By Lim Guan Eng
We are now living in extraordinary times. The effects of the global economic crisis are already obvious. Asean economies will not be spared and are expected to face weakening exports and a slowdown in foreign direct investment (FDI). As a result, economic management has become an increasingly challenging effort. In such times, some say we require extraordinary ideas and extraordinary efforts. However, we should not forget a return to the basic principle of not just doing the right thing but also doing it right.
The need for clean public institutions
Good and clean governance will result in positive socioeconomic development. Conversely, ineffective public institutions and weak governance will facilitate corruption, misguided allocation of resources, arbitrary justice and excessive government intervention. This will in turn reduce economic competitiveness, deter private sector investment and prejudice the distribution of wealth.
Freedom is empowerment
A truly developed society is one where its people are empowered with the freedom to fulfil their aspirations and capabilities.
The great economist for the poor and Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen questions the fundamental assumption of development economics; according to Sen, poverty is not merely material but should also be seen as the “deprivation of basic capabilities”, which he defines as human freedoms.
Development is a process of expanding the instrumental freedoms of individuals, which he encapsulates in five elemental forms:
- Political freedoms,
- Economic facilities,
- Social opportunities,
- Transparency guarantees,
- Protective security.
We must understand that Sen’s hypothesis is centred on the idea that freedom is empowerment. By providing the instruments of freedom to an individual, we enhance his ability to fulfil his own potential and capabilities.
Institutionalising freedom through clean governance
If we make development our objective and we recognise that freedom is both the means and the ends to development, then it follows that we must build public institutions that embrace truth, accountability and transparency. Freedom can only be guaranteed and protected by clean, efficient, accountable and transparent public institutions.
Public institutions must conform to a universal framework of good governance as described by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). This framework contains five principles:
- Legitimacy and Voice,
These principles must act as our guide if we wish to achieve development without compromising on freedom and democracy.
CAT governance: the Penang experience
Penang’s commitment towards clean governance is exemplified by CAT – competency, accountability and transparency – administration.
Based on CAT principles, we became the first state in Malaysia to introduce open competitive tenders for all public procurements and supplies. To the outside world, this is normal practice. However, it was ground-shattering in our country.
By implementing open competitive tenders, we effectively eliminated opportunities for corruption. Everything is done online through our e-Procurement system. Where previously the road to a government contract required political connections, it now only requires an internet connection. In addition, we disclose fully the contents of government contracts signed with the private sector.
We have also passed the Freedom of Information Enactment which allows disclosure of government contracts for public scrutiny. What’s more, we have also taken steps to engage the public on the state government’s proposed projects and plans.
We have also become the first state in Malaysia to have the entire state executive council (exco), including the Chief Minister, make a full public declaration of assets. And more recently, we have sought to empower more decentralised decision-making by passing the Local Government Elections Enactment as part of our commitment towards participatory governance.
Our efforts are bearing fruit. In the last four years, we have turned the state’s finances around with surplus budgets for every single year since we took over. We have successfully reduced state government debt by 95%, from RM630mil when we took over to just RM30mil today.
For all our efforts, we have not only garnered accolades from the Auditor-General’s annual reports, but we have also become the only state government in Malaysia to be praised by Transparency International.
However, praise alone does not mean anything if it is not translated into real achievements. For the first time in Penang’s history, we managed to become the Number One investment location of the country in 2010. Over the last two years, Penang attracted nearly 30% of the FDI attracted into Malaysia. For a state with only six per cent of the country’s population, we are certainly punching way above our weight.
George Town was the most liveable city in Malaysia in 2011. And to prove that it was no fluke, we followed up by repeating this feat this year. Last but not least, CAT governance is not only about clean governance but also about providing democratic space. For example, we established the first Speaker’s Corner in Malaysia. We allow people to speak their minds, even when it is often used to speak out against us.
More importantly, we also believe that it is incumbent upon the state to provide economic facilities and social opportunities for the people. As such, we embarked on a string of people-centric social welfare programmes that have seen Penang become the first state in Malaysia to eradicate hardcore poverty and put us on the way to wiping out poverty completely by 2015.
In addition, we also go to great lengths to ensure that the downtrodden are taken care of by giving cash aid to senior citizens, single mothers, the disabled, schoolchildren and newborn babies, subsidising dialysis treatments and even providing free bus services in the inner city and across the Penang Bridge. This is all part of our commitment to ensure that our people enjoy freedom from want.
The Penang Declaration of Clean Governance: Laying future foundations
The Penang Declaration symbolises our commitment to the principles of clean, accountable and transparent governance, and the universal values of truth, freedom and democracy. It also recognises the need for clean governance and the rule of law for the attainment of socioeconomic development and progress, as well as the necessity of building public institutions.
The document will also call for an important element of the anti-corruption process, which is the need for whistleblower protection. In addition, our coalition will also bear no tolerance for corruption and abuse of power by insisting that powers of prosecution in corruption cases must be independentlywielded.
Finally, the Penang Declaration is a pledge to embrace cultural and social transformation in governance and integrity to engender inclusive, equitable and participatory social, political, economic and sustainable development for the people of Asean.
Adapted from the opening speech by Penang Chief Minister, Lim Guan Eng at the inaugural Conference of the Asean Coalition for Clean Governance organised by the Penang Institute on June 25, 2012.