Last weekend I was invited by Professor Woo Wing Thye to speak at the New Economy Vision for Penang conference. I was requested to speak on establishing framework institutions for development.
My initial reaction was to question the need for comprehensive, accountable and transparent frameworks or simply more institutions. Apparently, we have many framework institutions but very few good frameworks. Implementation and enforcement of the development frameworks are often mired with unprofessionalism.
The recent Bukit Antarabangsa tragedy is a prime example of institutional failure. We should focus on establishing common sense and standards in a framework not building more institutions. In this case, the previous state government and the local authority have failed to work within a sound framework for development. Approvals for development were given without taking into consideration long term public safety and environmental protection.
Our current development framework lacked a preventive mechanism. Hence, it is very frustrating to hear calls for a stop of all hillside projects whenever a tragedy strikes. This is not a stand alone case.
Express bus accidents due to negligence by operators and drivers have been repeated despite several sting operations ran by the authorities. We should not take a lukewarm approach to solve a long standing problem.
Until and unless these institutions and policy makers take a more people oriented approach, we are going to witness endless of mismanagement and poor policy decisions.
I pointed out the negative influence of political agenda driving development frameworks. Once we allow politics into our socio-economic policies, these frameworks are no longer based on internal needs and external challenges. In the construction sector, lobbyists are very powerful and influential. Many of these companies have recruited past and present politicians to represent their interest.
Moving forward, the people need to raise their expectations of governance and role of politicians. We must be critical of poor governance and policy decision. To do so, we need to set our priority right. We should choose mutual benefit over zero-sum mentality. Nation over race. Leader over laggard.
These framework institutions for development must help to facilitate and not frustrate positive development.
Not only hillside development must be reviewed, many projects on reclaimed land must be reconsidered as well. In the long run, these projects pose a threat to the environment and human lives.