Empowering people through law

The 14th General Election will soon be upon us. In less than a year, we will experience what is probably going to be the most important polls in our country's history. There is now so much focus on it today that we can barely see beyond it.

However, we must realise that there is actually life after the elections. Whatever happens and whichever coalition emerges as the victor, our efforts to make Malaysia better must proceed. We cannot just stop at the elections. Beyond it, Malaysia must focus on empowering the people through the law.

The laws and legal framework that we have do not empower the people. In fact, the laws that we have inhibit and restrict the development of our people. We need to work towards changing this.

I have four suggestions to empower the people though the law.

The first is to review all laws which restrict the freedoms of the people. There are many laws that restrict fundamental liberties, such as the Sedition Act, the University and University Colleges Act and the Official Secrets Act. These laws must be amended – or abolished altogether – and replaced with laws that facilitate the exercise of freedoms.

My second proposition is a reform of the lawmaking process. Currently, bills in Parliament are passed in a matter of days. Lawmakers would get the bill on a Monday, debate it on Thursday and passed on the same day.

The lawmaker would not even have time to go through it before the debate, which are also limited in time. At the end of the day, we would have a flawed piece of legislation which does not reflect the aspirations of the people.

Bills must be allowed a reasonable gestation period in Parliament. The bill should go through a committee stage where it is scrutinised by a group of lawmakers on its finer details. The committee should also be able to seek feedback and views from stakeholders. The consultative process is important so that the people are not taken by surprise and there is a certain degree of ownership in the law.

My third proposition is to bring back local council elections. A lot of times, the issues that the people face are local council issues.

There are also development orders and decisions which affect the community as a whole. And because local councillors and mayors are appointed, there is little accountability to the people.

We must make it so that no major policy decisions relating to the particular council can be made without having a town hall session first to obtain feedback from the people.

My last proposition is to allow greater access to justice. This will entail allowing more people to bring a claim or to defend themselves in court.

We have the National Legal Aid Foundation (NLAF), where legal aid is provided to those who are charged in Court. More funds should be allocated so that the NLAF can actually provide legal aid to more people.

I am also proposing a human rights litigation fund, with an allocation provided by the Government. This has been done in places like the Netherlands, where the state makes some funds available, which people can apply for in order to bring human rights cases to court.

Yes, it will mean that the state is giving funds to people to sue them – but if we truly want to empower the people, this is the way forward.

With greater access to justice, more people would have access to the legal process in order to assert or defend their rights.

So these are my four suggestions on how we can empower the people through the law. By empowering the people in this manner, we can at least take a step closer to becoming a modern, vibrant democracy and a better Malaysia.

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