Looking beyond 2020

This article first appeared on the Sun daily on 21 August 2019. 

LAST Monday, I attended a seminar titled “Beyond 2020: Fresh Views, New Visions”. This seminar was thought-provoking for several reasons. First, the speakers were from different political parties – Umno MP Khairy Jamaluddin, Keadilan MP Nurul Izzah Anwar and DAP Senator Liew Chin Tong.

The three speakers are close to Millennials age-wise, they were articulate while their answers to questions were frank and often punctuated with witty asides.

Second, the speakers were chosen because they represent their parties’ centrist voices, Khairy said. “Liew Chin Tong is in many ways like the Khairy Jamaluddin of DAP. A reasonable, moderate centrist in DAP like me in Umno. Basically a minority of one,” Khairy remarked – prompting laughter from the audience.

“I wanted Izzah to come today because she has been working hard on criminal justice reform and harm reduction for drug users precisely by putting compassion at the centre of her work,” he said later in this speech.

Third, this is the first seminar organised by The Centre in collaboration with the Jeffrey Cheah Institute (JCI). Established by Khairy and Shahril Hamdan, deputy Umno Youth head, The Centre is non-partisan, dedicated to centrist views and aims to offer more than 50% of its output in Bahasa Malaysia.

In his speech, Khairy implicitly suggested Malaysia lagged behind its neighbours and asked how should Malaysia train and educate its young for an uncertain and disruptive future.

“Our neighbours have upped their game. For example, Indonesia leveraging on its size to create unicorns, Thailand developing food technology to add value to agriculture while investing in industrialisation (which we haven’t), Singapore moving from being a finance hub to a high-tech finance hub.”

Acknowledging politics and politicians can’t be absolved completely from the present fractured state of Malaysian society, Khairy posed this question: Isn’t politics in some way also a mirror of society?

“Malays feeling under siege, non-Malays feeling marginalised,” he said.

Values must anchor a new vision, Khairy emphasised. Conceding numbers are important, he said targets and benchmarks must be “subservient to the values that will bend the arc of our future.”

He suggested four values should anchor the new vision – fair, sustainable, innovative and compassion.

“Fairness may not mean complete equality. But it will certainly mean equal opportunity,” he added.

He also proposed Malaysia should have moonshot goals. A moonshot was the late President Kennedy’s challenge in 1961 to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade. In pursuing this goal, the US spawned innovative technology and reaped other benefits.

“We could have a moonshot of having multiple Nobel prize winners and build a research ecosystem directed towards that. Or a moonshot into becoming a cultural economic powerhouse like Korea has done, exporting their popular culture. Or become the most liveable country in the world with great urban design, sustainable housing and an open immigration policy. When we aim for the moon we forget the gutter that we are in sometimes,” he said.

Leveraging on some suggestions in The Centre’s editorial, Nurul Izzah’s new vision was simple and heartfelt: No one lives in poverty by 2030.

By 2030, she hoped Malaysia will enjoy food sufficiency. Highlighting the need to rethink farming in the 21st century, she called for healthy farming without using soil and without pesticides, minimal wastage and environmentally-sound practices.

She also showed tremendous compassion for those living in the fringes of Malaysian society – prisoners and drug addicts.

By 2030, she hoped reforms will solve overcrowding in prisons while eliminating the stigma surrounding drug addiction. Calling for a harm reduction policy through the use of methadone, she said this would spread awareness on the need to shift the focus from penalising drug users further to helping them overcome their affliction.

In her slide presentation, she highlighted the cost of incarcerating individuals. As of 2013, keeping a prisoner behind bars costs taxpayers an average of RM35 a day which adds up to RM12,775 a year.

In his speech, Liew Chin Tong said: “Most Malaysians are concerned about jobs, food on the table and the environment. Many Malaysians find it hard to believe we are similar, that we are one nation. But we are, in fact, very similar in our aspirations and daily lives.”

Eliminating poverty must be approached from a needs perspective, he said. Income re-distribution via Amanah Saham “isn’t working”. Instead, he suggested focusing on education, entrepreneurship and employment.

“Ultimately for Malaysia to move forward, we have to look at jobs as the most important factor to bring everyone together. We need to invest in technology to cut down this country’s dependence on unskilled foreign labour,” he said.

“We need to create jobs that pay more than RM4,000 monthly.” Pay shouldn’t be raised artificially but through achieving productivity goals, he emphasised. He suggested unleashing the potential of youth and increasing government decentralisation.

Hopefully, this seminar will spark a debate on Malaysia’s Vision 2030 Plus.

Opinions expressed in this article are the personal views of the writer and should not be attributed to any organisation she is connected with. She can be contacted at siokchoo@thesundaily.com

Source: the Sun daily