Friday, July 30, 2010

Support Letters :- A disempowering tool used to keep people down and promotes dependency

Empowering of the people so that they may be able to stand on their own and fight for their own rights and issues was the philosophy that was adopted by many community organizers, labour and political activist in the past. The 'outsiders' and/or 'leaders' emphasized in process, and their role was merely to facilitate the bringing of  people together so that they can sit down understand, discuss, analyze their reality, develop solutions/visions for change and there after act to bring about changes. Success is achieved the day the community of people are empowered and are able to act on their own.

See, Judge and Act was one of the many names that this process was given, and interestingly we find many of the present leaders of trade unions, civil society and even some political parties are products of this empowering process. People share their perception/facts about the reality. They strive to try to find out more information to understand their reality - and this would mean going through resource materials, like articles and books and even maybe listening to some resource persons. They then proceed to analyze the facts, interested always in determining also who really benefits from the current reality. They judge based on their own sense of good and bad, right and wrong and/or just or unjust and basis of this judgment is their own value system which could have come from their religion, their family/community and their life experience. 

And then, they move towards trying to discover how things could be better, more just, more equitable and more pro-people. It would be good if people are aware of alternative ways of doing things, but alas the UMNO led-BN government has ensured that people are just not aware of any alternative ways of doing things by media control, and the suppression of freedom of expression. Criticism of government proposals, and suggestion of alternative better ways are doing things are almost totally absent from the mainstream media. 

Then, there is a need for the people to act to bring about changes and/or improvements on their own....but alas, today UMNO-led BN government has created a culture so much so that people believe that they need to get the support of the BN MPs, ADUNs and/or the BN parties before they can get anything done, and this support usually comes in the form of a support the relevant politician asking that the matter be looked into and action taken. Note that this practice just creates dependency, when really people can just go straight to the relevant government departments and/or Local Authority with their complaints, applications, etc. What is communicated to the people is also that in the absence of local BN support, their attempts to go directly to claim rights will be futile, or will take a very long time. 

Sadly, this culture of dependency and 'people have no power by themselves to get things done' has also been adopted by most of the Opposition politicians, and even some of civil society groups....and this is very sad. This is happening at all levels, even when it comes to building plan approvals, government tender applications, claims to Labour Department for worker rights violations, claims for compensation/benefits under the SOCSO, Welfare Department, etc... The message is simple, 'If you do not have a letter of support and/or support from the politicians then nothing will get done'.

Recently, Chuah Boon Seong (BN ASUN of Mentakab) again reiterated that people with problems should come to him or to the BN party service centres to get the letters of support and/or support to ensure that their applications/complaints get the necessary reponse from the relevant government departments. He said he will write letters to the relevant department, etc. 

The Malaysian government promotes this culture of dependency, keeping people dis-empowered, by its failure to disclose information about rights/benefits/assistance available, and what are the steps that should be done to claim these rights, and which department one should go to claim these rights. There really is a lack of education about rights and access to justice in Malaysia - it should be a priority of governments to educate people so that they can go direct to the relevant department/office - and this could very easily be done by TV ads, etc.
This culture of keeping people dis-empowered, promoting that idea that you can never achieve/.do anything without the explicit support of your politician and/or political party is also being propagated by Opposition. 

Support letters is one of these tools used, and surely it is wrong when decision to process and approve an application is governed on whether one has support letters from the ADUN,MP, Politicians...and who. A support letter from PM/Menteri Besar may produce better results than a support letter from a Minister/State Exco...and so on and so forth.

If there is a failure on the part of any department/office, then people should write complaints about inaction or slow action or... to the relevant heads of Department, Minister, State Exco, Prime Minister and/or Menteri Besar demanding speedy action.

Complaints can also be addressed to the Public Complaints Bureau, and also SUHAKAM (Malaysia's Human Rights Commission)...and also the ADUNs/MPs/Political Party. Complaints could also be raised to the media. 

If the relevant departments/offices of government is showing bias with regard to application - i.e. process first those that have 'letters of support' or approving only those that have "letters of support" - then this is so very wrong and discriminatory. I am certain that the relevant Acts/State Enactments/Regulations do not even have provision for the need of such "letters of support"...

The government's of the day should discontinue this practice, and instructions must be given that such "letters of support" should either be removed and destroyed, or all applications should be treated equally irrespective of whether there is a letter of support or not, and the fact that there is a letter of support should not factor at at all in the decisions/actions of the relevant government department/office/authority.

Klang Municipal Councillor Tee Boon Hock will take temporary leave until the state finishes its investigation over an allegation that he had abused the state's letterhead in getting contracts.

Selangor Menteri Besar Abdul Khalid Ibrahim, in a statement today, said he had directed the state's Audit Department to conduct a probe into the issue.

azlan"Its director Ungku Arfah Ungku Tahir will be given a month to conduct an investigation to scrutinise the letters and also interview the parties and individuals related to the matter.

"Until then, I have suggested that Tee take leave from his post until a decision had been made, and he has agreed."

The menteri besar emphasised that the Selangor government will not punish anyone until he has been proven guilty.

"The state adopts a responsible and transparent administration, and will not compromise on any abuse of power," Khalid said.

Tee is involved in a possible abuse of Selangor exco member Ronnie Liu's letterhead and seal to obtain contracts worth a total of RM1 million for 20 companies, including one to a family member. - Malaysiakini, 29/7/2010, Letterhead abuse: Tee asked to take leave

The question must also be whether Ronnie Liu, other State Exco members, the Menteri Besar, MPs/ADUNs, Local Councillors are issuing these kind of letters of support. Is Anwar issuing letters of support? If Lim Kit Siang/Anwar/Hadi  issued a letter of support that this project should be given this Local Council project, would he/she not get it as the Local Councillors are all appointed by the 3 parties and fear of no re-appointment would ensure that the request is complied with...

Openess, transparency, accountability would ensure that these 'letters of support" is not the reason why some get the projects...and others do not. But alas, still Local Council minutes are kept 'secret'....

I say, that until there is a full disclosure...openness and transparency, we may have to assume that the bad practices and culture of the UMNO led-BN is still continuing today in the new Pakatan Rakyat governments.

Until there is free and fair Local Council Elections, then Local Councilors may not be independent, and will more likely than not follow the request in these "letters of support"  especially when it comes from those who can influence/determine who gets re-appointed and who does not.

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