07 December 2013

Members have been reassured that they can be as frank as they want.

MUCH to my surprise, I was appointed to the National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC) last week. I would be lying if I said I didn’t have plenty of trepidation when I was asked just a few days before the launch to sit on this council. Did it mean I have to tone down this column for instance?
But I felt a bit reassured when I saw some of the names of others appointed to the council, specifically the younger people there. To be sure there are not enough women there (only six) and it could do with more really young people, those in their 20s and 30s. There is only one Opposition MP on it and we hope that the still vacant spots in the line-up can be filled with more.
Of course, the cynicism started almost as soon as the news got out. Many of us on the NUCC had already predicted that. Several of us mentioned the “trust deficit” among the public of anything the government does and gave some reasons for why this was so.
This is probably going to be our biggest obstacle, establishing our credibility to do what we are tasked to do, which is to work out ways in which we can restore unity to our increasingly polarised country.
To do that, we have to be up front and clear about what is causing the polarisation. Several of us on the council are keen to do that, and indeed have said that if we cannot be very frank, then there is no point in doing this.
We were assured that we could be as frank as we want. We were also clear that we want to keep the process an open one. Hence, followers of those of us who have Twitter could follow what we were talking about in real time.
Indeed, one of our first suggestions was that the NUCC should be on social media, with a Facebook page and Twitter account. This way we can hear people’s views directly, besides the face-to-face meetings I believe are in the offing.
I can only speak for myself but I think for this council to work, it needs to do so in very different ways from any other similar bodies. It needs to innovate and be proactive.
Personally I would have liked if there had not been a president and deputy president appointed already, with all due respect to the current ones.
It would have been great if we either elected among ourselves who would chair or chose the less obvious people to chair.
That would immediately set it apart and break the normal protocol of doing things. Perhaps it’s my NGO background where we always try to operate more democratically but I think if we did things differently, we might make some progress on that trust deficit.
We haven’t had a real formal meeting yet but I’m hoping another NGO tradition can be transplanted to this. And that is, from the outset to get members to introduce themselves and state how they see the workings of this council and what they hope it will achieve.
We are a diverse group so it cannot be assumed that we all know each other. And more importantly, we need to know that we are all on the same page and want to achieve the same goal, unity.
To me, the first thing we should do is establish that this council will operate in a democratic way and because we are all going to roll up our sleeves to work, then we should all be treated equally. All protocol should be set aside.
The expectations on us are high, perhaps too high. Unity is not just a goal but a process, so all we can do in our two years is to set Malaysians back on the road to the togetherness we used to have.
It is ludicrous to think we would have all the answers in six months as some have suggested. If we can do one or two things that work, then I think we will build the confidence that it can be done.
So I think at this early stage, there is still some hope. I’m grateful that many people have kindly given the thumbs up to my appointment.
But it’s an awesome responsibility. Still I think at least we will give it a go and if we fail, it won’t be for want of trying. I always believe that you never really lose if you are sincere and willing to work hard.
2014 is round the corner and after a difficult rancorous year, perhaps we need to put aside our misgivings and cynicism and be optimistic. Positivity begets positivity, God willing.
> The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.