Let us all pledge to protect our precious Constitution and resolve to aspire for a better Malaysia, writes Ramon Navaratnam.
Sixty-two years ago in 1957, Malaya gained independence. The new nation was blessed at birth with a multi-racial, multicultural and multi-religious society, strong natural resources and natural beauty.
Despite the serious challenges facing our new nation, we were fortunately also blessed with honest, strong, competent and dedicated founding fathers and able leaders, especially in the early years.
We had good governance and credible national institutions like a well established parliamentary system, the judiciary and the security and civil services.
Most importantly, poverty, which was widespread at independence, was considerably reduced as we moved forward, thanks to assertive rural development policies. The economy was also blessed with high economic growth and called a tiger economy.
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There was little corruption and much less cronyism for many years after Merdeka.
The economy has since grown faster and developed more strongly in the last 61 years. It grew well beyond recognition from the early days. The nation progressed in peace, prosperity and harmony – except for in the aberration of the 1969 riots. Incomes, employment and the quality of life rose for many years.
We enjoyed a higher level of national unity, racial harmony and religious understanding, and appreciation of each other’s cultures. We were more united then and shared a strong national family spirit. This was the case, until the recent past.
We emphasised and enjoyed our commonality and universality as Malayan and then as Malaysian brothers and sisters. We achieved and were able more easily to eat together, play together and even dance the joget together. We were as a nation much more united and proud of being united.
Hopes gone awry?
After 60 years of government by one political party, we realised that we had been going off track with rising corruption, cronyism and worsening national unity, more religious intolerance, more racism and widening income inequality.
That is when we as a nation said “enough is enough” and gallantly threw out the old Barisan Nasional government in a uniquely democratic Malaysian way, under circumstances of peace and stability.
Thank God for the fundamental change and transition towards greater socioeconomic, political and institutional reforms and revitalisation of our country under the new Pakatan government.
But we have to work harder to stick to the straight and narrow path and not go off the rails again.
But for this evolution, we should learn from our lessons and head for a better new Malaysia.
What are our aspirations and resolutions for a new Malaysia?
On this auspicious Merdeka anniversary, can we all resolve to develop a new national consensus to develop a new Malaysia policy as follows:
Apply the New Economic Policy (NEP) to All Malaysians regardless of race or religion. Make the NEP a needs-based socioeconomic policy and not carry on with this race-based policy, as it is practised now. This change in policy will remove the sense of alienation that most non-Malays and even many neglected bumiputeras now feel.
Provide greater priority in raising the opportunities for higher incomes for the bottom 40% groups of all races, through better and more skills-based education and training programmes.
Reject compulsory training in some non-academic studies that are not directly related to raising the present generally low quality of education at almost all levels. Provide more technical and vocational training and teach more science and English. This is essential to make our graduates more readily employable, to meet market demands and to get a more rounded education.
There should be more equal business and employment opportunities in both the government and the private sectors. The civil service and the business sectors have to be more multi-racial in employment. One way to encourage more multiracial ownership and more balanced employment in the private sector, in the context of the new policy of “shared prosperity” would be to innovate with new tax incentives in this coming Budget, to implement shared prosperity practically and realistically.
National schools could teach our mother tongues, to encourage more multi-racial national schools. The present perception of so-called Islamic national schools should change. We could thus teach Islamic studies after school hours. Then, national schools could become more multi-racial and less parochial and indeed develop into schools of choice.
The present campaign against corruption, cronyism and money politics, must be stepped up and just not be carried forward in parts, if not wholesale. Any form of continuation of any elements of these bad practices will undermine national interest and the public wellbeing and welfare.
The government has to go harder against hate speech and those elements who promote racial and religious conflict. Foreign hate speakers and external financing to promote social unrest should be dealt with more sternly and quickly. The government should not be soft in protecting these undesirable foreign and even local trouble-makers who can cause major disunity and instability.
Public institutions should be further strengthened and made more independent of any political interference. This is an essential prerequisite to safeguard the integrity and sustainability and indeed the very independence and sovereignty of our nation.
With climate change and global warming on the rise, we face major challenges. We have to take tougher measures to tackle them and not look at short-term profits while neglecting the longer-term devastation of our dear Mother Earth.
Finally, as far as possible, we should preach and actually practise universal human rights more sincerely and seriously. We can always protect our religious and cultural values and adopt human rights at the same time.
Towards a better Malaysia
On this Merdeka anniversary, let us all Malaysians, with God’s help, pledge to protect our precious Constitution and our unifying Rukun Negara and resolve to aspire for a better Malaysia.
I wish that some of my hopes and aspirations for the future, and those of others, will be implemented for a better Malaysia.
We are a blessed country, with our rich resources and a beautiful multicultural Malaysian society, which we should treat as our collective assets and not our liabilities.
May God continue to bless our beloved country and our people – always!