OUR nation is blessed with many assets. These include the land we build our homes on and cultivate our crops, resources such as water which we often take for granted, the fragile environment we share, the people that make up the population and the talent we have nurtured over the years, just to mention some.
How we manage all such assets will determine how well the nation will progress into the future. So far, we have been able to manage
the assets quite well since independence, except for that episode in 1969 which taught us an expensive lesson. This explains why the nation has experienced good growth with relative peace and harmony.
Lately, however, we are hearing disturbing developments which worry many people. Such disturbances can pose serious threats to the nation’s assets. One top concern is the many divisive issues that have been played up by some people. Much of such sensitive issues concern race and religion. We must be mindful that the prosperity of the nation owes a lot to the ethnic diversity we have. As a trading nation, such racial diversity has been a huge boost to our trade links with big consumers like China and India.
We also do not treat another of our key assets, water, well. The way we allow logging in our precious water catchment areas may soon spell water problems for us. Many still think we will never be short of water because of the monsoon that brings abundant rain to the country. We fail to realise that without an efficient catchment area, all the water will just flow to the sea.
Next on the asset list is the air we breathe. Lately, the healthy air has been under attack, mostly through our own doing. Some unscrupulous companies have been dumping toxic wastes in places which threaten the surrounding community, close to rivers and other water sources. The incidents in Johor, where many families and schools were affected, stood out as one important lesson on environmental neglect. There were also reported incidents in Selangor.
Unless such malpractices are stopped, our future is doomed. Poor health is a major contributor to the decline in the productivity of nations.
Some of our economic assets are also under serious threat. Take the case of palm oil, a commodity which has served us well all these years. Palm oil has not only contributed immensely to the alleviation of rural poverty but also provided a base for the growth of many value-added manufacturing businesses in the country. Now, we have not only reached the limit of growth for production, but palm oil has also lately been under the unfair scrutiny of environmental groups which may even lead to the banning of palm oil import by some countries. The proposed EU ban for palm biodiesel is a case in point.
What is clear is that we not only have to take good care of the assets we have, but more importantly we need to start developing new assets if we as a nation are to remain sustainable. This is where investment in strategic R&D is critical. Looking at what has been developing in the Asean nations lately, our neighbours are already ahead of us in terms of resource allocation for R&D. This needs to change.
PROFESSOR DATUK DR AHMAD IBRAHIM , Fellow Academy of Sciences ,UCSI University
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