Thursday, 8 February 2007

Towards a Beneficent State

Martin Wolf’s tome on Why Globalization Works articulates persuasively the crucial need for states to be liberal economies for the sustenance of individual freedom and prosperity; social development and economic growth.

Historically, successful liberal economies require strong, yet beneficent governments. And such governments are characterised by three crucial features:

  • Regulatory competition -

Competitive pressure between political entities; serves as a beneficial disciplinary force, avoiding both monopolistic abuse and regressive complacency.

  • Constitutional representation and the rule of law -

The government is ultimately accountable to the governed; the exercise of decision-making power is subject to the rule of law and moderated by a constitution that emphasizes the protection of the rights and freedoms of individuals, and which places constraints on the leaders.

  • Moral reform -

The synergistic overlapping of merchants (private) and rulers (public) cultures, with both groups accepting and respecting their distinct roles and responsibilities. This requires a substantial level of public ethics and morality; values matter.

These are the pillars of a beneficent state, which in turn is the foundation of the progress of a nation and its people.

The Rights of the Ordinary Man

Personally, the message from a recent press release from the Malaysian Bar Council, authored by Chairman Yeo Yang Poh, resonates heavily on the current state of governance of the country. While the press release was specifically on the issue of transparency and OSA, one can’t help but to worry about the fate of our nation and the respect for the three pillars mentioned above. Is the leadership really that determined to march away from being a beneficent state and jeopardising the progress of our 50-year old nation?

Some paragraphs from the press release:

“If good and proper governance is meant for the benefit of the governed, then the rights of the ordinary man must be fully respected, not just by words, but also by deeds. Political power, then, must be a constructive tool constantly checked by, and subjected to, the highest degree of scrutiny; instead of an oppressive weapon for the protection of the powerful at the expense of the not.

If the above statement of principle is undisputed, as it should be indisputable, then what reasonable justification can there be for a toll concession agreement between the Government and a company to be classified as a secret document that must be hidden from the public? Did the Government not enter into such a contract for the benefit of the people, and for the public good? …

Worse still, it now appears that the possession by an ordinary man of the knowledge of the contents of such a document may be considered a crime …when he is supposed to be the beneficiary of the agreement, which was executed on his behalf by the Government as his trustee?…

These are some of the important and legitimate questions, which the Government has so far answered not with reasoning but with the threat of punishment…

The ordinary man… surely has the right to know. Just as a taxpayer has the right to know how tax monies are utilized…

…Security reasons here clearly refer to the security of the nation, and not to any desire to enable certain individuals to feel continually secure.

Asking the wrong questions, and barking up the wrong tree, will yield the wrong answers and bear the wrong fruit. That is a recipe for disaster in any society. Malaysia must not go down that road.”

Truly – Malaysia must not go down this road.



Hi&Lo said...

Benevolent state can only be realised if the public is well-informed and principle-centred.

Anonymous said...

Good point, though sometimes it's hard to arrive to definite conclusions