Building partnerships for good governance

Asslalmualaikum! May Peace be Upon You All.

I start with the word 'PEACE' because more than anything else it is the core of the spirit of community. It forms the only basis of meaningful solidarity. The solidarity of 'PEACE' is built, not just on the absence of war, it is more the positive, constructive building and nurturing of three dimensions:

  • Firstly- PEACE with ourselves;
  • Secondly- PEACE with Mother Earth; and
  • Thirdly- PEACE with all other living things and with the profound and infinite space we call the Universe.

Today, unfortunately, we live in a world when this 'PEACE' is severely shattered, decimated by the evil forces of violence, of waste, and of manipulation.

The word is, in fact, undergoing a triple crisis.

Firstly, there is a global economic crisis - manifesting itself very starkly in currency and stock exchange collapses - sweeping the globe and as devastating as hurricanes and typhoons.

Secondly, there is an environmental crisis fuelled by the misuse of the planet's life sustaining resources beyond what the ecosystem can sustain.

Thirdly, there is an equity crisis that manifests itself in increasing poverty, increasing gaps between the rich and the poor, even unjust development and double standards in the use of military power and sanctions.

The 'mother of all crisis;, if I had to chose one, is what can be described as 'Governance Failure'. It links the 3 crisis of economics, environment and equity. There is also a gross imbalance in the 3 principal actors - the State, Business and Civil Society. Globalisation and liberalisation has seen the emergence of economic and business as the dominant and critical actors. I particularly recommend to you David Korten's book, 'When Corporations Rule the World'', where he addresses the dominant new paradigm which seem to be 'Privatising Gains, Socialising Costs'. A cruel, more violent, more unjust world seems to be in the making.

In this context of the crisis, chaos, and rampant corporatism, what hope is there to address the core linking issue - The 'Governance Failure', and what, if any, is the role of all of us in 'good governance'?

About Good Governance

The UNDP has suggested 10 characteristics of 'Good Governance'1. They are:

  • Participation-All men and women should have a voice in decision-making, either directly or through legitimate intermediate institutions that represent their interests. Such broad participation is built on freedom of association and speech, as well as capacities to participate constructively.
  • Rule of Law-Legal frameworks should be fair and enforced impartially, particularly the laws on human rights.
  • Transparency-Transparency is built on the free flow of information. Processes, institutions and information are directly accessible to those concerned with them, and enough information is provided to understand and monitor them.
  • Responsiveness-Institutions and processes try to serve all stakeholders.
  • Consensus Orientation-Good governance mediates differing interests to reach a broad consensus on what is in the best interest of the group and, where possible, on policies and procedures.
  • Equity-All men and women have opportunities to improve or maintain their well-being.
  • Effectiveness & Efficiency-Processes and institutions produce results that meet needs while making the best use of resources.
  • Accountability-Decision-makers in government, the private sector and civil society organisations are accountable to the public, as well as to institutional stakeholders. This accountability differs depending on the organisation and whether the decision is internal or external to an organisation.
  • Strategic Vision-Leaders and the public have a broad and long-term perspective on good governance and human development, along with a sense of what is needed for such development. There is also an understanding of the historical, cultural and social complexities in which that perspective is grounded.
  • Respect & Tolerance-We have a complex, a multi cultural, multi ethic, multi religious domain and need a culture of proactive respect for diversity.

There are 2 things that David Korten has articulated which are useful to keep in mind:

1.Firstly, that there is the challenge of 'democratic pluralism', where 'Unaccountable State Power', and 'Unaccountable Corporate Power' needs to be addressed, (see Appendix I). State tyranny and market tyranny are a lethal combination.

2.Secondly, there is the challenge of the competition between two kinds of economic visions - The 'global economy', and 'the planetary economy', (see Appendix II). The struggle for the planetary economy is the emerging movement of the civil society and progressive forces.

What Can We Do?

As Malaysians, as citizens of a nation that stands out as the south's confident and constant champion on many issues, as trustees of a very special environment, we have a special responsibility for action.

I like to share 21 challenges that I believe are the pressure points on which action will need to be focused and from which we can build the strength of our nation for a better world.

The 21 Challenges

1.The challenge of the Holistic approach - Unfortunately so much of work on the development is fragmented and disintegrated. We need new planning and policy frameworks and leadership that embodies this. We have to break down bureaucratic and territorial mindsets.

2.The challenge of Partnership - We are not going to make transformational changes if we do not accept that all sectors - the prince, the merchant, the citizen, the mandarin, etc. - will have to work together in cooperative and consensual ways. It is not going to be easy when elephants, sang kancils and buayas have to meet.

3.The challenge of Sustainability - The long term aspects, the generational aspects are still too easily ignored. We need to understand the critical linkage between ecological, social and economic sustainability.

4.The challenge of Economics - We are all too much stuck into short term financial returns. Natural resource accounting and external cost accounting must become the norm and be part of training of the new generation.

5.The challenge of Growth - Growth can be good and can be bad. The United Nations Human Development Report 1996 describes five kinds of bad growth:

  • Jobless growth –the overall economy grows, but fails to expand job opportunities.
  • Ruthless growth - the rich get richer, and the poor get nothing.
  • Voiceless growth - the economy grows, but democracy/empowerment of the majority of the population fails to keep pace.
  • Rootless growth - cultural identity is submerged or deliberately outlawed by governments or destroyed by the global telecommunications revolution.
  • Futureless growth - the present generation squanders resources needed by future generations.

6.The challenge of the Long View - Everyone should read the book 'Our Stolen Future' co-authored by Theo Coburn, Diane Dumanowski and Peterson Myers. It provides a frightening scenario of 'a chemistry culture' gone wrong - babies born with stubs, alligators with shrunken genitals, declining human sperm counts, etc. - a pattern that tells us that so-called 'acceptable levels' may not really help us. We are now having to deal with 'endocrine disrupters' which are more potent at small doses than large ones.

7.The challenge of Integrity - Value system based on sound ethics are central to a fair treatment of the environment. Corrupt practices, money politics, 'check book' environmental or social impact assessment and the 'buying' of researchers and stakeholders can create a culture of dishonesty.

8.The challenge of Brown Issues - Too often green issues - forests and biodiversity - get colourful attention. Greater attention is needed for Brown issues - relating to garbage, our quality waste management and the impact of transportation and other infrastructure project. With rapid and merciless urbanisation, these issues are going to need attention the citizens will demand.

9.The challenge of Globalisation - Environmental issues transcend boundaries, whether the haze from neighbouring fires, or a nuclear plan in controversial terrain. We have to be proactive internationally. We cannot be secure just by taking care of our national environment. Ecological and business boundaries transcend political boundaries. We must become more assertive and demanding of international action.

10.The challenge of Global Equity - the issues of global bio piracy and extraction of resources from the South to the North and other inequities have to be addressed more assertively.

11.The challenge of Lifestyles - Nothing will make a greater difference than fundamental changes in our lifestyles in resource use. We are only still mostly cosmetic is our approach because there is a clear lack of leadership and commitment.

12.The challenge of Activism - We need to speak out without fear or favour and to organise groups and actions around issues. No social movement has made transformational change without courage and action: this must be done without resorting to violence. Gandhi said it best. ‘I object to violence’ he said, ‘because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary - the evil it does is permanent’.

13.The challenge of Localisation - We have to get more communities and local authorities to develop local Agenda 21. Until we have a movement from below, the environment will be seen as a bureaucratic abstraction or a fringe endeavour.

14.The challenge of Security - Militarism and Armaments are among the greatest destroyers of the environment and the resource base. From Land mines to chemical weapons to Nuclear arsenals. We have to develop security systems locally and globally that works towards arms reduction and constructive conflict resolution.

15.The challenge of Genetic Engineering - 'Dolly', the cloned sheep has stirred a debate against human cloning. The ethical and legal issues are enormous and we must speak out about the immorality of a science going out of control.

16.The challenge of Water - It has been authoritatively said that the wars of the next century may be 'water wars' - wars over water rights and water wrongs. The use of water and wetland s - the wombs that are the cradle of much life are being threatened. A new 'Water Ethic' is necessary.

17.The challenge of Garbage - The more the garbage the sicker the civilisation. Landfills and incinerators are not going to help us fully. They either postpone the problem or create another. We have to start eliminating garbage at the product design, process and use level. If not, garbage will ultimately consume us.

18.The challenge of Information - Information can be expensive. Too often we have to pay for it, but much of it is known and free. We have to learn to access it and spread to through the popular domain so ordinary people can access it. For example, a nation wide system of eco information centres and media links can help. We need an 'eco-line' as we have a health line but hopefully cheaper.

19.The challenge of Gender - Today is the International Women’s Day. We know the economic, physical and social impact on a degrading environment, social, political or ecological, is higher on women. We need to prevent 'poisoned wombs'. Women are also playing a cutting-edge role as environmental leaders in many countries. More women in Malaysia must be encouraged to come out and speak out. They can provide a refreshingly new discussion.

20.Challenge of Eco-Literacy - We need to build eco thinking in a functional way in our schools beginning with kindergartens. Eco literacy also is more than tree planting and used-paper collection. A greater diversity of 'do-able' action must be developed.

21.Lastly, the challenge of Leadership - Society is like fish - it rots from the head down. Leaders at every level will need to begin to make a commitment to help us move forward towards sustainable lifestyles. If our leadership is confusing, contradicting, or clearly careless, then we must not be afraid to speak out.


Malaysia has many good qualities and many things we can be proud of. We are a leader in many aspects, including some of our development actions. We need not be defensive about our practices, but at the same time we should not hide our inadequacies and failings. In a digital world, and sensor mapping, you cannot lie about a deteriorating, unjust, or unfair environment. It speaks for itself. Let us move forward constructively to take up the challenges.

I like to end by paying tribute:

  • A tribute to the many courageous people in Civil Society in this country. We have some of the world's outstanding people but we still do not have enough.
  • A tribute to the many people in government who have had the integrity, the competence and the courage to undertake their job, often in difficult political and under-resourced situations. The State of the Environment Report of the Government is an example of world quality work.
  • A tribute to the Malaysian media, to the many journalists who have spoken out strongly on environmental issues since Rio. The quality of environmental report has been outstanding, but of course it continues to be hazardous business.
  • A tribute to those in the business sector, not many, but a growing number, who are thinking and working sincerely towards a sustainable future. We need more of such green entrepreneurs.
  • Lastly, Malaysia is guided by Vision 2020. Today we are clearly at a development threshold. If we are not careful, we can lose control and go down paths from which there is no return or return at great expense. We are in the danger of having a blind spot in our Vision 2020 if we do not give genuine attention to a proactive holistic approach. Vision 2020 gave us nine challenges. Perhaps the time has come to add a tenth challenge – the challenge of Ecology and Sustainable Development, where the caring of the environment becomes an essential part of the caring society.

We need now a Malaysian Council for Sustainable Development to take us together forward in partnership in to the next century. We need Consultative Action Councils at the local level to help build from below. Perhaps a new vision - Vision 2121 can - take root in this country in a way that will mean real things for real people and make a difference to the environment, to development, to fostering peace of the kind that Malaysia is the envy of many.

For further information, please refer to ‘Governance for Sustainable Human Development’, UNDP Policy Document, UNDP New York, January 1997.

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