I REFER to the letter “Continue fiscal, financial reforms” (The Star, July 7) by my former colleague Tan Sri Sheriff Kassim.
Sheriff rightly concludes that “the growth of the economy and the happiness of the people depend on the country taking the moderate path, in line with the principles enshrined in the Constitution and our obligations as a member of the international community.”
I fully agree with Sheriff that the return to the moderate path in our national policies and practices will enable Malaysia to succeed and prosper and rise as a united nation in the longer term.
I have to confess that I fear Malaysia will gradually decline, decay and fall if it continues to veer from the path of moderation.
But I also believe Malaysia can return to the glorious days when all our races mixed freely and regarded our diversity as our strength. Back then, we enjoyed greater national unity and less Islamisation in our society and national schools. There was also certainly a much lower level of putrid politicking on both sides of the house.
But I would respectfully disagree with the views sometimes expressed that the moderate path can only be achieved if we are prepared to accept English as the sole medium of instruction in our national schools. Surely we can carry on with Bahasa Malaysia as our main medium but with English taught seriously as a second medium of instruction.
Children worldwide are known to be able to learn several languages with ease, so why can’t our children do so? We could also teach English literature and Science and Maths in English to raise their capabilities.
At the same time, mother tongues like Chinese and Tamil can be made compulsory subjects for Chinese and Tamil students while Arabic could also be taught for those who opt to learn another language. However, there are many more national challenges that we must overcome to succeed in adopting the Malaysian middle path of moderation.
I have listed some of the measures for further consultation and debate.
1) We must all reaffirm our loyalty to the King, the Sultans and Heads of States.
2) We have to fully support the Federal and State Constitutions in word and spirit and reaffirm our commitment to the Rukun Negara.
3) We must all agree that Malaysia belongs to all Malaysians regardless of race, religion and geography. We have to remove the acute divisive feelings caused by notions of ketuananship, racial and religious bigotry and supremacy.
4) Bumiputraism has created racial and religious divisiveness and dichotomy in Malaysia. This can and should be phased out as soon as possible and replaced by the bottom 40% income anti-poverty policies and programmes enunciated so well in the 11th Malaysia Plan. Most of the poorest and underprivileged Malaysians are still the Malays, orang asli, and orang asal of Sabah and Sarawak.
5) As pointed out by Sheriff, meritocracy, competition, efficiency, countering corruption and slashing government expenditure and wastage must be given priority to build good governance and moderation. These important goals have been getting less Government attention. This is one major reason why Malaysia is now caught in the middle income trap and is suffering from so many socio, economic and political ills.
6) Although we are proud of our relatively strong economic fundamentals now, can we honestly ask ourselves how long can we remain strong and sustainable?
With the current worrisome political uncertainty, the declining ringgit, narrow buffers for budget deficits, national debt and weakening balance of payments, even the encouragement derived from the recent favourable Fitch ratings may be temporary and not sustainable. We therefore need to buttress our economy with more real reforms and transformation to ensure sustained growth and development and better equity and income distribution to benefit the rakyat.
7. I agree with Sheriff that the Rule of Law must be protected and promoted more strongly to preserve and enhance our national and international confidence.
Some would argue that we are experiencing the early signs of a failing state. I don’t believe this but there are many who think this way, and that is the problem of less confidence and more pessimism. How else do we explain the continuing brain drain, where many of our best brains are in Singapore, Australia, Britain and all over the world? At the same time, Malaysian businessmen and entrepreneurs are finding it very difficult to recruit and retain able and experienced managers and professionals.
8) Many former civil servant colleagues like Sheriff and those in the G25, G33 and most Malaysian moderates would be aware that many senior civil servants like us did often advise the Government while within the service. We urged them professionally and politely to cut the national coat according to the available cloth, and to think long term instead of just seeking short-term political gains.
9) The reason for the Government to rush forward in the past was the pursuit of the concept of “state capture”. Many countries practise this policy of using the apparatus of state to remain in political control for as long as possible.
But in most countries, state capture does not last long because of frequent changes in governments at election time. In our country, we joke that civil servants who become permanent secretaries hold their posts for short periods or temporarily, while many ministers stay in their posts for longer periods. That is why permanent secretaries are now called secretary-general.
So how can we get real government and economic transformation when checks and balances are reduced? We must reject state capture that can keep us stuck in the middle income trap.
TAN SRI RAMON NAVARATNAM
Chairman, ASLI Center of Public Policy Studies