The Government action, through the Registrar of Companies, against Tenaganita, Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall and INSAN, purportedly on very legalistic grounds of compliance with the Companies Act under which these three NGOs had been registered, raises the larger and fundamental question as to the government’s commitment to the development of a strong civil society.
The government actions against the NGOs are in fact a major disappointment to Malaysians who had hoped that the country had reached greater maturity to allow for an a freer play of dissent in the country, without undermining the very fabric of Malaysian society.
The actions are really counter-productive in the long run for it will raise the question not only among Malaysians, but also among intended investors, whether Malaysia is really ready to become an important hub in the Information Age of the 21st century.
The Government should issue a Charter on NGOs to make very clear that it is committed to the development of a strong civil society by encouraging the growth of strong and independent NGOs, that NGOs could be registered either under the Companies Act or the Societies Act and that the Government would provide a hospitable climate for their growth and operations.
Malaysia should in fact aim to be an example to the world as a country which is seriously committed to the development of a strong civil society where there are strong, vibrant and independent NGOs.