A Nation in Transition

A Nation in Transition

The world is changing, faster than ever. It is an open question whether anyone can keep up. The biggest task the Government faces is not only to keep up with a rapidly-evolving world, but also to get ahead of it.

Barisan Nasional has put forth a comprehensive plan to address this rapid pace of development. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has made no bones about his determination to drive the nation to fully developed nation status by 2020, and his reforms over the last three years have all clearly been directed accordingly. Especially the more recent ones.

As we have previously discussed here on The Choice, civil service reform is a cornerstone of this transformation, with the intent of streamlining the civil service and allowing talented individuals to move back and forth between the private and public sector. A feature of every powerhouse developed nation, this sort of labour mobility will also help businesses understand and help improve the regulatory framework.

It will also help attack our national debt, which is climbing. Indeed, the need to help develop the country’s infrastructure while balancing Government expenditures is a critical concern for every Malaysian, and one that must be thrashed out during GE 13; if unchecked before the call of the 14th General Election, the problem may be a far bigger challenge.

Furthermore, the efforts to reform education that are coming with some regularity are critical to the continued and future development of the nation, as human capital is the most valuable — and despite the rhetoric of the last few decades, the hardest to replace — of all. The raw economic value of labour is in fact only a secondary concern; the greater concern is the intangible effects of unified education, including a shared national experience, a shared language, and shared national aspirations. These have direct effects on labour in the aggregate, as countries with a shared national identity and language demonstrate again and again their intrinsic advantages.

This speaks to a greater concern. We must continue to build a strong civil society; nothing the Government or the Opposition can do, can sidestep this fundamental requirement. However, they can and should encourage those things that make civil society easier to accomplish – a common language, a common educational experience, and the perception that those who abide by the law and work hard will get ahead, no matter their station in life. This is the 1Malaysia concept writ large, an attempt to unify us where we have been fractured to copy and better developed nations and to leap ahead as a nation.

It is to the Government’s credit that it is pushing ahead in this where it can, by making clear that our nation is governed by a rule of law. Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s acquittal, despite his constant spin to the mat salleh press abroad, is proof not of a government backing off in fear of a man who can barely keep his squabbling coalition together, but rather proof that our judiciary is independent. The case of Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil — tied to the National Feedlot Corporation scandal by blood and marriage — is yet another case in point. In an arbitrary system of law, she would have been sacked and already forced into a shameful penance, with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s work half-done. But this would be ridiculous: Shahrizat is a Minister in Government, and the rule of law requires that she be given due process in the allegations against her.

In fact, Shahrizat applied for leave from her Ministerial duties Thursday pending the results of the probe. That was the right thing to do. Clearly, the Government is moving deliberately and producing results.

At the centre of the Government’s efforts is the New Economic Model, which Pakatan Rakyat has attacked both from the left and the right. Najib has staked a great deal of his political capital on this change to our system, and seems intent on seeing it through. At its heart is the idea — copied seamlessly onto civil service reform — that a streamlined system of preferences and subsidies will encourage a socially and economically healthy Rakyat, improved investment, and long-term growth. Driving to a needs-based system, while still respecting Article 153 of the Constitution, should produce consistently better outcomes.

All of this remains a work in progress, and obviously, it will be judged on results rather than rhetoric. However, the essential goals are not merely desirable, but clearly achievable. As we approach GE 13, the burden will be on the Government to demonstrate not merely rhetorical, but also policy dedication and results. A good chunk of the results are already achieved. More need to be implemented. The burden will also be on Pakatan to show the most substantive policy recommendations it can, especially as to date, all it has offered is negativity toward the Government and calls for reforms that Najib is already planning.