THE next several years will be critical to Malaysia. Several key social targets which had been set by the previous leadership of the country are in for a review.
Have we been able to achieve our various long-term social targets and objectives? Our long-term target of national unity has to be measured in whatever form so as to know whether we are indeed more united than we were before, compartmentalised along location and along economic vocation.
Social scientists and academics may have to develop some indicators whether national unity has indeed enhanced. The mere fact of the absence of squabbles between ethnic groups is no indicator of enhanced national unity.
When Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak Hussein announced the New Economic Policy it was meant to attain national unity by implementing a two-pronged strategy, namely eradication of poverty and a restructuring of society so as to eliminate the identification of race along economic function.
A target of the latter involves the Bumiputera community owning and managing at least 30 per cent of the share ownership in the corporate sector.
This latter target, which was deferred from 1990 to 2020, will be the first one that will be examined by 2020 because this is the most conspicuous restructuring target that Malaysia has set, and only found in this country.
The target of eradicating poverty, in particular absolute poverty, as adapted by the government under Tun Abdullah Badawi, is also to be appraised. This policy may be achieved because the poverty percentages are very low now.
This is based on poverty line income developed in the seventies with only price adjustments. If we revisit the contents of the poverty line income to include new elements of basic needs, then the incidence of poverty may rise on account of inclusion of new basic needs. Including new needs is most reasonable.
Later, in the early 1990s, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad announced Vision 2020, aiming to attain a developed country status by 2020. For this to be achieved, the nation has to overcome nine socio-economic challenges including the competitiveness of the country.
The year 2020 is but six years away and we have to achieve a target income that puts us in the band of developed countries while addressing the nine challenges so as to be a developed country in the fullest sense of the word.
We do not want a country with high per capita income but with glaring inequality and social issues, such as drug addiction, at the same time.
On taking over the administration, Datuk Seri Najib Razak formulated the New Economic Model (NEM) anchored upon the attainment of high income, sustainability and inclusive development.
NEM, therefore, repositioned the Vision 2020 objective in the form of attaining high income status, incorporated the importance of environmental concern so that long-term sustainability is always considered, and adapted the “economic growth and distribution concern” with social inclusion target.
These long-term planning objectives and implementation have, as always, gone through much deliberation among officials and political leadership, and the national legislatures before they become public policies.
They are not mere political slogans but ambitious programmes to reduce the many causes of disunity, while advancing the national economy in the context of a changing global economy.
These efforts, involving so many programmes and projects, have benefited the population and private sector enterprises who have the opportunities to partake in the delivery of projects and services.
In short, all these efforts are part of the bigger planned social engineering process initiated in a humble manner by the late Razak to improve rural development initially and later moving to more persistent efforts to reduce social inequality, and much later reinforced by Dr Mahathir’s administration to modernise the economy with big infrastructure projects.
It is only natural that the nation now be more open and liberal so as to encourage inflow of high quality investments while encouraging more Malaysian enterprises to be global-minded.
We indeed had moved forward but we must also not forget the direction of society as envisioned in the Rukun Negara, which many of us have much forgotten. Rukun Negara has to be our guiding principles always.
Many of us may have forgotten that the Rukun Negara was conceptualised by our social leaders of various communities and walks of life, in the aftermath of an unprecedented social clash in 1969. They wanted this nation to survive and its people united, yet liberal and modern, amid diversity in religion, languages and culture.
The challenges of this demand cannot be belittled and, on the contrary, need to be debated again in the context of our successes and also our shortcomings.The inspirations of the Rukun Negara which were deliberated with full wisdom and commitment need to be included in both economic and social policy planning of the country again. Failure to appreciate this point would be a big error. TAN SRI DR. SULAIMAN MAHBOB - NST Columnist 4 JULY 2014 @ 8:04 AM