ASEAN Government's Must Enlighten Citizens On ASEAN Community - Munir

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KUALA LUMPUR, April 24 (Bernama) -- ASEAN governments have the big task of enlightening their citizens on the ASEAN Community (AC) and its benefits, before its establishment at year-end, ASEAN Business Advisory Council (ABAC) Chairman Tan Sri Dr Munir Majid said.

Describing it as a "crash course" for the people of ASEAN, he listed a few simple steps that could be taken to promote the 10-member bloc fast, including upgrading the official ASEAN website to make it more interactive. "We should also establish the ASEAN young entrepreneurs association and ASEAN internship programmes, to get more young people involved," he said. Munir was speaking during a session on "Making AEC People-Responsive" at the ASEAN Civil Society Conference (ACSC) or ASEAN Peoples' Forum (APF) here Friday. The session was well received with some 1,000 participants, so much so that, two long queues had to be formed for them to reach the microphones for the question and answer session. Munir said that despite the lack of enthusiasm from the grassroots, one cannot discount the fact that the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), one of the three pillars of the AC, will bring much benefits to the region of over 600 million people. He said with the open sky policy, expected to be fully implemented under the AEC, prices of goods are expected to decrease.

"The AEC will also encourage more investments into the region and bring with it, greater infrastructure. It will also create more job opportunities, while improving the quality of life especially those in rural areas. "The AEC Blueprint that came out in November 2007 was an official document and its greatest weakness was the top to down approach that resulted in dissatisfaction among the private sector and civil society. "They felt that they were not being included in the decision making process," Munir noted. He suggested that more attention be given to workers' rights, including migrant labour, to curb animosity between states due to different standards and policies.

Another panelist, International Migrants Alliance representative, Eni Lestari of Indonesia, wanted to know if ASEAN's top government leaders are reflecting on the aspirations of the people, particularly, women migrant workers. "We are all waiting to see if the AEC will truly live up to its People-Centred theme," said Eni, who works as a domestic worker in Hong Kong. Eni had suffered abuse, the first time she was employed on the island, and since then began to commit time to non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to promote the welfare of domestic migrant workers and find justice for them. Other panelists were Thailand's representative of the ASEAN Inter-Governmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) Dr Seree Nonthasoot and Antony Tujan from Ibon Foundation, Philippines. -- BERNAMA