Promoting Social Democratic Thinking, Alternatives and Practices


International Integrity Conference 2010, Penang, Malaysia

Welcoming address by Chief Minister of Penang, Lim Guan Eng at International Integrity Conference 2010 in Eastin Hotel, Penang, Malaysia on Saturday, 7th August 2010:

Good governance has been described as how public institutions conduct public affairs and manage public resources in order to guarantee the realization of human rights. Without good governance, we can forget about realizing our goal of transforming Penang into an international city that is a location of choice for investors, a destination of choice for tourists and a habitat of choice for those who desire sustainable living.

Good governance requires several core ingredients: the rule of law, strengthening of public sector management, transparency and accountability, and appropriate strategies to combat corruption.

The United Nations Economic and Social Commission in Asia Pacific states that good governance has 8 major characteristics. It is participatory consensus oriented, accountable, transparent, responsive, effective and efficient, equitable and inclusive and follows the rule of law. It assures that corruption is minimized, the views of minorities are taken into account and that the voices of the most vulnerable in society are heard in decision-making. It is also responsive to the present and future needs of society.

Let me go through some of the characteristics of good governance:

a) Participation

Participation needs to be informed and organized. This means freedom of association and expression on the one hand and an organized civil society on the other hand.

b) Rule of law

Good governance requires fair legal frameworks that are enforced impartially. It also requires full protection of human rights, particularly those of minorities. Impartial enforcement of laws requires an independent judiciary and an impartial and incorruptible police force.

c) Transparency

Transparency means that decisions taken and their enforcement are done in a manner that follows rules and regulations. It also means that information is freely available and directly accessible to those who will be affected by such decisions and their enforcement. It also means that enough information is provided and that it is provided in easily understandable forms and media.

d) Responsiveness

Good governance requires that institutions and processes try to serve all stakeholders within a reasonable timeframe.

e) Consensus oriented

Good governance requires mediation of the different interests in society to reach a broad consensus in society on what is in the best interest of the whole community and how this can be achieved.

f) Equity and inclusiveness

A society’s well being depends on ensuring that all its members feel that they have a stake in it and do not feel excluded from the mainstream of society.

g) Effectiveness and efficiency

Effectiveness means that processes and institutions produce results that meet the needs of society while making the best use of resources at their disposal. Efficiency covers the sustainable use of natural resources and the protection of the environment.

h) Accountability

Accountability to those who will be affected by its decisions or actions. Accountability cannot be enforced without transparency and the rule of law.

To conform with this concept of good governance, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. But we must possess the political will.

The Penang state government has introduced CAT governance based on competency, accountability and transparency or amar maaruf nahi mungkar. As a CAT government, we adopt the principle that it does not matter whether a cat is black or white as long as it catches mice.

By adopting a system of open tender, relentlessly battling corrupt practices and promoting integrity Penang managed to turn a projected budget deficit of RM 35 million in 2008 to a record surplus of RM 88 million. This was repeated in 2009 with a surplus of RM77 million against a projected deficit of RM 40 million. These surpluses allowed us to pay an anti-corruption dividend of cash payouts to senior citizens annually and funeral expenses which were not available previously.

Penangs achievements were praised by Transparency International, the first time for any government in Malaysia. I strongly believed that governance is a set of political goods that leaders and the government needs to deliver to the people that can bring about happiness and prosperity.

There must be popular support which can only be attained by convincing the public of the benefits of good governance. Good governance may be attained through the establishment of a civilization whose point of support is truth,piety in God and which considers life as mutual assistance, not direct confrontation.

As I said there is no need to reinvent the wheel – what we need is political will. The public can only be convinced that the government means business when there is leadership by example with strong and effective leadership centered on integrity and prudent spending.

A paragon of leadership by example and good governance is undeniably the Caliph Umar bin Abdul Aziz. He had introduced a number of reforms; administrative, fiscal and educational. So inspiring was his honesty and integrity and so far-reaching his reforms during his short two years reign that they resonate down the centuries with few parallels in the history of mankind.

Imagine how honest the person, until he turn off the light of a lamp if he was conducting private matters. We can not be wrong if we follow his legacy in promoting good governance in our administration.

Most profound was Umar Abdul Aziz’s advice to his subordinates on why he refused to approve money spent on building walls of bricks because it is a waste. Instead he said they should be building walls of justice where no opposing force can break.

For this reason, I differ strongly with the comment by MCA President Dr Chua Soi Lek portraying Muslim countries negatively as non-progressive, corrupt, poor and backward. Dr Chua should educate himself in history that the civilization of Islam was filled not just with global empires but also with glory in art, learning, introducing numbers, algebra and astronomy.

Muslim countries are suffering from the same problems suffered by India and China previously. Only when India and China were free, independent and not dominated by imperialistic powers, were they able to realize their potential and take their place in the world stage as an economic power.

I believe that Muslim nations can also recapture their past glories were they allowed to be similarly unshackled like China and India. And if there is good governance just as Islam was a center of learning, justice and excellence under the rule of Umar Abdul Aziz. The choice is whether we follow the Umar Abdul Aziz’s governing model of integrity and good governance or the alternative model of corruption and dictatorship.

As there are many prominent speakers more well-versed on this topic, we should not delay any longer the sharing of their point of views as well as experiences towards promoting good governance.