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Some M’sia Day reflections on nation
Published on: Saturday, September 22, 2018

By Datuk Stan Yee
It’s nice that at long last the PM Tun Mahathir is coming to Sabah, although perhaps it would be even more meaningful if today of all days he stayed back at Putrajaya to lead the whole nation in celebrating Malaysia Day, like he did Merdeka Day a fortnight ago.

Malaysia is 55 today. If one were to look back over the last few months through the tangle of events that have taken place, one may be awed or dumbfounded by what happened, or what should have happened but didn’t, or hasn’t yet. One may also delight in the replays of history and the reappearance of some old cast, or feel bewildered and alarmed, depending how one remembers the past.

The GE14 has left too many open-ended possibilities and multiple-choice questions.

But let’s not spoil the birthday celebration. Happy Malaysia Day! Despite everything else, this is a great country inhabited by a great people, give or take some lapses. If we have erred as a people, there is sometimes an opportunity to correct our mistakes, which is why we have replays and flashbacks!

Sometimes we can retrace our steps. Oftentimes we can’t, and it will be tragic indeed if we repeat the same mistakes over and over again.

The Malaysia Agreement and the Malaysia Act that created Malaysia have left many unresolved questions, and some confusions as well, which are slowly unfolding as time passes.

Among the confusions are the issues of the new federation’s flag, the date of the national day, the date the new country’s UN membership began and the status of Sabah and Sarawaak within the federation.

The new nation’s very age is being challenged by claimants who insist that it should date back to 31st August 1957, implying virtually that Sabah and Sarawak were added to the Malayan federation like Hawaii was added to the Republic of USA through annexation.

Other than the confusions resulting from biased interpretations, there are also unresolved issues that stem from cases of non-compliance with the Malaysia Agreement, especially the non-payment of the 40pc revenue share mandated by the Agreement. As a result, Sabah has suffered huge losses in the last 55 years.

But there is a glimmer of hope still. The latest news was that a high-powered committee has been formed comprising federal officers and State officers from Sabah and Sarawak to thrash out the non-compliance issues.

I hope these officials can work together diligently and with integrity to resolve all these problems that have marred federal-state relationship, and do so expeditiously. I trust too that all political parties will support this on non-partisan ground.

Hopefully too, working together in earnest is part of the change that is taking place following the change of leaderships at Putrajaya and in Kota Kinabalu. The scrutiny on MA63 also shows the new Sabah administration’s (and Sarawak’s) determined political will to win back our rights.

Change has been long in coming to Malaysia. For more than half a century the Umno/BN rule has solidified a style of government noted for its preoccupation with race and religion, political patronage, selective enforcement of certain laws and lack of transparency and public accountability, not to mention the institutionalised differential treatment of a one group and the corresponding discriminatory treatment of other groups of the citizenry.

One of the most important functions of government, and one expected of the new government, is to provide good education.

Broadly, one of the central issues has been the use of English as the medium of instruction, especially in science and maths. The Prime Minister previously wanted English to be the medium of instruction for maths and science and had issued certain directives in this direction before he stood down in 2003. Many expect him to pick up the thread where he left off, now that he is back as PM.

Over the years since his first retirement, there had been indecisions about English.

The most difficult problem was to recruit English-proficient teachers to teach the language as a subject and as a medium of instruction for subjects like science or maths. The medium of instruction aside, there is always room for bilingual, even trilingual education. Increasingly many now stress proficiency in the mother tongue and, most assuredly, BM.

Across the country, there is always the issue of the rural schools that will fare poorly compared to the urban schools. The question often arises, should we slow down so the rural children can catch up?

As far as I am aware there is no such egalitarian consideration in Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia, to name a few countries that are neck and neck, (perhaps ahead now) with Malaysia.

For a country supposedly bent on becoming a developed country in double quick time, any attempt to prevent one group from overtaking another in terms of educational achievement is assuredly counter-productive.

It is pushing the egalitarian consideration in respect of education to an uncalled-for extent, especially in a country that is far from egalitarian in every other respect.

Then there is the illegal migrant issue that we must come to grips with. Sabah politics are always about issues relating to the handling of the illegals and squatter problems. In election after election every party manifesto has made pledges about sending the “illegals” back to their homelands, although only the federal government had the power to do so.

There are now loads of “illegals” in Sabah, a great majority are from Southern Philippines.

Estimates put them at a million or more. Federal estimates are always the lowest, presumably because they recognise as locals those carrying ICs obtained through the “Project IC”. Most Sabahans feel in their bones that the immigrants have outnumbered them. The sheer physical bulk of the migrant population all over Sabah gives them this gut feeling.

These are some of the major issues that occupy the mind as we commemorate Malaysia Day.

These matters impinge on Vision 2020 as well. Any attempt to achieve a developed nation status by spotlighting the modern and affluent urban façade will only bring out the sharp contrast of the lopsided development.

The country is only as developed as its least developed parts. KL may look impressive today and even more so in 2020, but it is only the cherry on the icing.

In terms of socioeconomic progress, Tun Mahathir had 22 years in the first leg of his leadership to carry out the twin goal of poverty eradication and economic restructuring, both focusing on “affirmative” actions for the Malay and Bumiputra communities.

The Malay economic ownership at the start of the NEP in 1971 was 2.4pc. That ratio was to rise to 30pc by 1990, the year the NEP was supposed to end, which interestingly, was also the starting year of the Vision 2020 journey Tun Mahathir had charted for the country.

But the NEP did not end in 1990. It was not just a matter of percentages. The political will to extend it was overwhelming, and the “NEP” was continued seamlessly in 1991 with a new name, the New Development Plan (1991-2000), and then the National Vision Policy (2001 to 2010). Then, as if changing the label alone would improve the content, Prime Minister Najib Razak launched the Bumiputra Economic Empowerment Agenda (BEEA) on 14 September 2013.

To gauge the effects of the NEP 35 years after it began, the Asian Strategic and Leadership Institute (ASLI) under the aegis of the Economic Planning Unit made an in-depth study and issued a report in 2006.

The report put the Malay/Bumiputra-held equity at 45pc. That would have exceeded the 30pc target of Bumiputra corporate ownership ratio by 15pc, a resounding success for NEP and an additional feather in Tun Mahathir’s cap.

But it was not to be. The report was discredited as incorrect on the ground that the Bumiputra ratio was buoyed by equities held by government-linked companies. So, from 45pc the revised assessment came down to 18.9pc, which is short of the target by 11pc despite the 14 extra years to achieve the 30pc target.

The NEP was pronounced a failure.

Perhaps the new PH government could revisit the GLC rationale in terms of Bumiputra equity and exonerate the ASLI-EPU Report. 55 years is a short journey in a country’s history but it’s been full of zigzags and obstacles for Malaysia. In terms of Vision 2020, we veered off course a long way back, and may as well abandon the 2020 target date, even with Tun Mahathir himself back at the helm.

But it is not all physical infrastructure and GDP that determine whether a country is developed or otherwise.

There are other considerations. I quote here what Tun Mahathir had said that he considered to be the other aspects of a developed society. He said,

“By the year 2020, Malaysia can be a united nation, with a confident Malaysian society, infused by strong moral and ethical values, living in a society that is democratic, liberal and tolerant, caring, economically just and equitable, progressive and prosperous, and in full possession of an economy that is competitive, dynamic, robust and resilient.”

The new PH government must recognise the factors that had resisted change in the past, which plagued this country. The most damaging factors are communalism fed and sustained by unashamed racism, religious fanaticism and bigotry, intolerance, corruption, extreme arrogance and the debilitating system of political patronage, nepotism and cronyism that have spooked the country’s social as well as body politics for half a century.

The country is in great need of a secular ideology to provide the focal point of political commitment to steer away from theocratic tendencies, which has dominated Malaysian politics for 60 years.

As we celebrate Malaysia’s 55th anniversary, perhaps we will do well to set our priorities right and set a strong groundwork to launch the country further into the future.

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