By Dr Mahathir Mohamad
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia—It is indeed a pleasure and an honour to be invited to this conference and given the opportunity to share some thoughts on where I think Malaysia is heading and what are the policies that will help shape its future.
I believe that there’s quite a number among us who feels somewhat apprehensive about our future given the conduct of the current Government and the shenanigans they have been up to. I too, share such sentiments.
Nevertheless, it would be irresponsible on my part to sit back and allow the bleakness of the future to overwhelm us and choke this nation out of its existence.
I would want to believe that this sentiment is also shared with everyone present at this conference as well as many more out there.
The main reason for the situation we are in right now is political instability.
Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has devastated and wreaked havoc to us as well as the rest of the world.
But we are at the lowest ebb comparatively, because our government is weak, ineffective and rudderless. These traits are symptomatic of flaws in the leadership, or rather the lack of it.
The feeling of living in helplessness and hopelessness is amplified because we know we should not be in this state, because we know we are capable of getting out of it if the leaders provide leadership.
We are quite aware of what we can be. We enjoyed a remarkable run for almost five decades after our independence. We faced crises and overcame them, most times becoming even stronger.
We became an Asian Tiger. We also became the voice of the South, of the third world while nations modelled themselves after us.
All these are not about being nostalgic or blowing our own trumpet. Rather, it is a stark reminder of how far south the nation had gone as much as a note that we can regain our footing if we can get our act together.
Santayana’s aphorism ““Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat their mistakes over and over again”. We had made mistakes before. But we have learnt nothing.
The past acts as guides for leaders to prepare a nation’s future. This is especially true for a nation like Malaysia which is so diverse in all aspects of its existence, be it race, religion and origin which then contribute further to the diversity in its food, social interaction, taboo, culture, customs and what not. Then the years of co-existence created hybrids and cross-culture generations, further diversifying our people.
Despite pessimistic expressions that Malaysians are divided and fragmented particularly along racial and religious lines, we ignore the peaceful co-existence, tolerance, unity and mutual regards enjoyed by the larger body of our citizenry.
We have seen how we can rally among ourselves to find togetherness in times of trouble whereby misery loves company as much as in times of joy when we celebrate sporting successes and such. It is not an exaggeration that it is the diversity and differences that had built Malaysia to be a proud and tall nation not too distant in the past.
In other words, Malaysia has the material, the people to propel the nation forward for as long as the leadership is able to harness them and lead them to work on the blueprints that have been prepared to chart the nation’s direction and future. At the same time we can avoid past pitfalls know how to tackle them if they threaten us.
It is against this backdrop that Malaysia was built to its present day modern, industrialised nation.
After independence, Malaysia was an agrarian entity dependent on its natural resources.
It is not a natural progression or by chance that we transformed into an industrialised nation.
It took a lot of planning, strategising and at times failures and setbacks before we managed to become one.
One of the mainstays of our development strategy is the five-year Malaysia plans which have now entered into its 12th edition.
During my tenure as the fourth Prime Minister, I was involved in the 4th , 5 th, 6th , 7th and partly in the 8th Malaysia Plans as well as in the tail end of the 11th and the formulation of the 12th when I became the seventh Prime Minister.
These plans provide specific targets, objectives and strategies and they have mid-term reviews to check whether we are still on track.
These plans ensure we do not stray from the nation’s priorities that we had outlined at the beginning of the formulation of the plan or get distracted because of unforeseen circumstances.
They also keep the Government on its toes as part of its success could be measured on the success in meeting the objectives and targets outlined by the Malaysia plans.
On top of the five-year plans, as you are fully aware, we had also introduced long-term strategies specifically the Vision 2020 and during my second round in office, the Shared Prosperity Vision 2030.
To be honest, I was quite disappointed, to say the least, that we were unable to achieve all the objectives outlined in Vision 2020, which would have ranked us as a developed nation.
Why was it important to achieve the developed nation status? If you look at the objectives, you would realise that we would have a wholesome experience in all aspects of the word.
Of course, to get there, economic achievement is of importance. However, economic slowdowns, downturns as well as unwise decisions coupled with dishonest, greedy leaders whose priorities were to self-serve and not the nation, had caused setbacks in efforts to achieve the objectives of Vision 2020.
When I returned to office after the 2018 general election, fully aware that the Vision 2020 objectives would not be fully realised, we started working on Shared Prosperity Vision 2030.
It is a continuity to the Vision 2020 but at the same time new strategies and policies would be put in place, reflecting new and added priorities as well as tweaking some of the strategies and policies which over time proved to be ineffective, redundant or irrelevant.
If Vision 2020 is summed up as efforts for the nation to attain the developed nation status, the Shared Prosperity Vision is aimed at ensuring all Malaysians get to enjoy a decent standard of living by 2030. Special attention is also given on regional economic co-existence, drawing Sabah and Sarawak into the centre as the centre reaches out to the other states.
However, the devastations and uncertainties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to derail Malaysia yet again in pursuing its long-term development plan visà-vis the Shared Prosperity Vision.
In fact, the current mess caused by a clueless administration that is unstable and of questionable legitimacy seems set to seal an unsavoury fate for Malaysia.
The current state of affairs of the nation – from the unabating numbers of new COVID19 cases that keeps climbing, the scary number of increasing death toll as well the painful experience suffered by patients from lack of attention and medical care, the hospitals that are stretched to the limits and almost breaking their seams, the hopelessness and helplessness leading to suicides – all points towards a failed administration.
And the political front is so divided and divisive that it is unable to provide any solution to the crisis. Indeed it cannot even govern properly.
It is from the sense of helplessness that I decided to propose the setting up of a National Recovery Council – the NRC – a body that is not constrained by party politics but strictly focussed on getting the nation out of this disaster.
The NRC is to have members who are technocrats, experts, academics and economists. The immediate priority is containing the pandemic. Reviving the economy is another focus and then it is the education sector as well as social development.
Political considerations will be kept at a minimal level and politicians involved would not be representatives of political parties.
Indeed, the NRC will be focussed on the pandemic and pandemic-related issued but it is not to function in a vacuum or removed from existing policies and national plans.
While the NRC prioritises short terms and immediate contingencies, it will be streamlined along the strategies of the Shared Prosperity Vision and 12th Malaysia Plan especially in its economic, education and social development approaches.
The reason why this is important is because much as the NRC immediate concern is the pandemic and pandemic-related fallouts, it must also not be a factor that derails the long-term policies and strategies that had been put in place pre-pandemic days.
It is indeed the worst of times and there doesn’t seem much hope of us getting out of this devastation any time soon.
However, it is also the best of times for us to dig deep into our reserves and stand up to be counted. For every single failure of the leadership, we stood up and be counted – either by ways of contributing to the poor and displaced or volunteering.
On my part, I believe setting up the NRC is an answer to what the Government had failed to do either due to lack of concern or lack of wit.
We have gone through many crises in the past. We struggled and get derailed at times. But we kept picking ourselves up and kept plugging on and our contemporary history would show that we had always emerged the better and stronger.
This time around, the leaders had shown its ineptitude to lead and had left us grasping at loose straws.
It need not be so. All the current leaders need to do is to let others take the responsibility.
It would be unwise to entrust those who had repeatedly failed in dealing with the pandemic and pandemic-related issues when they are the reason for these failures.