Lately I had a conversation with a bright young entrepreneur from Penang.
We were discussing the current Covid-19 crisis and the way forward. We spoke on the role of young people in bringing authentic cultural and structural changes and how the country’s governing system should be more decentralised to meet the needs of the local population. We also discussed the importance of having visionary leaders who are able to create a smart city where big data is used proactively to tackle issues like poverty.
The young man told me he had once spoken to a local government official on how they could work together to distribute aid to the poor, and the official’s answer was how can he privately gain from providing such aid. The young entrepreneur said he was disappointed with the official and wondered whether such thinking is part of the Malaysian national administrative culture.
Today, there is an ongoing debate in the media about whether Malaysia is becoming a failed state, with many having differences of opinion. The fact is Malaysia still has a fundamental structure of governance in place. We are not like certain countries in Africa and West Asia, where we find dysfunctional governance, civil war or mass starvation.
The real issue with Malaysia today is the deficit of corruption-free, competent and visionary grassroots leaders. These leaders must be able to empathise with the real problems of the people, take on corruption by building a culture against it and build the necessary culture of service excellence and a decentralised governing structure to execute it.
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At present, we do not have such capable leaders in government or even in opposition. What we have is the old guard of the system.
A clean visionary leader would kickstart a major transformation that would hit a raw nerve among those who have benefited from the current system, especially the ethno-religious establishment, business elites and civil servants who have benefited from a corrupt system of privileges that has no effective checks and balances.
A country like Singapore started with Lee Kuan Yew, a leader of integrity who wanted his cabinet to be free of corruption, and today Singapore is what it is because of such a legacy. Do we have such a great legacy?
The young man’s grievance reflects the great revolutionary need for a corruption-free leadership, culture, effective structures, and real impartial institutions, if Malaysia is to move forward from the Covid crisis and avoid becoming a failed state.
Young Malaysians should take charge and rebuild the nation, free from a culture of corruption and a system that says “what can I gain from helping somebody?” – Malaysiakini