Devolve powers to the 13 states
Should power be concentrated in the hands of an all-powerful planner, or should it be ceded to the very people affected by its conclusions?
A recurring theme in world politics, we have seen this debate take place in the United Kingdom (UK) – with both the Scottish and Brexit referendums. In both cases, decentralisation of power took place.
In Scotland, the power to tax, spend and legislate as an independent country was largely given back to the Scots – though they decided to maintain traditional and governmental ties with the UK.
In the case of Brexit, Great Britain finally cut loose her political ties to the European Union, or as the president of the EU, Jean Claude-Juncker, would prefer, the European Superstate.
Years after giving Malaysia and many other Commonwealth nations our independence, Britain has finally regained her sovereignty.
No longer will she be subject to the vast bureaucracy of the EU. No longer will unrepresentative regulations and policies made in Brussels become official law in the UK. No longer will powers be ceded to an out-of-touch body that is the EU.
Decentralisation occurred in the United Kingdom for the same reason it takes place anywhere else — and it is that people are different.
The Englishman in Canterbury has very different views and opinions when compared to the average Slovakian.
In the same way, the devout Muslim in Kelantan has very little in common with the vaping hipster in Kuala Lumpur. That is, of course, excluding the fact that we share the same nation, language, culture, and King — factors that make a nation-state.
However, the values, moral conduct and policy prescriptions of people in different states are likely to be quite different.
Due to the overarching power of the Executive Branch, however, decisions affecting every single Malaysian are usually made in one swift unanimous blow, never considering the different concerns and worldviews of people who have very little in common.
Lest we forget, the full name of our nation is Persekutuan Malaysia, or the Federation of Malaysia.
Our founding fathers established Malaysia using the principle of federalism — that this nation was meant to be a voluntary union of 13 different, self-governing, independent states.
Putrajaya’s power thus is derived directly from the fact that these states formed this union. In other words, the states make the Federal Government — and not the other way around.
Indeed, our original Constitution edicts a bicameral national legislature so as to ensure that both the concerns of common Malaysians (in the Dewan Rakyat) as well as our 13 distinct states (in the Dewan Negara) were taken into consideration.
The Dewan Negara, or Senate in English, was supposed to function the same way that the Senate in the United States Congress functions, i.e., to protect the rights and concerns of the respective states in our country.
This was before the unfortunate reforms that allowed the Executive to elect a majority of Senators. The reforms bore the unintended consequence of having a placid Dewan Negara that essentially acts as a rubber stamp for the government of the day.
The words of former Lord President of the Supreme Court, Mohamed Suffian, ring true today: “contrary to the spirit of the original Constitution which established the Dewan Negara specially as a body to protect in the federal Parliament, state interests against federal encroachments”.
And since then, federal encroachments have all but ravaged federalism in Malaysia, year after year, decade after decade.
Instead of acting as federations usually do, our country now prefers a power structure resembling a unitary centralised state – where Putrajaya makes decisions on behalf of very different societies, states, communities and individuals.
Instead of giving people the tools to resolve their own problems through their own means, the Federal Government has taken the role of a nanny that assumes she knows best.
The fact is that they don’t — no one in the world has that knowledge.
Friedrich Hayek’s description of the “curious task of economics”, which is “to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design”, is something that I recommend both the Executive and Legislative branches of the Federal Government take into consideration before embarking on their huge projects and policy plans.
Different communities have different views, and different states will naturally want different sorts of policies.
With decentralisation, these different states will be allowed to compete with one another in the marketplace of policymaking, ensuring efficiency and innovation in governing their various governments.
My philosophical view is that the state governments, and all governments, should allow laissez-faire to prevail, as it is the best antidote to poverty besides being the fundamental pillar of prosperity.
I would even go one step further — not only do I think that many of the powers the Federal Government currently wields should be devolved to the 13 states, I think that local councils, civil society, and individuals can make many of these decisions themselves.
Too often is the reaction to a problem “The government should do something about this”, instead of “What can I do about this?”
In other words, we are ourselves best equipped at solving our own problems. It is only when we democratically decide that we want less government in our lives will the Executive ever begin to think about ceding its powers.
The Federal Government owes you nothing except your liberty, justice and national security.
Syed Emir Ashman is an intern with the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (Ideas).
Source: FMT News. Date: August 29, 2016