POLICY FORMULATION PROCESS – Based on the Malaysian Experience




Policy formulation varies from countries to countries. It will depend on the type of political structure and philosophy of one state. The world trend also may have influenced on the overall practice of a nation. Sometimes, such trend may result acceptable or radical outcome. Since comparative measures between countries may take complicated analysis through thorough studies, this article will brief simplistically on the general processes of policy formulation in Malaysia. More important, it will also highlight how the system of the Government can influence the internal planning and implementation of multi-disciplined policies. At the end, we may be able to notify various essential factors that can be assumed as indicators for policy formulation of Malaysian government.


Background - Definition


By definition, there are many diversifications of interpretation in term of the meaning and understanding of this terminology. Etymologically, in the period of Middle English, policy was known as policie, which refers to the government in general. In the period of Middle French, it was referred to the government or the regulation. The root of this word comes from Latin, known as politia.
It was initially popular in the 15thcentury.


By glancing the scope of this paper, we therefore can discrete its general definition by combining and subtracting few elements which later compose a statement as such:

Policy is a definite course or method of action selected from various alternatives and in light of given conditions to guide and determine present and future decisions. More often it is related to a high-level overall plan embracing the general goals and acceptable procedures especially of a governmental body.


Several academicians would prefer to define policy as public policy only when it relates to the government function. Some academicians and political scientists categorize policy into two components known as action policy and inaction policy. Inaction policy refers to policy that may not result for any concrete action to be taken. It may be a mere statement. Public Policy also may be interpreted as regulatory, redistributive, distributive and security.


Policy Models


Public Policy varies from one another and some based on several models such as:


(a)               institutional model - policy may result from an institutional output;

(b)               process model – policy as a political activity;

(c)               group model – policy as group equilibrium which means that the interaction among groups will result indicative demands (formal and informal);

(d)               elite model – policy as elite preference rather than the mass opinion. The normal people are apathetic and ill-informed about public policy;

(e)               rational model – policy as efficient goal achievement. It maximizes “net value achievement” after taking into consideration all aspects of the denominators such as the values of the society, available alternatives, consequences, measures, and priorities of the most efficient policy alternatives;

(f)                 incremental model – policy as variations on the past. It is a continuation of the past government activities;

(g)               game-theory model – policy as rational choice in competitive situation. It involves study of the rational decision in which two or more entities have choices to make decision; and

(h)               system model – as system output. It is a response of a political system where the forces initiated from the environment itself (inputs-outputs relationship).


There are many more models to be highlighted especially on the extreme dimension of political arena. However, none of these models is decisive or pertinent. The process may involve bottom-up and top-bottom approach.


Public Policy in Malaysia


Scantily, public policy in Malaysia is designed generally upon the requirement of the political and social structure and the future demand of the nations as a whole. Since Malaysian community is a multi-ethnic society; therefore, any public policy formulation has to be carefully studied by taking into consideration many factors such as political, social and economic factors to give an acceptable norm of satisfaction among her citizen. In order to understand policy formulation in Malaysia; therefore, it is essential to get a clear scenario on the country’s political system and her social structures. Malaysian political system is based on Parliamentary Democracy and is ruled as a Constitutional Monarchy with his Majesty the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (the King) as the Supreme Head of the country. Malaysia upholds federal constitution that divides authority into legislative, judicial and executive authorities. The doctrine on separation of power; and, check and balance are clearly stated in the Federal Constitution. Concept of federalism in Malaysia also becomes a basis for government administration and machinery to correlate function between the state and the federal government. Such system is so effective to coordinate the public policy formulation and implementation processes through the assistance of the government machinery.

In Malaysia, the social and political systems are very closely related to the creation and formulation of public policy. The establishment of public policy is complex due to involvement of various interested parties during the process to derive for a decision. Public Policy in Malaysia can be created through one or combination of three processes. First is through political channel that means the policy is initiated through Cabinet orders or through the recommendation of several political reigning parties. Second is through administrative processes at the ministerial level. Since a policy has implication on the administrative machinery, the drafted policy is discussed at several high-level of government meetings. Third is through the combination of both processes via integrated approach/interaction. Special Committees may be set up to study the policy in-depth before presenting it to the Cabinet.

Policy Making Process

In general, policy making process in Malaysia has to go through several stages such as identifying the arising problems, planning, recommending/formulating suitable alternatives, legitimizing policies, implementing the suitable action policy, coordinating various events to suit the established policy and finally evaluating the effectiveness of such policy. Upon all processes, policy revision is vital nowadays due to the development of complex society in the modern era. Moreover, the roles played by certain groups are also essential to provide a better input in the content of the policy. In general, three players are identified: the politicians and government public administrators; the publics; and, the related interest group. The first group is the major players to be responsible in ensuring the success of the policy implementation. This group can be refined as the Cabinet ministers, members of parliament, and high-level of government officials. The policy is implemented under the jurisdiction of the Constitution and government regulations. Under the Constitution, the federal, state and local governments are given constitutional rights to implement public policy. As for the publics, they can act individually or form interest groups to put forth their ideas and needs for government consideration. However, these individuals and interest groups do not automatically have the exact power to formulate a public policy or playing as a major actor. Still, their movement can sometimes get a kind of strong public support through their campaign and activities and they also can make the policymaker to understand a ground problem in a clear vision to resolve the arising problems. Some even use the mass media as their tool to convey their intention toward the government and to this extent, recently this mode seems to be quite effective to “trigger” the government machinery.

Coordinating Agencies

To understand the means of implementation for diversified types of policies among ministries; therefore, we need to explore the coordinating machinery that involves in such as process. The essential component of coordination within the government machinery lies initially at the federal level where one of which is through the Cabinet and the Cabinet Committees. Three most important councils known as the National Development Council (NDC), the National Economic Council (NEC) and the National Security Council (NSC) assist the Cabinet to deal with related fields such as coordinating implementation of development programs and projects under NDC; planning on economic aspects under NEC and security aspect under NSC. These councils chaired by the Prime Minister himself. Since major component of policy deals with the development aspect, the National Development Planning Committee (NDPC) has been set up to evaluate and restructure all plans of the development programs drawn by various government ministries and agencies. The chairman is the Secretary to the Government and the secretariat is the Economic Planning Unit, Prime Minister Department.

Policy – Short and Long Term

In one case study, public policy in Malaysia is normally being categorized as action policy where it is created through legal action, planning, program and project. Public policy may involve short and long term planning. Normally in the case of economic planning, the policy will involve in a long-term measure. A government will focus more on the development policy that encompasses many programs and projects in a single or multiple blueprints. In the case of Malaysia, such long term economic planning can be drawn from the Outline Perspective Plan (OPP). The first OPP1 covers a period of 20 years (1970 -1990). OPP 2 (1991 – 2000) and OPP3 (2001 – 2010) cover a period of 10 years each relatively speaking. Every OPP highlights several policies that need to be carried out by the government in total. In OPP1 for instance, the New Economic Policy (NEP) was launched. In OPP2, the most pertinent policy was entrusted known as New Development Policy (NDP) and in OPP3, the Vision Development Policy has been formulated. In all stages of OPP, a 5-year-Development Program will be enforced such as the Eighth Malaysian Development Plan 2001-2005.

OPP is a government blueprint consisting multi-disciplined socio economic sectors that highlights various development programs in line with various policy statements summarized from various detailed documentation of ministries policies.

The process of producing the OPP is actually a part of public policy formulation in Malaysia. It begins with the creation of several committees involving various ministries and agencies related to several socio-economic sectors. One case study in documenting the OPP 3 can be summarized in the next paragraphs.

In the normal case, the drafting of OPP will have an input from two sources: the government and the people’s representative such as from the politician, NGO, CBO, private sectors and other special entities. The most formal and prominent group comprises those from the government entities and they involve in the Inter Agency Planning Group (IAPG). The IAPG will then breaks up into small technical working group (TWG). The breakup of issues will be based on several sectors such as local and urban development, social development, science and technology, women, etc. At the same time, in another set up, representatives consisting of certain NGOs, CBOs and private sectors joined in a council known as the National Economic Consultative Council (NECC) where this group also submit planning proposal to the Government for consideration and evaluation.

The agency that coordinates the drafting of the OPP is the Economic Planning Unit (EPU) under the purview of the Prime Minister Department. As a secretariat, EPU will make a final recommendation to the NDPC. NDPC will screen the document and submit it to the National Economic Council before tabling it the Cabinet. To formalize the OPP, a Cabinet memorandum is therefore required. The process to submit the memorandum to the Cabinet is simplified in the later paragraphs. Indeed, the process after deriving a Cabinet decision will be explained further in the same context of gazetting a new or amended act.

Some public policies may be finalized after several discussions at various levels. One instance, in formulating the National Urbanization Policy (NUP), the Town and Country Planning Department has set up internal committee at the departmental level. Since it requires comprehensive measure, the department appoints consultant to make the early preparation. Several brainstorming session has been conducted involving certain individuals or representatives from the government agencies, private sector, NGO and CBO. Time and again the drafted document has been amended to satisfy the overall sector. A ministerial consent has to be acquired before such memorandum is to be submitted to the central agency and in particular the Cabinet. At various stages, the essential element of NUP has been incorporated in the OPP document.  The Plan of Action of such OPP will later get the consent from the Cabinet and other stages of higher consent.

Policy – Cabinet Approval Process

In more specific explanation, normally, a policy will be entrusted through legal document. Hence, establishment of several Acts need to be drafted for enforcement purposes. In a process of making a bill, some administrative procedures have to be taken into place. After having such draft, a memorandum to the Cabinet (recommendation paper) will be prepared in line to the Order No. 1 of the Chief Secretary to the Cabinet 2000 entitled “Guideline for Preparing the Cabinet Paper and Implementation of the Cabinet Decision” to justify the concerned bill by including several responses from related ministries and central agencies such as the Ministry of Finance, Economic Planning Unit, Implementation and Coordination Units, Attorney’s General Office; etc to get an advisory comment. The feedback is important to guide the Cabinet before making a decision. This Bill is prepared before the Parliament session begins, usually in one month before the session starts. The Bill indicates certain parts of the existing law to be amended, if it involved amendments. After information is gathered, the concerned Minister gives approval to forward the memorandum and the drafted bill at the Cabinet weekly meeting (Wednesday) after getting the clearance from the Cabinet Secretariat. This secretariat is under the Cabinet, Constitution and Inter Government Relation Division, Prime Minister Department headed by the Chief Secretary to the Government who is also the Head of the Government Civil Service. When Cabinet approved the bill, the decision will be conveyed to the Ministry and the Ministries concerned. The Ministry concerned proceeds to obtain a Notice of Presentation on the Bill to the House of Representative and the Senate for debate and approval in both houses during the Parliament Session. The bill will be passed by both houses (more 2/3 vote) and will be submitted to His Majesty the Yang di-Pertuan Agong for the Royal Assent. The bill becomes law after gazetted. Finally, the decision will be conveyed administratively to related parties and through several high-level of government meetings such as State Executive Meeting; Meeting of Secretary-Generals of Ministries and Heads Of Services; Meeting of Heads of Federal Departments; Meeting of Chief Executives of Federal Statutory Bodies; and Meeting of Liaison Committee Between Federal and State Government.


In sum, public policy in Malaysia is concretely formed after laborious measures being taken and one way to collaborate is to proceed along the line with the vision of the country that has already been accepted by the whole nation and through structurally effective government machinery that has main players (the actors) to formulate and implement the policy effectively and efficiently.





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Pesonal Contribution from:

Azman Mohd. Yusof (Policy Planning and Development Division)

8 September 2001 (Amended)