Unity in diversity is not just a slogan here in Malaysia. It was very much on parade at the just-held MCA-organised Chinese Economic Congress.
NOBODY is under the illusion that a one-day forum can yield complete answers to complex and deep-lying issues such as structural efficiencies in the economy and wealth distribution in a multiracial society. That simply won’t happen.
But what can (and should) take place in such an event is sincere and constructive dialogue as a step towards resolving these issues. This was evident at the MCA-organised Chinese Economic Congress held in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday.
It could have easily been an opportunistic avenue for demands, tirades and one-upmanship. Instead, the congress stayed focused on its theme “Role of the Chinese community in achieving the New Economic Model (NEM) & the 10th Malaysia Plan (10MP) targets”.
The line-up of speakers, participants and guests itself indicated widespread recognition that the congress addressed crucial aspects and that it needed broad support to ensure lively and fruitful discussions.
Apart from the MCA leaders who are in the Cabinet, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and Ministers in the Prime Minister’s Department Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon and Datuk Seri Idris Jala were in attendance.
The corporate CEOs who were there to give talks included CIMB Group Holdings Bhd’s Datuk Seri Nazir Razak, S.P. Setia Bhd’s Tan Sri Liew Kee Sin, Kuala Lumpur Kepong Bhd’s Tan Sri Lee Oi Hian and Green Packet Bhd’s Puan Chan Cheong.
In addition, the business community had other voices in the congress via the various chambers of commerce and other industry and sectoral organisations.
Prominent among the economists attending the congress were Tan Sri Dr Lin See-Yan amd Tan Sri Andrew Sheng, a member of the National Economic Advisory Council which came out with the NEM.
The wide spectrum of interests and expertise represented at the congress spoke volumes of the importance of unity and teamwork if Malaysia were to realise the Vision 2020 objectives of becoming a high-income economy and a developed nation by 2020. Although the Chinese community was the target audience of the congress, much of the proceedings was relevant to all Malaysians.
In his keynote address, Najib said: “We cannot continue to grow and thrive as a nation unless all of us – bumiputras, Chinese, Indians and other ethnic groups – are willing to come together and see past and beyond our differences to build our country together.”
MCA president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek offered a similar message in his welcome speech. Referring to the tremendous work ahead in implementing the NEM and 10MP, he said: “Let us bear in mind that these are national plans, and not just the Government’s plans.
“This means the nation as a whole has to come together and pull in the same direction in order for the NEM and the 10MP to succeed. Our immediate priority is to jointly grow the economic pie, instead of noisily debating over which slice we deserve. Make no mistake, failure is not an option.”
At the same time, the involvement of the Chinese community in Malaysia’s corporate and SME sectors cannot be underestimated.
Najib acknowledged this in his address: “Malaysia would not be what it is today without the industry, expertise and dedication of the Malaysian Chinese community. Likewise, there will be a bleak future for Malaysia without the Chinese community’s support for our policies.
“We will clearly fall short of reaching the goals of Vision 2020 – to become the developed nation that our fathers and grandfathers strove so hard to achieve – without this vital support.”
This is a clarion call for the Chinese businessmen in Malaysia, considering that a big part of the country’s economic strategy for the next decade is to make the private sector the engine of growth.
But this is not to say the private sector can do without the support and understanding of the authorities.
As Dr Chua pointed out in his speech, the business community “has certain expectations of what the Government should and should not do”.
In this respect, the Prime Minister’s words were of some comfort when he said: “Your concerns are my concerns – not the other way around. My role is to hear your concerns and to act decisively on them whenever it is appropriate.”
Among the topics touched upon by Dr Chua in his speech were liberalisation of the oil and gas and telecommunication sectors, role of government-linked companies in the NEM, open tender system, merits-based and needs-based system, efforts to retain and attract talent, and the rationalisation of subsidies, minimum wages and skilled workers.
It was a lot to cover in one speech, and indeed, there was a lot more to discuss in a one-day economic congress. But judging from the tone and earnestness of the sessions, Malaysians generally understand that the journey to Vision 2020 is neither a short, easy trip nor can it be done without harmonious effort.
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