(I originally wrote a much longer LegCo post, but felt that I was making two different points, so I separated them. The other post is about LegCo becoming a platform for updating on progress, and I felt that I would prefer more meat to such updates.)
This year, the 8th Legislative Council (LegCo) session got a Twitter hashtag: #legco8. As noted on ProjekBrunei.com, the Bruneian Twitterverse was keen to take up on this. The comments in the #legco8 feed on Twitter this year show concerned citizens being skeptical, snarky, sometimes appreciative, but most likely frustrated with the reports on the LegCo proceedings.
I have a feeling that there may be a disconnect between what the Government expects LegCo to be, and what the public expects it to be.
Expectations of “Debate”
There is a perception that LegCo is about “debate”. From the official website of Jabatan Majlis-Majlis Mesyuarat, the functions of LegCo are given as:
- Merundingkan dan meluluskan undang-undang
- Mengenakan sekatan-sekatan kewangan
- Meneliti polisi-polisi Kerajaan dan lain-lain perkara berkaitan dengan perjalanan Majlis Mesyuarat Negara
(Source: Fungsi Majlis Mesyuarat Negara)
- Discuss, deliberate and approve laws
- Impose financial restrictions (or “review budget”?)
- Examine the government policies and other matters related to running the Legislative Council
The words “merundingkan” and “meniliti” give me the impression that issues are being actively debated in LegCo proceedings. I am not sure that this is the case, based on news reports (Pelita Brunei and The Brunei Times) and the transcripts themselves (Malay language only).
It does seem like some questions are being asked, e.g. “How effective are [pre-marriage courses]?“, “Does govt unit enforcing Client’s Charter have enough capacity to implement it effectively?”
But to what extent are possibilities being discussed? Are these questions even suitable at such a high level? But then, what questions are suitable? And can policies across the whole Government really be deliberated within the short span of the LegCo session?
Expectations of Relevance
Are these current and relevant issues? Has there been actual progress in issues from previous LegCo sessions? Is there enough coverage of the issues that matter to the public? What did people expect to be discussed in LegCo?
Permalinks: here and here
Expectations of “Normal” People’s Views
I want to know – and so do many others – who has been asking the questions that are raised in LegCo proceedings, and how many?
- Always wondered about the latter. Newspaper normally just say they met people a lot. Weird. Never met thesepeople myself. (@teah, 12:05 PM – 3 Mar 12)
- #legco8 is it from the ‘normal’ people’s view? (@berrymerlina, 10:43 AM – 5 Mar 12)
How, in fact, do the issues arrive to that stately building at the top of the hill? What are the channels the Government have used to hear out the concerns of the public?
- Would be cool if #legco8 had a Twitter account and questions can be asked and some would be brought to the floor. (@ElCommandero, 12:25 PM – 5 Mar 12)
And how about the representation in the Council?
- What is role of academia in #LegCo8? #Brunei Call for more representation (@N2K77, 1:58 PM – 6 Mar 12)
Hello, it’s me, your citizen
Again, we have to ask if LegCo was supposed to be a platform in which to raise the concern of the common citizen.
If yes, then how can the Government better address the relevance and representation of issues raised? How does a person voice out? Does he talk to his Ketua Kampung? If he is a civil servant, can he raise issues via his Head of Department?
If no, where am I supposed to go for the Government to listen to my concerns?
Personally, I don’t think that people will truly be satisfied until it is clear what the process is, for a citizen to get his issues noticed by the Government. Writing the local paper may have worked before, and now many Ministries have a Page on Facebook. How about interaction with people through Twitter? Can a citizen only interact with his Penghulu or Ketua Kampung? Are there other official, smaller dialogues that a citizen can attend and be assured that the Government is going to take him seriously?
Or, you know, maybe there’s no need to listen to the public.
Maybe the public don’t really have anything of note to raise, and they don’t really see the bigger picture. Maybe they’re not ready to see a more transparent Government. Or maybe the expectations people have of the Government is unrealistic.
How to make LegCo better for the public, kthnx
What is the value of the LegCo proceedings to the public?
A good portion of the public expects “debate”. I want to know if issues are being addressed with an open mind. I want to see how willing departments and Ministries are to help each other and to come to a solution (or several solutions!) together.
The public expects “relevance”. At such a high-profile level, we expect bigger issues to be raised. Surely, issues such as youth hanging out late at shopping malls and whether RTB channels should be on ASTRO can be resolved by a lower level of senior officials. Who controls the relevance of issues, and how can future LegCo sessions become more relevant to the public?
Lastly, the public wishes to participate. How can the Government engage the public and take their concerns seriously?
As a civil servant, I can anticipate the responses to the above questions:
- “Not enough people” – Having more meetings, discussions and dialogues, pulls away civil servants from their daily tasks and responsibilities.
- “Need more preparation and controls to be in place” – Moving towards more engagement with the public requires controls as well as staff to deal with such tasks, and the Government isn’t very good with long-term planning.
But there should be a balance between wallowing in those limitations, and striving to overcome them. The management of civil servants’ tasks and morale, and the lack of long-term planning, are a few of the many underlying issues in the Government. If they were acknowledged to be serious issues and properly tackled, imagine how much more effective the Government would be in serving the needs of Brunei citizens.
The Government should not continue to keep shutting out valuable feedback from the public. The public as shown to be interested in LegCo and there have been disappointment in the proceedings, showing that there may still be issues left unaddressed by the Government.
Not every piece of feedback may make a big impact, but if “sikit-sikit lama-lama jadi bukit”, then the Government had better be prepared to deal with the lot, when it comes.
(For a longer piece about my personal opinion of LegCo as a huge progress update, read my other post: LegCo 2012: Thanks for the Update. Less Twitter quotes, and, for some reason, a section on National Day.)