The recipe for a strong nation

  • Focus
  • Sunday, 15 Dec 2019

TO build a successful nation, three ingredients are needed: The first is a good and clean government. But it can’t do without a cooperative business community.

And ultimately, it relies on a united and inclusive civil society.

Such is the recipe for a harmonious, high income nation, as shared by Thai-based Nation-Building Institute International (NBII) chairman Prof Dr Kriengsak Chareonwongsak.

For Malaysia, we have seen progress and a more mature democracy after the people successfully changed the government peacefully in the 2018 general election.

But the fact remains that many areas still need to be improved if we were to be a truly developed nation.

“These three, the public, private and people sector, must collaborate to tackle challenges like inequality and social change.

“Each sector has its own merits and by working together, we can achieve more together, ” says Prof Kriengsak, a senior fellow at Harvard University.

With joint responsibility and a common ideology for a better nation, he believes the three sectors can hold the wheel and steer countries towards greatness.

However, many middle-income nations still struggle with poor governance, money politics and lack of political will.

“Politicians should stop promising what is popular with the people while they lack accountability for such pledges.

“Bribery also has no place in society anymore. People need to stop looking for handouts and be proactive in taking part in democracy, ” Prof Kriengsak says.

He was speaking at the International Conference on Nation-Building 2019 in Kuala Lumpur recently, organised by NBII, Malaysian Institute of Economic Research, and Centre for Research, Advisory and Technology.

The conference, themed “Connecting Government, Business and Civil Society Towards the Development of a High-Income Nation” saw experts from around the world sharing their perspectives on how countries can become harmonious, high income nations.

Currently, Malaysia is considered an upper middle-income country.

But we are on the right track, with the World Bank saying that Malaysia’s aspiration to become a high-income nation by 2024 remains possible, based on news reports in July 2019.

This is as long as Malaysia’s gross national income per capita continues to grow at a range of 4% to 4.5%.

We could even exceed the high-income threshold as early as 2021, projected the Washington-based World Bank.

Malaysia’s income inequality is also seen to be narrowing, with our Gini coefficient reading (a measurement for income distribution) improving from 82% in 2018 to 79.6% this year, according to a news report.

The higher the Gini index, the bigger income inequality and thus, the smaller number shows Malaysia’s income gap is narrowing.

More work to be done

But there is still a lot more that needs to be done in Malaysia.

This is especially in terms of education, national unity and eradicating poverty, says MCA vice-president Datuk Seri Ti Lian Ker.

“Such aspects are what needs to be looked into immediately if we ever were to succeed as a nation.

“As it is now, our current education system shouldn’t indoctrinate the young.

“We need to promote progressive, critical minds.

“But because of our education system, critical thinkers are seen by some as traitors of race and religion, ” he says.

As for the fabric of Malaysia’s diverse society, Ti says matters like colour

and creed are still sensitive topics and many leaders tend to operate along racial lines.

For the government, businesses and civil society to overcome conflict from such differences, he believes everyone must change their mindset.

“We need to acknowledge that we may be biased because of how we have been or what we have been exposed to, and sometimes, we do it without any intent or realisation.

“But we need to be more accepting of diversity.

“Even if we can’t agree on certain things, we must see the human value in others, ” Ti urges.

Calling on people to be fearless in doing what is right, he says people must have the intention to break barriers to those who are different.

“Let us be intentional in putting pride and prejudice aside.

“The cumulative effect promotes stronger unity and acceptance, ” he says.

On religion, there’s a need for a clear separation of powers between the executive and the people’s faith, urges lawyer-cum-activist Siti Kasim.

“The government should concentrate on making Malaysia prosperous and grow economically.

“Leaders should not meddle into the personal affairs of the people, including religion, ” says Siti, who is Malaysian Action for Justice and Unity founder.

She adds that when the state is allowed to use religion under its purview, such power can be abused.

“Indonesia has shown a good example in separating such power, whereby the government cannot be involved in managing religion, ” Siti illustrates.

In Malaysia, she says the use of racial and religious cards by leaders have driven a wedge between the people.

“We have to ask the government to return the power to manage religion back to the Sultans, or state rulers, ” Siti adds.

Calling for more freedom of speech, she says ordinary citizens should be allowed to express their views freely on social media without being threatened with arrest.

“How can one converse about religion or share different perspectives when they are threatened with the existing laws?” she questions.

As for economic inequality, Malaysia Productivity Corporation chairman Tian Chua says the current government recognises such disparity not just between races, but within each race.

New policies including its Shared Prosperity Vision 2030 blueprint will create opportunities for all, says the PKR vice-president.

“Not all inequalities can be eradicated. Such a situation doesn’t exist in reality.

“But it is more important if we have empathy for one another.

“If our society can be slightly more equal than it was yesterday, it is a good step towards successful nation building, ” he adds.

However, to drive the country forward, leaders must engage with the people on the ground.

Housing and Local Government Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin says most people in Malaysia are unaware or do not understand the nation’s goals.

“This is because the message is not transcended to them effectively, especially in the rural areas, ” she says.

To change things, leaders must adopt a bottom-up approach by putting the community first.

“Only when the people understand, will it be easier to achieve our goals for the country, ” she adds.

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