Challenges in creating a new Malaysia

Challenges in creating a new Malaysia

Feb 01, 2019

By Anil Netto
Recent events have shown us there is much work to be done to create a new Malaysia, which remains a work-in-progress after the last general election.

The protest against the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the outcome of the Cameron Highlands by-election has shown us that issues surrounding race and religion are still very much alive.

It is not going to be easy to remove the roots of this kind of politics which run deep.

We really need leaders with vision who can act on behalf of all people in this land, based on their socio-economic needs, irrespective of race and religion. All organisations and groups in the country must also reach out to one another to remove suspicions and promote national wellbeing, kindness, compassion and empathy in the country.

Conversely, we have to stop looking at GDP (gross domestic product) as a measure of national wellbeing. GDP is just the total of products and services generated in the country. It does not measure how wealth is distributed. On the contrary, GDP may actually hide serious disparities and grievances. Components that make up GDP may actually cause harm to the people.

For example, spending public money on wasteful extravagant government projects may boost GDP but this squandering of public funds actually diverts resources from other socially beneficial projects that can improve public healthcare and education. Mega projects may boost GDP but may actually harm the environment, worsen pollution, deplete natural resources and displace communities – all of which will not be reflected in GDP.

So it is time we stop benchmarking our national wellbeing against GDP. Instead, we should look at a whole list of criteria to evaluate the wellbeing of the people – eg youth unemployment, mental health wellbeing, the area of green spaces to population, the percentage of people living below a living wage – to measure how the nation is faring. This would be a better way to find out exactly where exactly we have come short.

Meanwhile, the management of the government-linked companies and government-linked investment companies are badly in need of reform. They have to be managed well to deliver tangible results to the people. Appointing politically connected individuals to the boards of these firms without the prerequisite capability will only undermine the ability of these firms to intervene in the market on behalf of the public.

For the new Malaysia to succeed, the two other areas that must be looked at are education and religion.

We badly need to revamp our education system. We need to examine the school curriculum and the ethos in our schools. Are students encouraged to reach out to others beyond their race and religion? Or does the school system promote racial and religious chauvinism that feeds into bigotry and fuels prejudice? Are pupils taught to cherish and celebrate diversity or are they encouraged to shun people from other ethnic, religious and social backgrounds?

Mujahid Yusof Rawa, the minister responsible for religious affairs, has his work cut out for him in promoting a more enlightened and progressive understanding of religion. It is a challenging task and we can only wish him well. His record in advocating inter-religious dialogue should stand him in good stead.

To remove ethno-religious prejudice and suspicions, we need to study what fuels them. The forces that feed divisive politics and racial and religious bigotry in the country probably thrive on disillusionment with the institutions of government, a feeling of discontent over socio-economic status, and prevailing prejudice and bigotry learned from a young age.

For a new, more inclusive and just Malaysia emerge, we need to tackle all these areas effectively. That is, come up with new benchmarks and indicators that measure the wellbeing of all groups while improving their socio-economic situation. Revamp the education system to promote inclusiveness and social solidarity. And look at the way we teach religion – are we promoting solidarity with people of other faiths or fuelling prejudice and even outright bigotry.

It is no easy task for any one person. But each of us needs to do our part in this national effort.

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