funds and implicating top officials. All that we ask for is more transparency from the federal administration so that the public can protect the country from further mismanagement. 

However, such request is denied by the very minister whose responsibility is to enhance the government’s integrity. 

It makes me wonder if Datuk Low’s actual portfolio is to protect the federal government’s integrity by sweeping the dirt underneath the carpet so that everything looks fine, and discourage others from discovering and cleaning the dirt? 

When it comes to public administration, transparency expresses integrity and integrity strengthens governance. 

We may be conned by others at other places, and we cannot do anything about it. But for Malaysia, we want it to be ruled by a transparent government which is committed to be held accountable by the public.

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