Malaysia’s next five-year development plan, the 12th Malaysia Plan, begins in 2021. We need a well thought out plan to achieve the Shared Prosperity Vision 2030 that was launched at the end of 2019. It must avoid the poor implementation that has been cited as the major weakness of most past plans.
Remaining mindful of recent events that have dealt a strong blow to global health, the plan must prepare the nation to face such disruptions in the future. Public health now stands as a major hurdle threat to development all over the world. We have seen how Covid-19 has disrupted everything in its path. World leaders grapple with how to deal with the pandemic. A few came up with their own delirious recipes for a cure. Fortunately, Malaysia pursued a more sound strategy.
The nation’s health professionals were empowered to take charge. The approach has worked well, even gaining international recognition. Success in managing the pandemic is clear testimony that our civil servants are no pushovers. Given enough space to manage, they can rise to the occasion and deliver. So it’s time to stop the witch hunt within the civil service. They deserve credit and respect.
There is no denying that the science of infectious diseases is now better understood. Few would disagree that science literacy among the public has been significantly raised. As a result of the massive publicity, the man in the street is at the very least aware of genome sequencing, chloroquine, the stages of vaccine development, and the importance of clinical trials for any new remedy to ensure safety and efficacy.
For years, we in academia have been hosting festivals and carnivals to promote science but it took a pandemic to truly gain the public’s attention. As they say, pain is the surest way to bring about change. Or, as Japanese novelist Kenji Miyazawa put it: “We must embrace pain and use it as fuel for our journey.”
The 12th Malaysia Plan, which is about formulating a national recipe for progress, is our chance to demonstrate change. It should be a recipe for progress not only in the economy but also in the quality of life for all, now and in many more years to come. This is what sustainable development is about.
Sustainable development involves a lot science, including the science of climate-friendly energy, the science of managing health, of sustaining key resources such as water, of food production and of keeping the environment safe.
Pursuing progress is about also overcoming threats and capturing opportunities. Poverty is one threat we need to tackle. Covid-19 has exacerbated poverty. Rural poverty among smallholders is crying for an ending. And now urban poverty is a growing concern. Creating jobs is the proven way. A strategy to capture emerging job opportunities should be implicit in the 12th Malaysia Plan.
Science must be give in a role in those new jobs. Health science is a key area. New tools in biotechnology, especially those linked to medical research, are now more prominent. Vaccine development, for example, is closely tied to the study of genomic science. Digital science has also become increasingly critical. Digitalisation is a key ingredient of business competitiveness with the exponential rise in e-commerce and work from home arrangements. Internet and broadband science have emerged as a discipline deserving attention, especially more investment in broadband support. Cybersecurity is another branch of science which is in big demand because of rising cybercrimes. And then there is the growing demand for expertise in artificial intelligence, while big data has become evident.
We need to create the right talent as well as invest in relevant R&D to strengthen the nation’s expertise in such disciplines. Improving the infrastructure and ecosystem to deliver those sciences should be given priority in the 12th Malaysian Plan.
PROF DATUK DR AHMAD IBRAHIM
Fellow, Academy of Sciences Malaysia