Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Transparency and Accountability: The Keys to Democracy

Written by johnleemk on 8:45:06 am Feb 24, 2007.
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Transparency and accountability. Two of the most missing things in Malaysian government. There is a direct correlation between government and bureaucratic efficiency, and transparency and accountability. Politicians who can be easily sacked by stakeholders have an obvious incentive to ensure efficiency.

Unfortunately, Malaysians have no way of holding our leaders accountable. Sure, we can vote against them, but what's the point when there's no transparency? If we don't have any way of assessing the performance of our leaders, if we don't even know what they're up to, how can we judge them? We end up apathetic, and stay home instead — just as they want us to. (After all, it would be difficult to play the Sultan if they actually had to answer to voters.)

Perhaps worst of all, the people who have the most effect on our daily lives, the members of local councils, are utterly impervious to public opinion, since they are political appointees. Without direct elections, who gives a damn what the ratepayers think?

Issues like town planning and rubbish collection and potholes — these issues matter the most, and are among the worst-handled issues since they are dealt with by unelected appointees. Take away transparency and accountability, and where do you end up? Kleptocracy.

To say that there is democracy in Malaysia is to lie. We have a semblance of democracy, but democracy is not about casting your vote. It is not even about completely free elections, although these certainly are important. (Malaysian elections are unfair to some extent, but they are not fixed — far from it.)

Democracy is about holding your leaders accountable, and making it clear that the leaders are subordinate to the people — not vice-versa. However, this is apparently something that none of our leaders have ever learnt. In this country, the people are subordinate to the leaders.

After all, if the leaders have an unpleasant truth, what do they do? They cover it up. They say it's not safe for the people to see it.

They declare it a secret under the Official Secrets Act, even if it has nothing to do with what we might consider a secret. You want to know how bad the haze is? Too bad, that's classified. You want to know the contract our leaders signed with toll concessionaires? That's a state secret too.

Transparency and accountability are the main ingredients of a true and successful democracy. The vote is meaningless if we don't have the necessary prerequisites to exercise it.


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Infernal Ramblings is a Malaysian website focusing on current events and sociopolitical issues. Its articles run the gamut from economics to society to education.

Infernal Ramblings is run by John Lee. For more, see the About section. If you have any questions or comments, do drop him a line.


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