Sunday, January 1, 2017

My 2016 by Yeo Bee Yin

As we welcome 2017 and have many plans and goals, I look back to the journey I have taken in 2016 and write down the milestones arrived. The destination is still far away and many times I ask myself "is it worth it?", it is by looking back the journey to see the lives changed, little differences made and remembering the many good people that run along with me and cheer me up in the journey that keep me going. 

Milestone 1: Tasik Biru 

I was the campaign director for DUN Tasik Biru but no matter how much the team and I tried and how much risk I took upon myself, we weren't able to win the rural seat to make this the first Sarawak rural seat won by the DAP. While there's no excuse to lose, we achieved progress we never made in previous elections. This is a constituency comprises of 68% Dayak, 6% Malay Melanau and only 26% Chinese, which was the traditional support base for the DAP. Yet we were able to win 45% of the votes and majority in 4 out of 20 Dayak villages! This was totally unimaginable for the DAP even until 2013.

When the result that we had lost was announced, many of us in the campaign team could not hold back our tears. We hugged each other and cried. All our hard works in the past few months especially that of the candidate Mordi Bimol for the past 5 years could not overcome money politics, cash handouts, election promises as well as fear and intimidation.

But the DAP cannot give up on Tasik Biru and our rural outreach because of this temporary setback. I remember the lady who wore the UBAH t-shirt with pride carrying her baby and walked with torch light in the dark kampong path leading up to our ceramah venue; I remember many of the villagers despite having financial difficulties stood with us against the big money from Barisan Nasional; I remember having discussions with the single mothers who canvassed for us but were fearful that their involvement in the campaign would deprive their children of the opportunities to study and scholarships; I remember the village lady who told me determinately that her vote and dignity cannot be bought with money; I remember the faces of all of the campaign workers that were full of pride when the candidate Mordi said in his defeat speech that “we have fought the battle with dignity and principle”; I remember every face that looked to Mordi with the hope of change and for a better future. I remember all of them.

We must remember that the history is long and we must become the worst enemy for the corrupt government, an enemy that will never give up until justice prevail on our land. Ubah Sarawak! Ubah Malaysia! 

Milestone 2: Youth Development
My office has been working on youth development since 2013. For 2016, we have organized 4 Youth Parliament and State Assembly visits (Jan, April and Oct), a Creative Activism Bootcamp (Sept), a personal finance workshop (Dec), 4 youth political forums/events (May, Aug, Oct, Nov) and at least 6 voter registration drives, which in total benefit more than 1,500 Malaysian youths. We have also empowered our youth community organizers to organize a Chess Competition in October. Personally, I took 6 interns this year so to allow them to have first hand experience in the political office. And I’ve also tried my best to accept the invitations to speak to youths from different walks of life and interview requests from university and college students. 

2017 is going to be even more exciting for us in youth development. We have a few new plans in the pipeline and will continue to do what we’ve been doing. There are things we’ve done right and things we need to improve on in our 2016 projects. But I would just like to take this opportunity to extend sincere thanks to my team and those who are involved in helping us in our journey to engage, equip and empower the youths in Malaysia in 2016! My office is small but I am definitely are blessed with a group of dedicated staffs and volunteers!

Why youth development is important for nation building? 

According to the National Statistics Department, there are about 7 million youths aged between 21-35 in Malaysia. This is around 25% of the population and 50% of the workforce, allowing the country’s economy to enjoy the demographic dividend as a result of expanding and young workforce. Politically, youths are not only a gigantic vote bank, they are also the best activists. Obama won his 2008 “Change” campaign starting as an underdog because young people came out in droves to campaign and vote for him. That’s the power of youths. We can make history, nothing less. Nevertheless, there is no free lunch in the world, elected representatives like us must engage with Malaysian youths to expose, equip and empower them, so that we can together rise up to the challenge before us.

Milestone 3: Women Empowerment 
In Malaysia, there is very little representation of women in the parliament and state legislatures. Except for Selangor, which has women representation of 28% in the state legislature, all other state legislatures and parliament have only around 10% women legislators. Hence women issues have not been effectively raised, which then lead to very little reforms in women-related public policies. Every 35 minutes, a girl/lady is raped in a corner in Malaysia and every 3.5 days, 1 baby is dumped and half of them did not survive. Such statistics although serious have not been widely talked about. 

Although more than 60% of tertiary students are women, only around of 50% working age women are in the workforce. (Malaysia’s women labour force participation rate is one of the lowest in Southeast Asia region). This is not only about the value of the society but also about working environment that is inconducive to pregnant women, breastfeeding and working mothers. The World Bank estimated a 2.9% additional GDP growth if Malaysia can push our female workforce participation rate to 70%. Working mothers are not only breadwinners and household managers (most of the time) for the families; they are also one of the drivers for country's economy. We need better women policies to protect our girls and to allow our women fulfill their full potential both in families and workplaces. 

In 2016, I continued my work on anti-rape and affordable childcare advocacy. In 2015, we launched “Rogol adalah Rogol” rape awareness social media campaign to spread the awareness about rape in Malaysia. The YouTube video we produced garnered more than 200,000 views to date. This year, I continued to allocate some of the state government allocation for my office to build a website and launches the first anti-rape website in Malaysia: to help rape victims and families to get information in a website as well as activists in term of policy advocacy. 

On affordable childcare advocacy, I continued to raise the issue in the media, state assembly and whenever possible – forums, dialogues and even party congress. Accessible, good quality and affordable childcare is one of the deciding factors for women when they consider whether to leave the workforce. Not only that, the World Bank reported that every dollar spent on preschool education earns between 6 to 17 dollars of public benefit, in the form of a healthier and more productive workforce with fewer wrongdoers. Good early childhood care and education (ECCE) is tantamount to national development. Therefore, I continue to raise the issue although sometimes I am being teased as to why I like to talk about about childcare since I have no children (and not sure if I’ll ever have, haha!). 

In Selangor, 25% of the main state government buildings are already equipped with public childcare. I’ll continue to raise the issue to ensure all of them have one. Selangor must lead by example in promoting workplace childcare. In addition, the Selangor government in 2017 budget has also increased RM2 million to our current childcare and pre-school subsidies for low-income families under TUNAS and Si-Kembar. 

These achievements however, is far less than what we really need for reform. In order to bring significant difference to ECCE field in Malaysia, we need reform in the federal level as it is under its jurisdiction and only federal budget can afford. I’ve raised the issue on Permata a few months ago, calling for greater transparency and most importantly, Women Ministry to spearhead all ECCE related programs including Permata instead of different initiatives being handled by different ministries with Permata absurdly put under the Prime Minister Department. I believe that the first step to long lasting ECCE reform is coordinated and strategic actions, not programs all over the place. I am still following-up on Permata and ECCE development in federal level and will continue to raise this issue. 

Beside continuing my work on anti-rape and affordable childcare advocacy, this year I’ve also started to advocate for breastfeeding facilities in Selangor too. And in my constituency, we are going to launch a public toilet that comes with nursing and breastfeeding room in SS2 commercial center very soon! Breastfeeding mothers and their difficulties need better attention from lawmakers and government agencies. We are still at infancy steps. 

Looking forward to 2017, as I’ve gained more experience in raising women issues in the last 3 years, I am planning a wider scope of work for my office next year in this aspect. We are also going to run projects related parenting workshop, women in leadership etc etc. In short, it’s going to be much more exciting! 

Milestone 4: Education

Our struggle and conviction towards social justice should not just be in words and rhetoric but real actions. Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change our country. I entered into politics with a dream that every child in Malaysia, regardless of their skin colors, religions, family incomes or where they are from even the deepest jungles in Sabah or Sarawak or the low-cost flats in the cities, will have opportunity for good education. When a country give access to good education to every child, the country will prosper because talents will be most discovered and used. 

Of course, real reform in education system will not be possible without federal power but that doesn’t mean we can’t do anything about it. Here’s a project that my office started since early 2014 to give free tuition to low-income families in Damansara Bistari low cost flat in my constituency. It’s been 3 years since! (we made this video a year ago). 

I am always reminded of what my aunt told me when I was young “be faithful in little, much will be entrusted to you.” Yes, I want a reform in education system in Malaysia, although I can’t do that now, I can in my capacity as an ADUN do this to make small changes in my constituency and with the experiences gained, advocate better policies for reform in the future.

Milestone 5: Constituency Works
It’s been a happening year in Damansara Utama constituency. I’ve been trying my best to attend all the invitations to events/ forums/dialogues made by local associations to stay in touch with my constituents (would only skip when I wasn’t not in town or I had prior appointment.) I think this year I’ve attended at least 300 of them in the constituency, big and small, haha! In addition, our office also organized dialogues with residence, walkabouts as well as program mesra rakyat such as open houses or carnival. For low income families with food security problem, we have food bank programs that give RM50 assistance every month for them to purchase daily necessity. I also took time to do house visits on special cases. Although dengue cases was down y-o-y this year, Zika was a threat mid of this year, so my office ran constituency wide Anti-dengue and Zika campaign to raise awareness. 

My office also actively engages with the police and fire departments as they protect our people. This year, I’ve allocated some of my state government allocation for Sea Park Balai Polis and Damansara Utama Balai Bomba to do some small upgrade as their premises were very run down due to insufficient building maintenance fund from the federal government. 

On local issues related to the council MBPJ, our councillors (Daniel Lee, Jamaliah, Billy Wong, Ang Ming Ern and Sia Siew Chin) have been following-up on the issues. Here is the summary of some major issues. 

On some development projects: 
1.New public toilet in SS2 commercial center has been completed and will be launched soon.
2.Pintu Gerbang of Kg Chempaka: construction started and hopefully will be completed before Chinese New Year 2017.
3.New community center including multi-level parking, multi-purpose hall and badminton courts at Atria area: construction has started and it will be completed end of 2017. (This is one of the requirements imposed on OSK by MBPJ when they developed the area.)
4.RM3 million new parking space at Taman Bahagia LRT station.
5.Pilot project of waste composting just started at the kebuk sampah next to SS2 Medan Selera.
6.The council is now in preparation for the design of upgrade of SS2 Wet Market to construct roof and build better amenities. The open air SS2 marekt will finally have roof over the top (hopefully by end of 2017)! After the upgrade, the council will continue the SS2 redevelopment work in 2018 such as upgrade of Wai Sek Gai, Ibume and the park in the middle.
7.In 2017, all landed residential properties in Petaling Jaya will receive a new rubbish bins from MBPJ – the distribution will be area by area.
8.Sg Kayu Ara continues to pose threats of flooding for area like Kg Chempaka. River has been deepened with no major flood caused by river overflow reported this year. However, the river is still a tricky problem to solve especially now that the river deepening work has caused other issues such as collapse of river bank at Taman Mayang Jaya and there’s limited fund from JPS for major overhaul of the entire stretch of the river. My office is following-up the issue with relevant agencies and we’ve written all necessary letters. 

On the issue of maintenance, 
1.MBPJ spent about RM4 million to resurface at least 60 roads in the constituency in 2016. There are still some short-comings in the way the council handles road maintenance and our councillors have been raising those issue up in the relevant committees in the council. In the mean time, my office will need to intervene from time to time. For example, we proactively compiled a list of request for road resurfacing from feedback from residents and our self-initiated audit to submit to council for consideration for resurfacing projects.
2.More than RM1 million was spent on upgrading 8 parks in the constituency. With that, 25 parks have been upgraded in DU since 2013. 

There are still many things yet to be done and many things we can do better. Let's welcome 2017 with hope and anticipation that greater thing is yet to come. Here's to a purposeful and fruitful 2017!