The Big Get Together at the SUK, NGOs’ meet their MB

3pm on the 22nd floor of the Menteri Besar’s Suite in the Bangunan Sultan Abdul Aziz, in staid Shah Alam. The room was luminous with yellow aching from the wood paneling, designed someone surely raised in a french monastery without windows.

The setting was ominous to say the least.

Lined up all over the State Conference room on a quaint wednesday afternoon were the who’s who of Malaysian NGOS and they showed up all strapped up for the Menteri Besar. It was an odd collection of different interests; workers’ initiative, female emancipation advocates, Rumah panjang residents looking for real homes, orang asli groups worrying their real home is being usurped and their cultures displaced and the list goes on.

All these good people with their noble interest in tow, waiting to have say.

However a few things fell l flat, and these odd bits need to be sorted out as we move forward. For the sake of the Menteri Besar, the NGOs and the people of the great State of Selangor.

The NGOs have formed a Coalition for Good Governance (CGG), replicating similar initiatives in other countries. In principle this carries the weight of good in it. However it must ask itself, is it an organisation or a coalition. There were those who wanted to use the 2 hour wait time to iron out discrepancies in the statement they prepared for the Menteri Besar. A document too long I believe for a coalition which has not set its own raison detre.

Firstly, the manner and approach of the CGG was appropriate, however envisioning themselves as arbitrators between different interests was always a bridge too far.

There should be two clear roles for the CGG in Selangor. One to press the Selangor government for better government, and two to enable NGOs to work better with the Selangor Government. And both those roles are interlocked, which is excellent.

The CGG wants the Selangor government to be an ever improving organisation. The first thing is to know what grade the Selangor government gets now. Make sure it is an A or E and then they have to ask how they can do better what they are already doing now; and what else they need to be doing which they are not already doing. And when determining what else they can do, the Federal-State relationships and limitations must be factored. Bakers make bread, bakers don’t decide how Mid-west co-operatives plan wheat seed purchases. They are related, but also separate.

It was poor form to ask the Menteri Besar to end the ISA. All Pakatan Rakyat(PR) parties want to blast ISA back to another solar system. PR runs Selangor, but not the Federal Government. The progressive measure would be to ask all the MPS in Selangor, PR and BN to vote against the ISA. The 5 BN MPs would feel that they must hear the voice of Selangor people who have voted against the ISA, if the election of ISA detainee Manoharan Malayalam is anything to go by. The battle in Selangor in repealing the ISA is to get those 5 MPs to listen to their Selangor voters and not Putrajaya. That is Selangor’s rightful obligation in beating down the anachronistic ISA.

The Education & Health request are tough. The State wants to play a positive role in state health and education, but its purview is largely limited. If anything, the NGOs and the State Government have to work together in making the Federal Government respond the needs of the state.

You have to ask what the Selangor Government can react to, and you have to focus on things, not show that ‘my list is longer than yours’. Ask fewer things, and get them. That is how you build your strength.

Second, there is a danger in requiring all the members of the CGG, the respective NGOs to have a singularity in their views. A very extensive and comprehensive document like the present statement to the Menteri Besar would implicitly require some NGOs to compromise their own commitments. There are several issues that Balairakyat may take exception to, and would prefer a more limited document asking for some of the core issues of governance to be observed by the Selangor Government.

The issues we have exception to are mostly semantics and on overly specific commitments, however I suspect some of the other organisations have strong views in the contrary or worse, disinterested in them.

The CGG should be the lubricant in which its independents rely on to better facilitation with the respective excos, departments, divisions and local councils. Expecting the MB to personally to look into all the issues is impractical.

The CGG should be an enabler for the NGOs, not an added bureaucracy. The MBs office should be used to direct some of the severe and unresolvable issues. The more of the cut and dry matters should be facilitated by the CGG when any NGO requests for support. The biggest challenge dealing with government is to find the exact person, division, office or section to talk to. Most NGOs waste their time being sent around by officials disinterested in helping. The CGG can be that body to reduce that wastage by having that information and know how readily available to its members.

Part two of this posting, is the no-show of the Menteri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim for the meeting.

The meeting was scheduled for 3pm, and to end at 4.30pm. The NGOs started arriving way before that. the MB did not arrive until after 5pm.

I thank the MB for giving his two hours until 7pm, however the question goes begging, if he knew of the meeting, and decided to have the belated EXCO meeting at the same time, should he have cancelled the meeting with the NGOs or get someone to explain the situation and apologise?

There were extenuating reasons for his delay, therefore the situation was unique.

The question is, why was no one from the MB’s office willing to take charge of the situation in his absence.

One of the most primordial problems in this country is the centralisation of power. So few are in charge. This Selangor government should take a track separate to this commonality.

The time of the CGG and its members the respective NGOs is non-negotiable. Respect given, respect taken. Someone would have assumed charge of the meeting in the stead of the MB and assure everyone that the all matters deliberated there would receive the equal consideration of the Selangor Government.

CGG wants better government, and better government must mean the Selangor government is headed by the MB, but the MB is not the Selangor government. In his absence, government must carry on.

In a Shakespearian way, an unexpected learning has been revealed; The CGG must be focussed in pressing the whole of the Selangor government to be better, The Selangor government has to deal with the CGG and every other Selangor citizen as a government, which has various parts and whose sum is led by the MB.

Perhaps yesterday was a lesson in government for both the CGG and the Selangor Government. Early lessons are always good for future winners.

Why were we waiting so long?

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