FOR almost six decades Malaysia has been involved in formulating development plans and their implementation for the delivery of a better quality of life for Malaysians. No one can deny that. But to deliver those benefits of equality the government also created subsidiary laws so that the provisions in our Federal Constitution were restricted to achieve specific goals including national unity, harmony, equity and development targets.
Tan Sri Rais Yatim, in his foreword to the third revised edition of Tun Suffian’s respected book An Introduction to the Constitution of Malaysia by Tunku Sofia Jewa, Salleh Buang and Yaacob Hussain Merican states that yet “there is also cause for concern: our laws, as in the case in many fields of human enterprise, continue to reveal their shortcomings, unable to keep pace with rising popular expectations in this age of the borderless world”.
These concerns raised a dozen years ago are even more germane and relevant today. With the defeat of the Umno-led government in May last year there are now perhaps unrealistic expectations that we will at last aspire to achieve equality, fraternity and liberty in our own way.
With the benefit of hindsight we know 1957 did not pretend to aspire to those highest ideals as Merdeka was premised on two non-negotiable promises to the departing colonial power. The then Malayan government agreed to join the British in their war against Communism and to safeguard British investments in the country. The second commitment meant keeping the workers in the estates on virtually colonial era low wage terms so that the profits and dividends payable to the British were either unchanged or enhanced. This low wage milieu had continued for decades to keep our rural and estate community and unskilled urban workers on wages that are barely enough for their sustenance.
The government has to endeavour to improve the lot of unskilled workers and manual labour force so that they can enjoy a decent living. We should also work on reducing the dependence on foreign workers. This would correct somewhat a failing of the past.
The second thing that needs to be done, some 15 months into the Pakatan government’s tenure, is to work to abolish those colonial era and oppressive laws and go back to the rudiments of our original Constitution. Tommy Thomas highlights this need by stating (on page 57) in his Abuse of Power published in 2016 that 1987 “was an opportune time to compare and contrast the Original Constitution with the Constitution in its present form”. That was 32 years ago. He is currently in a good position to advise the government on this matter.
The main narrative in the country is a rather confused one. Our journalists, media persons and judges have to maintain high personal integrity and promote the cause of national unity, mutual respect, social justice, fair play and basic fundamental freedoms enshrined in our Constitution.
We have to come out of dark ages when a kleptocratic governing elite robbed our people of their rightful dues by privatising profits to a few and getting the public to bear the brunt of the cost of their luxury lifestyles and excesses.
Datuk M Santhananaban