It is said that the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. That no matter how hard we plan for the future, there will always be a stumbling block somewhere. The only thing we can do is prepare for said block. Vision 2020 is less than 10 years from now and since the day the plan was conceived, Malaysia has seen tremendous progress, with an infrastructure that is able to compete with the developed nations while retaining a unique Asian feel. No doubt about it, Malaysia is close to becoming a full blown developed country. Whether that will happen by 2020 remains to be seen. As said before even the best laid plans can go wrong. In the case of Vision 2020, there are many obstacles that have presented itself, some of our own making, others beyond our control. But before going into the gritty details, it is important to know what is the idea of Vision 2020, what we have achieve so far, the problems that is preventing it from becoming and even what the word “developed” means.
The idea of Vision 2020 is simple enough. It was introduced in 1991 by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad along with the Sixth Malaysian Plan. According to the plan, Malaysia is to become an economically-developed, industrialized nation by the year 2020. In order to bring about this transition, Malaysia must be able to grow by 7% for 30 years so that the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Malaysia will increase from the 1990 RM115billion to a 2020 RM920billion (in terms of 1990 currency). Also, being developed does not mean only being economically developed. According to Mahathir, Malaysia must also be “fully developed along all the dimensions: economically, politically, socially, spiritually, psychologically and culturally”. To do this, he outlines several challenges that the country must overcome:
- Establishing a united Malaysian nation made up of one Bangsa Malaysia (Malaysian Race).
- Creating a psychologically liberated, secure and developed Malaysian society.
- Fostering and developing a mature democratic society.
- Establishing a fully moral and ethical society.
- Establishing a matured liberal and tolerant society.
- Establishing a scientific and progressive society.
- Establishing a fully caring society.
- Ensuring an economically just society, in which there is a fair and equitable distribution of the wealth of the nation.
- Establishing a prosperous society with an economy that is fully competitive, dynamic, robust and resilient.
With all this in mind, it is hoped that by 2020, Malaysia will become a fully developed nation in all sense of the word.
Indeed, looking back at the 90’s, we can see that Malaysia had been developing at an amazing rate. Our infrastructure had developed to the point that we are able to compete with the big guns of the world stage. Mega projects gave birth to the pride of the nation. The Petronas Twin Towers, one of the tallest on Earth. The Kuala Lumpur International Airport, a modern 21st century airport. And many others that would take too much valuable page space to describe. No doubt about it, Malaysia was on the warpath to developed nation status.
However, as said on the first paragraph, the best laid plans often go awry. And looking back, we can see that though the economic challenge is being solved rather well, there were other problems that weren’t being addressed or worst, being ignored all together. Actually, we don’t have to look very far, some of the problems are so recent you could say it just happened yesterday. To me, these problems can be separated to three categories; three categories I would like to address, which are our economy, our politics and our culture.
The first, and most obvious of all, is that of economy. Also obvious is the giant mess that is the recent US mortgage crisis that sent shock waves all over the world. Malaysia, unfortunately, was not spared by the crisis and entered a period of recession as the manufacturing, one of Malaysia’s core investments, slumped. It was severe enough that some revisions had to be made by the plan. Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak said that Malaysia has to grow by 8% annually in this decade if it is to achieve 2020. If not, 2020 may become 2030 instead. If this weren’t bad enough, there is also a factor of global competition; Malaysia is not the only player that wants to be a developing nation. There is the rest of South East Asia that the country must compete with. Then there are the emerging superpowers to the north and west, China and India, with their ridiculously large population (1 billion each and counting) and equally ridiculously high GDP growth rate (6% and 9% respectively, compared to Malaysia’s 4.6%). In short, Malaysia must remain competitive, and quick, if it is to develop as planned. The nation must offer foreign investor, the lifeblood of a developing nation, a reason to invest in this country. Speaking of foreign investors, they are not only attracted to the economy of the country but also its politics, which segways us to our next category: politics.
Malaysian politics is funny. There is no other word for it. Our political situation has been compared to that of a soap opera. We have been ruled by the same political coalition since independence and though this is great for financial and political stability, there will over time have cracks in the system, and fifty years is a long time for cracks to develop. One of the challenges of Vision 2020 is that Malaysia must have a “mature democratic society”. Malaysia must have first world politics to go along with the first world economy. Unfortunately, in practice it doesn’t really work that way. Our country is still hampered with archaic laws that limit the freedoms of the population. The infamous Internal Security Act, which allows the government to imprison people without trial. The Sedition Act, which prohibits ‘seditious’ statements, usually used to censor speech. And my personal favourite, The Universities and University Colleges Act, which restricts a student’s political freedom. Look at the developed countries. Most of the population would go berserk if any of these laws were enacted in their countries. Malaysia, if it is to become developed as outline in the challenges, must get rid of these laws or at least review and amend them.
Also in need of reviewing is our political system. Right now, one need only open the newspaper or a web browser to read a report on corruption within the government and civil service. The embezzlement and misuse of public funds, police taking in ‘duit kopi’ (bribe money), questionable ‘lawat sambil belajar’ (visiting foreign countries while learning) and public projects. The list goes on and on. And if you’re a crackpot conspiracy theorist, you can probably throw in assassinations in there as well. These things are a cancer to our society and hamper the development of the country. Ignore them at your own peril as we all know what happens when you ignore cancer.
And last but certainly not least is the culture. The thing that affects our day to day lives and the one that is the hardest to change. The one factor about ourselves if change will affect the previous two dramatically. And one cannot talk about our culture without mentioning the ‘r’-word. That’s right, race. Malaysia is a unique country. Our country is a melting pot of different races and cultures all working together for the greater good. Malaysia, Truly Asia. Where else but here can you get good beef rendang, Chinese fried rice and tandoori chicken all within walking distance? It is our unique racial diversity that has made this country great. Ironically enough it can also be considered our greatest roadblock towards progress. Remember that one of the challenges calls for a united Malaysian race, a Bangsa Malaysia. That part is being addressed by the government through the 1Malaysia campaign, emphasizing unity among the races. This however, will ultimately be futile as they are only trying to address the symptoms instead of the cause. What is that cause you may ask? Several, but they can be boiled down to economic inequality and misunderstanding and fear created by racial extremist.
First, let’s look at economic inequality. More importantly, let’s look at how it is being addressed. We all have seen or read the news on how it is being addressed by giving special privileges to the Malays. One such example is the affirmative action plan called New Economic Policy implemented in 1971 to reduce the socioeconomic gap between the mostly urban, economically well-off Chinese and the Malays, who in those days were still mainly work in the agriculture. I won’t go into whether or not these policies helped closed the gap or the other controversial issues that litter that road but I do want to point out that a policy such as this may cause some resentment among the races, whether it is for it or against it.
Then, there is the lunatic fringe that is the racial extremist. These people who so desperately cling to the idea of racial superiority that anytime they open their mouths a wave of ignorance and arrogance spews out. These people that prevents us ordinary folk from just getting on with our lives and having the proverbial beer with our friends who just happens to be of a different race (no, I don’t drink). These people that ultimately prevents us from having the hoped for Bangsa Malaysia. Unfortunately, little can be done about the. As stated before, Malaysia must have a first world, developed society and this includes the freedom of speech, no matter how repugnant that speech is. The only thing we can do is educate and foster understanding or, to use internet lingo (I am a computer science student after all), stop feeding the trolls, meaning that stop giving them attention they so crave. Race is an issue to be sure but it is also our greatest strength. One need only look to the great melting pot that is America, where even a black man, a minority, can become president. Who knows? Maybe one day we might have a minority Prime Minister.
There is another topic which I would like to touch upon, and that is the so often heard question “Why can’t Malaysia be more like (insert successful Asian country here)?” For one thing, it is unfair to compare Malaysia to that of other countries. Each country is different. We shouldn’t compare ourselves to, for example, Singapore as they are a small country and can thus be managed easily. We also shouldn’t compare with South Korea or Japan as they are both heavily supported by the American. And God knows we shouldn’t compare ourselves with China and India! All those countries have different strengths compared to us. They also have different weaknesses that we should pray will never happen to us.
Steve Jobs once said that you “can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards”. And looking backwards, I can see that Malaysia, despite her flaw, has developed into an amazing country, with an infrastructure, people and culture that is to be envied. It is truly amazing what 20 years has brought to this country. We can’t see into the future but many hope that we will eventually make. Me? I’m a cynic but (God forbids) even cynics can hope. Maybe, if we all face this challenge together as a country, 2020 won’t be 2030.