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Public Policies and Laws at Work: A Malaysian Perspective

Introduction: Public Policy

Public Policy has been generally defined as a system of courses of action, regulatory measures, laws, guiding principles relating to any issue of public concern promulgated by any Government entity/department or any of its rightful representatives, for the beneficial interest of the society at large.1

It can be characterized as a dynamic, complex, and interactive system through which public problems are identified and countered by creating new public policy or by reforming existing public policy2.

The constitutional laws and regulations of a nation form the basis of public policies.

The decision-making and analysis of government and the level of engagement process of the government with the various stakeholders involved (such as the public, interested groups etc.) is also crucial in the development and successful implementation of public policies.

In Malaysia, public policies are formulated vis-a-vis the political and social structure of the nation and the future demand and needs of the nation as a whole while taking into consideration of the diversified ethnicity of the nation and the close proximity of the social and political systems of the nation.

In order to understand policy formulation in Malaysia, it is essential to understand the country’s constitutional framework.

 

Constitutional Framework: Malaysia

Malaysia embraces a federal constitution based on parliamentary democracy. The federal laws are enacted by the Federal Assembly (i.e. the Parliament of Malaysia) applicable throughout the country.

There are also state laws governing local governments and Islamic laws enacted by the State Legislative Assembly.

At Federal level, the legislative power is vested in a bicameral Parliament headed by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and comprises the Dewan Negara (House of Senate) and Dewan Rakyat (House of Representatives).

The distribution of law-making authority between the Federal and State Governments is enumerated in the Ninth Schedule of the Federal Constitution broadly set out in a Federal List, State List and Concurrent List.

Federalism forms the basis for the government administration and machinery to correlate function between the state and the federal government.

Such system is effective to coordinate public policy formulation and implementation processes through the assistance of the government machinery.

 

Formulation of Public Policy-Malaysia

Formation of public policy is a multifaceted process encompassing concerns of various interested parties in the process of arriving at a decision.

In Malaysia, public policy is developed mainly through the following channels:

  • Political (i.e. policy is introduced through Cabinet orders or ruling political parties).
  • Administrative (i.e. policy is discussed at several high-level of government meetings at the ministerial level.)
  • Integration (i.e. combination of the above processes or special committees are set up to carry out in-depth research on a subject for its presentation before the Cabinet).

Process wise, policy making involves several stages:-

  • identification of an issue of public concern;
  • planning and formulation of suitable policy;
  • legitimization of the policy;
  • implementation of the policy; and
  • evaluation of the policy.

 

Key Players

In the process of planning and formulating a public policy, the roles played by certain key players are also essential.

Generally, the key players involved in policy making comprise the political and public administrators, the public and the related interest groups.

The first set of key players (political and public administrators) are composed of ministers, government authorities and officials and are the primary players responsible for the success of policy implementation, given the constitution rights enjoyed by the Federal, State and Local Governments to implement public policy.

The second set of key players (public and interest groups) does not exercise any constitutional authority over the formulation of a public policy.

These set of people rather exert their influence over a public policy through their ideas, feedbacks and inputs, dialogue and engagement sessions with government officials for the government to consider their viewpoints.

Often, these set of players would also hold campaigns and movements with strong public support to further exert influence over the decision making process of policy makers.

 

Role of Lawyers

A major aspect of public policy is Law. The creation and implementation of law is influenced by the current market practice and certain policies set up by the government or policy makers. Hence:-

  • advocacy is used as an attempt to influence public policy through education, lobbying, or political pressure.
  • advocacy groups attempt to educate the general public as well as Public Policy makers about the nature of problems, what legislation is needed to address problems.
  • advocacy is used to create a fine alignment of the legislative policies with a corporate’s business/strategy, specifically at a time when innovative businesses are emerging around the globe.
  • advocacy is used to give clients a voice in the federal, state, and local administrative agencies when they seek legislative or policy change.

Lawyers, as such can get involved at various levels of policy making process as a medium:

  • to negotiate with the government or policy makers for the public and interested groups.
  • to educate the public to influence the policy making process by the Government.
  • to suggest create new regulatory frameworks that encourages innovation and alternatives.
  • to amplify the impact of corporate bodies and government entities in policy making.
  • to identify/analyze/suggest the Government and policy makers on major points of policies to be implemented.
  • to put forth analytical planning and risk management, communications strategy, to administrative and judicial interventions.
  • to participate and join hands in the reforms involving economical and societal advancement of the society.

 

Conclusion

Over the years, the Malaysian government has formulated and implemented various public policies which include amongst others, the Privatization Policy, National Welfare Policy, Malaysian Industrial Policy, National Agricultural Policy, National Education Policy etc, in its attempt to bring about instrumental socio-economic development in the country.

The Malaysian public service has been the chief policy maker through the Economic Planning Unit (EPU) within the Prime Minister’s Department.

One of the key aspects of government effectiveness is the public policy process. Good public policy is the platform that good governance is built upon on a shared vision, with input from all potential stakeholders, equitable, and transparent.

 

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  1. Kilpatrick, Dean, “Definitions of Public Policy and Law” accessible at https://mainwebv.musc.edu/vawprevention/policy/definition.shtml accessed on 6 January 2018.
  2. John, Peter, “Analysing Public Policy” (1998).

 

Written by:

Dato’ Azmi Mohd Ali (Senior Partner) azmi@azmilaw.com

Syed Zomael Hussain (Associate Director) zomael@azmilaw.com