The Malaysian Youth Delegation’s fifth training series was organised with a little twist. We all got to dress up in our colourful festive clothings, while being engaged in an intense session on Malaysian governance for climate change mitigation plans. The workshop provided a brief overview and highlighted significant challenges faced by the previous Malaysian government. Not only that, the session allowed us to scrutinise the new government’s manifesto pertinent to climate change and environmental issues.
Our trainer, Adrian Yeo is the former policy advisor to Selangor State Government on environmental issues and the founder of #PowerShiftMsia. Certainly, this area is his forte. Yeo introduced the session with United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The main criticism of the MDGs was the fact that it was very ambitious with 8 goals, yet being limited in terms of outreach – many stakeholders were working in silos pursuing their causes. Hence, the SDGs were established as an approach to diversify and expand the outreach. These goals were simply a guideline to lead a nation’s plan for holistic growth, which tended to be ignored unless a government decides to implement these recommendations through policies and law enactment.
Moving forward, Adrian succinctly described Malaysia’s development plans which were: New Economic Policy (1971-1990) or Dasar Ekonomi Baru, Vision 2020 (1991-2020) or Wawasan 2020, and the most auspicious policy drafted by the previous government being Transformasi Nasional 2050 (TN50) or National Transformation 2050 (2020-2050).
Although the national plans considered the environmental implications and integrated climate change aspects, the first two plans did not prioritise climate change aspects at all. This was due to the major concern of developing the nation – the notion of sacrificing our natural resources was acceptable in exchange for better healthcare, economy, and quality of life in general. He remarked, “climate change was not sexy at that time” while referring the first two development plans but it was “sexier” for the past 10 years because it yielded funding and that most people looked at climate change as a singular or separate issue of development.
He further added that even scientists could not conclude wholly on the cause of climate change and he affirmed that people who translated and interpreted policies had to do better to communicate the cause of climate change to the public.
Besides creating public awareness, policy makers have to identify the focal point within a governance to create a lasting impact. The focal point for creating significant impacts lies in the plans by the government. Specific to Malaysia’s context, the main driving plan is often long term such as the New Economic Policy plan and the Vision 2020 plan. It is further specified into a five-years operational plan, which is then translated into the annual budget plan at the federal level. Then, every state will be responsible to table their own annual agenda with a budget and then towards the local council within each state. The operational plans and the budgeting have to be synchronised and aligned to achieve the larger vision as stated in the long term national plan.
Identifying the right channel and target audience ultimately creates a prominent impact. Hence, it is important for us as civil societies to identify the level of engagement and put proper pressure in creating and effective engagement through policies implementation. Basically, the commitments drawn in the Paris Agreement have to be acknowledged and placed in the right documents for the relevant stakeholders to be accountable in curbing climate change.
Also in this session, the relationship between the federal and state governments were also discussed. Shaqib, a member of the youth parliament was invited to provide a concise overview regarding the separation and overlapping of powers between the state and federal governments of Malaysia. Adding to this, he also reiterated the formation of Malaysian government since the pre-independence days for us to have a clearer understanding on how the country’s governance ran based on the Westminster system. Shaqib illustrated an acute issue that prevailed whereby, civil society members often face the problem to clarify the roles of the member of parliament (MP), member of legislative assembly (ML), as well as the representative of our local council- co. Putting it simply, the members of parliament conduct matters on the federal level such as acknowledging the international agreements, national policies, law amendments and gazetting. Consecutively, the members of the legislative assembly remain responsible to translate the federal law to the states’ law, and lastly, the local councillor implements laws and policies. This implied that if you represent a grassroots group, it might be more beneficial to engage with the councillor, whereas if you are a policy maker, lobbying towards the members of legislative assembly or the members of parliament would be more effective.
Furthermore, to contextualise the discussion regarding the state list, federal list as well as concurrent list, one of the participant raised a question regarding the aboriginals in Malaysia. Matters pertaining to the aboriginals are under the federal list, however the forest and land issues came under the state list. The particular aboriginal group may lose their land to developmental projects since lands are not gazetted by the federal government. Hence, it is justifiable for a state to use their land according to their developmental plans. Additionally, matters on the concurrent list required deliberation from both the federal government and state government.
However, the entity that has more money are more favourable to implement their plans and policies. There is nothing enlightening about this fact, considering that money talks. Merely, it serves as a reminder for fellow activists to get to the right focal point for making a legitimate and long-lasting impact.
Despite the prevailing circumstances, #MalaysiaBaru manifestoes by the current government “Harapan” Coalition or the Pakatan Harapan seem hopeful as they had integrated climate change aspects and sustainable development vision. However, there were several loopholes in their promises especially those promises apposite to time.
Among their promises related to the environment were: Enforce the lodging quota strictly so that our forests are conserved, increase renewable energy through renewable resources from the current 2 percent to 20 percent by 2020, and nd set up a “National Coordination Council for Climate Adaptation and Mitigation” that will coordinate the actions of the federal, state, and local government to address the challenges of climate change.
These promises have its fault. Nonetheless, it is an aspiration for the new government paving their way to address climate change and environmental issues. It is also important to note that there is a new cabinet portfolio that is the Ministry of Energy, Technology, Science, Climate Change and Environment. Having a ministry to address climate change is great, yet all its actions could be in vain if the relevant stakeholders do not work together.
As citizens of Malaysia, it is vital for us to keep our leaders accountable to the words spewed during campaigns and see if it is translated into developmental plans. We have to keep up with the timeline to ensure that we are progressing towards the right direction. Nevertheless, the discussion was compelling as it established a shared sentiment that there is no one direct solution for climate change issues and we should work together.
Not only that, members of civil societies need to be proactive, instead of barking up the wrong tree so that the core problems can be identified and solutions could be proposed to the relevant stakeholders. After all, it is easier to solve a problem when we are aware of the relationships that exist in the current matrix.
Written by Eira
Edited by Varun