The value of transparency

High-octane drama: The ruling coalition suffered a defeat in last Saturday’s by-election results, drawing various conspiracy theories from supporters and haters.

There is great value associated with the honesty, exposure and even vulnerability that results from an attitude, person or product that is 100% transparent.

IT was a humiliating defeat for the ruling coalition and the by-election results are seen as the worst ever performance by a sitting government in Malaysia’s political history. But that wasn’t all. Just as Pakatan Harapan was struggling to come to terms with their defeat in Tanjong Piai, news of a clandestine meeting between PKR deputy president (Datuk Seri) Azmin Ali, Umno lawmakers and even some other PKR leaders were splashed across every media outlet in the country.

These meetings were nothing new as Umno heavyweight (Datuk Seri) Hishammuddin Hussein has been accused of trying to clinch backdoor deals to form an alternative government to the one mandated by the rakyat. But put together hurriedly and coming on the heels of the by-election heightened the suspicions and rumours that were going around on every social media platform. I read plenty of negative comments from netizens as well because they felt betrayed. As rightly put by Bersatu strategist Rais Husin, such meetings could further erode public confidence towards the Pakatan government.

Why did people get upset when they knew about this dinner? It was simply because they felt something serious was brewing. They felt Azmin and his camp had a hidden agenda. They suspected he was making self-serving decisions that went against the mandate of the people.

The one word sorely lacking from this flurry of hushed up meetings is “transparency”. So, why is the word so important in what we do and what we plan to do? As stated by Rais, “This (transparency) should kill unnecessary speculations that will do more harm than good.”

Sounds simple right? I’m afraid not everybody can see that though. I can assure you that.

Why is transparency a highly valued principle by almost everyone? We value transparent relationships with our friends and family; we want brands that are transparent about their products and we crave transparent politicians and politics. There is great value associated with the honesty, exposure and even vulnerability that results from an attitude, person or product that is 100% transparent.

That is why I lead a transparent life. I smoke and I don’t try to hide it like many do. I am loud and rude at times but only when circumstances call for it unlike some who hide their true emotions, choking on words just to appear politically correct. One characteristic that I hate most is hypocrisy. Being a hypocrite is when you are not transparent to others who rely on you and trust you. This is what happened with Azmin and what I call as “Azmin’s Clandestine Dinner”. The voters are infuriated that he is not transparent about what was discussed in the dinner meeting, which was attended by his buddy, Zuraida Kamaruddin, who is also a cabinet minister.

And their wrath holds water as Azmin and Zuraida are seen as PKR party president Anwar Ibrahim’ arch rivals for aligning themselves with prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who seems to be dragging his feet on a concrete power transition plan. Therefore, it’s that much more important that Azmin comes clean about the purpose of the meeting instead of insulting our intelligence by claiming that the opposition lawmakers wanted to discuss their funding allocations, in the dead of the night.

Azmin should be told, in no uncertain terms, that when he is transparent, he promotes trust. With trust the people would continue to throw their support behind him and Pakatan, instead of casting their protest votes at the polls. Imagine if Azmin had, before the meeting, publicly said that he is going to have a dinner meeting with so and so for so and so reasons. The people may have accepted the explanation and even understood it. The rakyat can see the traits of being sincere if it’s explained outwardly. But, these politicians would rather think we are dumb and can be easily hoodwinked. Their power has gone to the head, forgetting that it is we, the people, who put them there in the first place.

A simple explanation will increase loyalty by a hundred-fold towards our Pakatan leaders. What they don’t understand is that no one likes to be tricked. Transparency and honesty will lead to increased loyalty. Not blind loyalty because one is getting paid or just parroting what others are saying, but real loyalty towards the government that was elected by the people. Being transparent and giving explanations also allow for informed decisions to be made and the rakyat will feel a sense of ownership towards our government. Now, many are disillusioned with the government and have publicly expressed regret for voting them to power.

Transparency and accountability are essential components of a democratic government and governance, nationally and locally. Transparency is not as simple as being honest. In business, some define transparency as “a lack of hidden agendas and conditions. Sharing of all information required for collaboration, cooperation and collective decision-making.” To put it more simply, accurate and timely disclosure of all information to all beneficiaries.

It is also about trust. The more often you share, the more you will gain trust. If the only time there is transparency is when it is being used to solve an issue, then it’s not true transparency anymore and it will be glaringly obvious to everyone. There cannot be a possibility of an ulterior motive behind transparency.

Pakatan is losing both trust and credibility among the people as they are treating us as if we are idiots. If they want our vote, they should learn to build a strong and long-lasting partnership and that starts with full transparency. Whatever they are doing now is completely against the trust and faith that we have put in them when we voted for them on May 9,2018. At the rate they are going there would be zero trust on them come the next election.

To quote Abraham Lincoln, a true statesman, as a reminder to whoever that is avoiding being transparent and trying to be deceptive: “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” Activist lawyer Siti Kasim is the founder of the Malaysian Action for Justice and Unity Foundation (Maju). The views expressed here are entirely her own and do not reflect those of Sunday Star.

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