LAST Wednesday, Feb 8, was the 114th birthday of Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Alhaj. That was also the seventh anniversary of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS), the organisation that I work at today.
As always, we organised an event to mark the occasion. It was a successful dinner attended by more than 200 people from the private sector, Government, academia and civil society.
The most significant, however, was the attendance of Tengku Ahmad Nerang and Tengku Khadijah, the two oldest children of Tunku Abdul Rahman. Both have attended our anniversary event every year since 2010, supporting us right from the start.
IDEAS started with a team of just two paid employees including myself. As of Dec 31 last year, we had 15 full-time research and advocacy staff. Additionally, we also have two more hands-on initiatives. We have 10 staff working at the IDEAS Autism Centre in Rawang, which is a centre for autistic children from the bottom 40% families. And then there is the IDEAS Academy in Pudu, where we have five staff providing Cambridge IGCSE education to 125 refugees. So from two staff in 2010, we have grown to a team of 30 full time employees. Quite a big jump.
Throughout 2016, our work can be summed up in three streams.
First is what we do to advance a competitive economy. Under this stream, we looked into how to improve economic freedom in the country. It is in this context that we examined our policies around economic liberalisation, governance of government-linked companies, access to better healthcare and the creation of a knowledge economy.
Even though this is the largest part of our work, much of it is not known to the public. Economic and trade issues are not very “sexy” topics so we don’t get as much coverage compared to when we speak about politics.
The second stream is about restoring trust in institutions. We want to see more openness and transparency in our country’s governance. Last year we promoted the Open Government Partnership and we also looked into strengthening the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).
But while studying the MACC, we realised that reforming the MACC is pointless if the office of the Attorney-General is not trusted by the public. We studied how to strengthen that institution too, and we concluded that this is best achieved if we separate the roles of the Attorney-General from that of Public Prosecutor. We will continue to advocate for this reform.
The third stream is the one that I enjoy the most. That is to remind Malaysians of what the Tunku stood for and what our vision should be as a nation.
The values and ideals of the Tunku permeate all aspects of our work as we endeavour to translate his vision of liberty and justice, that he declared in our Proclamation of Independence, into public policy.
But under this stream we conducted activities that more directly help people to remember the Tunku. Last year, under this stream, we once again held our annual Liberalism Conference, in which we bring those who agree and disagree with liberal ideas to discuss their ideas.
We also held our National Unity Youth Fellowship Programme. Under the Youth Fellowship, we selected 10 youth leaders from across the country and took them to meet with the various communities in different parts of Malaysia.
This Youth Fellowship was particularly fulfilling because you can see the impact on the youth leaders pretty quickly. In fact, one of the IDEAS Youth Fellows, Calvin Woo, was awarded the coveted Queen’s Young Leader Award from Queen Elizabeth II and Woo attributed his success to his experience with us. That was a proud moment indeed.
The question many people ask is, in the quest to revive the Tunku’s legacy, how are we funded. I am most grateful to our donors and supporters who gave us a total of RM2.31mil last year to do this work. We are completely dependent on the generosity of donors who give us their hard-earned money without any strings attached. We wouldn’t be able to do anything without their support.
I do hope that more people will help us to revive the Tunku’s vision of liberty and justice for Malaysia. As we get closer to the 14th General Election, there is a risk that opportunistic politicians will shamelessly divide the country in their quest to win, by campaigning on a xenophobic ethnic agenda. We need to counter their divisive campaign, and there is no better way than to remind the country about the Tunku’s unifying liberal vision.
Wan Saiful Wan Jan is chief executive of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (www.ideas.org.my). The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.