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Malaysia celebrates six decades of independence with concerns and blessings

Ethnic diversity is a blessing and we should always celebrate our differences

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Critical challenges continue to blight Malaysia as we celebrate six decades of independence (65 years for the peninsula and 59 years for Sabah and Sarawak).

The plethora of never-ending financial scandals, incessant corruption, escalating cost of living, unemployment, threats to food security and climate change are among the main issues afflicting the country.

Over the years, financial scandals and corruption have caused alarm. The billions of ringgit lost could have been used to improve the quality of life of millions of ordinary people. An emphasis on integrity among the people must be the top priority of the government.

Much more needs to be done to check the escalating cost of living, which is squeezing the people, especially the low and middle-income groups. Those of us in the comfort zone should not be oblivious to the plight of the less fortunate. We should empathise with them.

The government should rope in economists to recommend concrete solutions. Malaysia is not short of talent, and many will surely answer the call of national service if requested. Just watch the Consider This talk shows on Astro Awani and notice how the many talented people here who could contribute so much to the country.

We could not have anticipated global developments like Covid in 2020 and the Ukraine war this year, which contributing to some of our problems, as they disrupted global supply chains.

That said, I don’t see much progress in improving food security and tackling climate change.

I don’t see any concrete government proposals to enhance food security. We imported nearly RM55bn of food products last year. The high import bill is a cause for concern, especially with the ringgit weakening over the last few months.

Why is the government not coming up with long-term solutions to ensure food security? Why have there not been proposals to develop a food ecosystem completely along the value chain, incorporating R&D, integrated farming, manufacturing, logistics, marketing and distribution? Why can’t we develop food cooperatives as in Denmark?

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Countless employment opportunities for graduates and non-graduates could be generated if we develop the food sector.

Seldom do I read in the media about government efforts to tackle climate change – a serious global problem. What concrete steps has the government taken to slash greenhouse gas emissions? What are the tangible policies being implemented to move aggressively towards clean and green energy?

Malaysia is blessed with an abundance of sunshine, and so the government should aggressively promote the use of solar energy in our daily lives. By moving in this direction, we would reduce our carbon footprint. We must strive to become a carbon-negative nation like Bhutan and Costa Rica.

We should also emulate Singapore, which has set an exemplary example in greening its environment. The island republic has already planted 400,000 trees or two-fifths of its target of a million trees by 2030. Any form of greenery soaks up greenhouse gases.

Norway is another country we should follow in our quest to become an ecologically friendly nation. By 2025 motor vehicles using fossil fuels will be banned in the country, paving the way for only electric vehicles on the road.

Racial polarisation is conspicuous in Malaysia and it permeates all levels of society. I don’t see tangible measures being undertaken to unite the people as Malaysians first. Only after prioritising our national identity should we consider ourselves Malays, Chinese, Indians, Kadazans, Dayaks, etc.

We will go a long way towards reducing racial polarisation if we can ensure ethnically balanced student compositions in schools, colleges and universities. Employment in the public and private sectors should also reflect the racial composition of the nation.

Hopefully, in this way, the different ethnic groups can mingle with each other, and with a little bit of luck and effort, we can wipe out racial polarisation.

Am I a dejected Malaysian? No, I am a pragmatic optimist. We just need good governance, as we have an abundance of natural resources. Malaysia has always been a country of immense possibilities but sadly also squandered opportunities.

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All countries have their challenges and Malaysia is no exception. In all fairness, we did quite well in handling Covid. In fact, we did far better than many developed and developing countries; we had far fewer fatalities and our vaccine rollout was commendable.

Malaysians are fortunate to have access to free public healthcare. To our credit, no one is ever turned away from any public hospital or clinic on the grounds of his or her station in life. That’s a remarkable feat for any country, and it’s a privilege we have enjoyed since independence.

Some of our public hospitals have excellent and dedicated medical personal whose services are exemplary. We also have a world-renowned health institute like the National Heart Institute (IJN).

I can vouch for IJN, which offers Malaysians first-class cardiovascular treatment, as I was a patient there in February. It has excellent medical and non-medical staff who discharge their duties with so much passion and dedication.

Despite the criticisms levelled at the civil service, we still have some admirable civil servants in agencies like the Public Complaints Bureau. Staff at this bureau are the pride of the civil service, discharging their duties with zeal and zest.

I have lodged many complaints with this bureau and spontaneous remedial action is taken. Officers at the bureau take prompt and personal interest in assisting me, and they have even called me personally to get further information about my complaint. Remarkable civil servants by any measure! Kudos to all the staff at the bureau.

Despite my apprehension about the many issues facing the nation, I am still grateful to ‘the one above’ for sparing Malaysia from calamities such as earthquakes, hurricanes, typhoons, volcanic eruptions and the more severe impacts of climate change. Surely, it is a divine blessing, isn’t it?

Many countries in Europe and Asia are facing extreme temperatures due to climate change. But so far, we have been fortunate to be spared such extreme events, apart from the occasional floods like the one on 18 December 2021.

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There are many decent Malaysians who rise to the occasion by their little daily acts of kindness, humanity and compassion. The rare ones take a personal interest in their neighbourhood and try in their own little way to make a difference in the lives of their respective communities.

Blended with these Malaysians, however, are also the uncouth, uncivilised and undisciplined ones. A pathetic lot are our rash and careless drivers who deliberately flout traffic rules endangering the lives of other people.

Senseless and irresponsible, they often try to beat the traffic lights, frequently almost knocking down other pedestrians, like me, who wait patiently for the pedestrian light to flash before crossing the road. I have experienced it in front of Maybank and MacDonalds in Jalan Maarof in Bangsar.

Many youngsters on the light rail transit are ill-mannered when they sit on priority seating despite the signs above conspicuously stating such seating is reserved for senior citizens, people with disabilities and pregnant women. They deliberately pretend not to see these groups of commuters by looking down on their mobiles phone as they text away. What a shame and disgrace they are to society and a pathetic reflection of their upbringing by their parents.

As we celebrate Merdeka (22 July in Sarawak and 31 August as Sabah’s self-governance day and the peninsula’s independence day) followed by Malaysia Day on 16 September, let’s ponder over these and other key challenges seldom highlighted in the media.

Malaysia can be a better place if there is less emphasis on race and more on the Malaysian identity. The country draws its strength as a nation from its multi-racial mosaic. Ethnic diversity is a blessing and a boon for a country like Malaysia. Only racist bigots think otherwise. We should always celebrate our differences while treasuring our strokes of good luck.

God bless Malaysia and its people. A happy Merdeka and Malaysia Day to all Malaysians.

AGENDA RAKYAT - Lima perkara utama
  1. Tegakkan maruah serta kualiti kehidupan rakyat
  2. Galakkan pembangunan saksama, lestari serta tangani krisis alam sekitar
  3. Raikan kerencaman dan keterangkuman
  4. Selamatkan demokrasi dan angkatkan keluhuran undang-undang
  5. Lawan rasuah dan kronisme
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The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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Benedict Lopez was director of the Malaysian Investment Development Authority in Stockholm and economics counsellor at the Malaysian embassy there in 2010-2014. He covered all five Nordic countries in the course of his work. A pragmatic optimist and now an Aliran member, he believes Malaysia can provide its people with the same benefits found in the Nordic countries - not a far-fetched dream but one he hopes will be realised in his lifetime
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