Policymaking in Malaysia: Where are we?

Policies define the goals of a country and act as a guide on how to achieve the objectives 

TMR FILE PIX

THERE are at least 26 policies currently referred to in Malaysia and can be accessed via MyGovernment website, a single gateway to all government online services. Some of these policies are newly developed and focused on specific needs, while others serve as a continuation to a previous chapter. 

How effective are our policies and how achievable are the targets set for the country? It is difficult to determine, as the achievement of policies launched is rarely available for the public to acquire and evaluate before a new approach is introduced. 

Policies define the goals of a country and act as a guide on how to achieve the objectives. Recently, some policies developed and pro-posed for the country triggered the rakyat’s attention due to its potentially biased impact. It also raised concern about the policy-making process implemented by the country. 

What Makes a Good and Fair Policy?

In an interview with the Razak School of Government (RSoG), several former Malaysian public service leaders shared their views on the importance of a well-designed policy which is key to the successful implementation and achievement of set targets. From the session, it was highlighted that the two main elements needed in developing a policy are the political context of a country and the civil service practices. 

Defining and designing a public policy in Malaysia is challenging especially due to its political context. When we fail to execute a policy well, it could mean that the policy was not well-designed to fit the country’s needs in the first place. 

Malaysia is a federation comprising of 13 states and three federal territories. The country has a solid constitutional monarchy system with nine states headed by their respective Sultan and own constitution. In developing a policy, we need to factor in various requirements related to our local environment, such as federal and state relations, race and ethnic relations, religion, etc.

There is a political divide that also needs to be taken into consideration. Policies that do not consider these factors and the political practicalities are always bound to be unaccepted or unimplementable. 

Meanwhile, the civil service practices of the country are equally unique. It has three tiers — federal, state and local with laws and regulations that might vary from one authority to another to meet each departments’ needs. On one hand, the federal government is responsible for matters like foreign relations, defence, internal security, civil and criminal laws, citizenship, finance, trade, shipping, transport and communications, medical and health, the welfare of Orang Asli, and tourism of the country. 

On the other hand, the state government looks after matters such as Islamic law, land, agriculture and forestry, local government, state public works and state holidays. Matters such as public welfare, scholarships, wildlife protection, drainage, sports, culture, housing and heritage are looked into together by both the federal and state governments. 

With so many inputs that need to be considered in developing a policy in Malaysia, policies are best to be developed via a committee system, with each representative contributing input related to their organisation’s purview. Meantime, the policy owner is responsible to ensure that all feedbacks and related elements are adequately addressed — politically, legally and socially. 

Significance of Futures Studies in Policymaking

Although input from all relevant stakeholders are highly essential in assuring all elements have been considered in policy development, the right tools are needed for a better prediction of the future to complement the policy. 

Recently, the Public Service Department (PSD) in collaboration with RSoG initiated a Futures Studies training programme involving over 200 emerging public service officers from various Ministries and agencies. Dr Sohail Inayatullah, a political scientist, futurist and the inaugural Unesco chair in Futures Studies facilitated the programme aimed at systematically looking into the future by taking into account the past, current situation, political context and government practices in the country. 

With the upcoming reclassification of Covid-19 as an endemic, the current challenging political situation, and the economic and social impact that we are facing, futures studies will help affirm predictions of the future better through its tools which include: 

(1) Mapping process with consideration on the weight of the past, pushing aspects of the present and pulling factors of the future 

(2) Anticipating the emerging issues and their potential implications 

(3) Predicting the timing 

(4) Deepening the situations and working to make the vision real 

(5) Creating the alternatives and scenarios, and 

(6) Developing the strategies to transform the vision into reality 

A good policy development framework would create higher chances for the policies to achieve their intended goals with no one left behind from its implementation. PSD’s continuous effort in improving the public service should be applauded as it leads to better knowledge and baseline in developing and executing high-quality policies for the country. 

Last but not least, studies by the University of Pennsylvania, US, concluded that 25% of people need to take a stand before any large- scale social change (movement or initiative) happens or makes an impact. Hence, no matter how good a policy is, it is important for everyone to be reminded that the outcomes can only be felt when everyone actively adopts and implements it. 

Whether the aim is to achieve what has been set in the Shared Prosperity Vision 2030 or any other policies, the right mindset, positiveness and a united front are still greatly needed before everyone can reap the benefits. 

So, let us do our part to achieve the set milestones together, as it will definitely help us to bounce back after struggling in the pandemic. 

  • Dr Nur Aainaa Syafini Mohd Radzi is head of research of RSoG. 
  • The views expressed are of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the stand of the newspaper’s owners and editorial board.