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Making Progress

Published: Tuesday November 25, 2014 MYT 8:32:00 AM
Updated: Tuesday November 25, 2014 MYT 12:45:19 PM

Bridging the urban rural divide

The heart and soul of Malaysia is as much in smaller towns like Teluk Intan as it is in Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Ipoh, Johor Bahru, Kuching or Kota Kinabalu.

The heart and soul of Malaysia is as much in smaller towns like Teluk Intan as it is in Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Ipoh, Johor Bahru, Kuching or Kota Kinabalu.

THREE years ago, I was asked by then Gerakan Vice-President and Teluk Intan division chairman Datuk Mah Siew Keong to make a visit to Teluk Intan to research the socio-political issues of the area and assist him in drawing up his strategy as the 13th general election beckoned.

I had just resigned as special officer to then Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon and was a “free agent” in the loose sense of the phrase. I was special officer to Dr Koh for over three years and I assisted him with research and in inter-religious matters.

After three years, I decided to further my opportunities in the private sector and also to grow professionally.

The visit and the circumstances are important to me because that is where “a love was born”. I instantly fell in love with the quaint town that was in many ways untouched by the unbridled development that conquered other towns. Besides the great and surrounding natural attractions, Teluk Intan offered a sense of belonging a city boy like me craved, having been born and bred in Kuala Lumpur and later Petaling Jaya.

The 13th general election was an exceptionally gruelling experience and Gerakan suffered its second setback in a row as DAP retained Teluk Intan with a bigger majority with Mah losing to Seah Leong Peng by 7,311 votes.

Earlier this year I received word that Seah was unwell. The late YB was a good-natured man who was not only humorous but also inherently decent. Datuk Mah and Seah shared a good personal rapport despite being political opponents. YB Seah’s death necessitated a by-election in which Mah (now Gerakan’s national president) prevailed.

Mah was subsequently appointed a Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department and he selected me as his political secretary. In three years, I have gone from working with the Government to the private sector and back to the Government. It’s been quite a journey but what gives me greatest satisfaction is that I am now able to do some good work for Teluk Intan.

Winning is easy but retaining the victory is always more challenging. In that respect, one of my pressing concerns is ensuring there is greater development in Teluk Intan, and devolvement that will ensure that the local economy expands. An expanding local economy will ensure more employment and business opportunities thus reversing the current trend of rural to urban migration.

Regional stability is crucial as Malaysia seek sto transform into a high-income nation and in order to ensure regional stability and harmony, rural and semi-rural Malaysia needs greater attention. I find it unsettling that the best and brightest of Teluk Intan have to seek employment and business opportunities outside of Teluk Intan, namely in the Klang Valley, Penang and Singapore. The situation is not confined to Teluk Intan but also other rural pockets in Malaysia.

I have spent my last three months engaging local non-governmental organisations especially those involving younger Malaysians to better understand their concerns and the kind of economic opportunities they would like to avail themselves of ,and how together we can ensure that Teluk Intan achieves its full potential.

Tourism, agriculture and food-based industries have been identified as the “big-ticket” potentials and remain untapped. I have also engaged my friends in the private sector for ideas on how we can entice private sector players to invest in Teluk Intan, and the response has been encouraging.

I fervently believe that bridging the urban-rural divide is no easy task but nevertheless, one that must be carried out. The fact that 65% of Malaysians live in urban pockets allows for a natural tendency to focus on urban areas however, we must not forget that there are still a great number of Malaysians who live in rural areas and as such, there is a need to move beyond the traditional methods in growing the rural economy.

I have also engaged Agensi Innovasi Malaysia (AIM) to identify innovative ways to grow the rural economy and increase wealth of rural folks. The Government transformation programme spearheaded by Pemandu has laid the groundwork by ensuring that all rural areas enjoy basic amenities and are sufficiently well connected. However, now, we must empower rural communities and assist them in growing their incomes.

I now have the opportunity to work for Teluk Intan and its people. I must thank them for allowing me to play my part and contribute to Malaysia’s rural development. The heart and soul of Malaysia is as much in its villages and smaller towns as it is in Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Ipoh, Johor Bahru, Kuching or Kota Kinabalu. The good people of Gerik, Raub, Beruas, Kapit and Pensiangan deserve the very same opportunities as their big-city counterparts.

The Government has also adopted a seriousness that is important by ensuring effective implementation of Government initiatives and in Teluk Intan, all Federal projects are closely monitored with constant reports made to and sought by the Implementation and Coordination Unit (ICU).

But the Government also needs the help and support of all Malaysians in transforming rural communities and one can start, for example, by returning to one’s hometown and volunteering to teach extra classes for school students or getting involved in NGOs that assist rural folk in supplementing their income. Every small step and together, we, ordinary Malaysians, can make change happen.

> The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

Tags / Keywords: Urban rural divide, transformation, villages, small towns, development

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