2nd CPPS Malaysian Youth Public Policy Roundtable
To commemorate the 2015 International Youth Day theme entitled ‘Youth Civic Engagement’ and to promote young people’s effective and inclusive civic eat all levels, CPPS is glad to have had the opportunity to organise an event in which young people and young leaders voiced and discussed their concerns, ideas and solutions for the issues afflicting their generation and the country as a whole. The results of the event reflect the priorities of many young people. An estimated 60 participants ranging from the student leaders, entrepreneurs, politicians, and NGOs, converged for a meaningful session of brainstorming and deliberation on issues faced by Malaysians in general. The keynote address was given by YB Senator Chong Sin Woon, Deputy Minister of Education.
Among the issues that emerged as very relevant for young Malaysians were:
a) Recognising that young people have the enterprise, resilience and optimism to contribute to the prosperity of Malaysia. By focusing on young people’s strengths, we can be empowered and thrive. We should remove barriers to the participation of youths in politics: rather than organising youth parliaments, let’s make the youth part of Parliament.
b) Young people’s aspirations and expectations in terms of well-being and social belonging are perceived to be threatened by factors such as low wages, insufficient skills (un-employability), rising cost of living, unaffordable housing options. At the same time, they are afraid to speak out because of censorship, repression and other constraints on freedom and civic rights. Provisions within legal devices such as the Sedition Act, the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA) allow the government to intimidate, detain or even prosecute young people for becoming politically engaged.
c) The participants believe that the discrimination involved in paying younger people less than older people – regardless of skill – is unacceptable. They called on employers and government to uphold meritocracy and reward effort, talent and skill over age. Meritocracy should also be the defining element in university admissions.
d) Public transport emerged as an issue that significantly affects the quality of living of young people in cities, and one which can also affect their capacity to access education and look for jobs. Therefore, participants called on government to increase the frequency, reliability, quality and affordability of public transport.
e) The rate of youth unemployment is high and young people need better education, skill development and apprenticeships to help equip them with the right tools to enter the employment market.
f) A key concern for the development of democracy and the protection of freedoms and Human Rights was the insufficient separation of powers and the ability of the executive to manipulate the judiciary. The judiciary needs to be truly independent and have the capacity to act against the other branches of the State, including the Executive Branch.
g) In the context of the 1MDB crisis, delegates agreed on the need for a reform to the political system and in particular to the rules for political financing. Transparency, accountability and strict controls on the size and origin of political donations are fundamental to ensure the viability of the Malaysian democracy.
h) Good governance needs to become more than just empty words. The principles of good governance should be taken seriously by the Malaysian government. The results of the event show that some principles of good governance are perceived as being weak in Malaysia:
Citizen-centric design of government: The entire government’s only reason to exist is to serve the people, and hence governments must be judged in terms of how they contribute to improving the lives of citizens. Government should not forget what it stands for.
Accountability: In congruence with the previous point, governments need to understand that they are obliged to respond to citizens’ enquiries and to justify their actions fully. A democratic government is accountable to the people who elected it because citizens are the ones in charge – they are sovereign. They set up a government to promote the public interest; therefore the government is answerable to the people.
Civil society as a counter-weight to government: No democracy can function effectively if civil society is not properly organised to keep the government in check. The development of civil society goes hand in hand with the development of democracy. For this reason, adequate support needs to be given to NGOs to enable them to operate as the 4th branch of the State (besides the executive, the judiciary and the legislative).
i) In terms of Human Rights, these have to be properly acknowledged and reaffirmed by both government and society. Malaysia has to commit itself to protecting Human Rights if it wants to be recognised as an advanced country at the forefront of civilisation. For this purpose, educating the Malaysian people about Human Rights as inherent and inalienable guarantees protecting all humans is crucial. Similarly, it is urgent that Malaysia subscribes the UN’s treaties on Human Rights and Racial Discrimination. Particularly worrying is the neglect (or outright denial) of the rights of minorities, such as the LGBT community and migrants. Empirical work is needed to better understand the origins and magnitude of the problem of Human Rights violations in Malaysia.
j) Education is the greatest equaliser. So long as access to quality education remains unequal, Malaysia won’t achieve the goal of being a society in which everyone has the same opportunities to succeed in life. Education goes beyond the idea of schooling: people need to learn to learn, so that they can improve and develop themselves throughout their lives.
k) Social inequalities remain a key barrier for Malaysia to become a developed nation. These inequalities are manifested in urban-rural divides, gender inequalities, and class divides. One strategic approach advanced to leverage the role of young people in addressing social inequalities is to promote the participation of young people in local government. This is, however, a two-sided issue: young people also need to be more proactive in positioning themselves in local government levels to make a difference. Adequate consultative and participatory initiatives are also needed to further address social-inequality at the local level by identifying the root causes – it is not only a matter of national politics but also a local one.
l) National Unity remains a weak spot of Malaysia. There is a strong perception among the youth that, for all the official talk on National Unity, there are many laws and policies that in fact make provoke disunity because they exacerbate racial and cultural fault lines. In other words, the institutionalised racism practised by the government undermines efforts to achieve a harmonious, cohesive society with a unified national identity. An example of the above is pro-Bumiputera discrimination. Many participants observed that non-Bumiputera Malaysians even migrate abroad because they perceive their country as being skewed against them. These are often among Malaysia’s best and brightest young people. However, there was also agreement that inter-ethnic divisions are stronger on the Peninsula than in Sabah and Sarawak.