As a private citizen, I do not claim expertise in national strategic or development issues. But as someone who has seen how this country has evolved and grown over the years, I think I am entitled to provide some comments on what Prime Minister Najib Razak said in his Aidilfitri message. Najib highlighted five challenges requiring attention, namely geopolitics; peace and security; the economy; placing the people’s interests first; and the future and National Transformation 2050 (TN50).
In broad terms, I have no quarrel with the issues identified. However, the devil is in the details. In geopolitics, Najib specifically mentioned serious challenges involving Islamic countries of the Gulf, North Korea’s nuclear programme and the implications of Brexit. I would have thought the South China Sea and the instability and turbulence in the southern Philippines and southern Thailand were bigger and more imminent threats than those mentioned. Seriously, why and how will Malaysia be affected by Brexit and the North Korea nuclear programmes more than other countries? On peace and security, I agree with the PM for the need to uphold authentic Islam and to avoid being influenced by the ideology of extremism and terrorism, such as the Islamic State militants who have misinterpreted the concept of jihad in Islam. I believe most Muslims in the country are moderate but I am not too sure of the preachers and scholars from abroad.
Malaysia must not practise expediency or appeasement. Instead, it must be wary of extreme teachings originating from scholars/preachers from abroad who are known to cause incitement elsewhere. We must always think of Malaysia’s long-term good, not short-term appeasement for certain quarters. On the economy, I think growth is not an issue. It is the quality and sustainability of growth and the distribution aspects of growth that are of concern. We should ask serious questions about why growth has resulted in more people incurring more debt.
Why has growth not led to people owning their own homes? Why is there higher unemployment, particularly among graduates? Have we identified the drivers of our competitiveness? On placing the “people’s interests first”, I think it is wrong to micromanage the economy through endless subsidies and assistance programmes from BR1M, 1Malaysia Clinics to 1Malaysia People’s Shops. Instead, the government should emphasise fair wages, reasonable taxes and productivity. These are harder things to do, but they are definitely more enduring and sustainable than dishing out quick fixes.
On the matter of the future and TN50, I think it is pointless to talk about that unless we are resolute enough to tackle whatever shortcomings and problems we face today. We can’t talk about producing a “generation par excellence” when we have done nothing much to fix the “state” of the education in this country. We don’t talk about a prosperous Malaysia in the ranks of the world’s 20 most advanced countries when we have done nothing much to fix the leakages through sheer incompetence, poor ethics and corruption. Felda did Malaysia proud until some smart alec came along wanting it to think big and grow big! We see the consequences today.