Here we are in 2019. We made it through a tumultuous 2018 and major regime change.
We have much to celebrate, having made a major leap forward. Many of us have a newfound sense of pride of being Malaysian and at having achieved regime change so peacefully.
But before us lie three major challenges we will have to come to grips with in the coming year.
1. Towards a more inclusive culture, a change in our value system
Last year, we witnessed regime change. But that political change must be accompanied by a change in our value system if we are to achieve lasting change.
We need to move away from a divisive culture based on race and religion to a move inclusive culture that celebrates our rich diversity. That diversity should be our strength, not a weakness.
The rally to oppose the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the attack on the Seafield temple and ensuing violence remind us there is still much work to do.
In the long run, we need to nurture the noble values found in all our spiritual faiths – compassion, justice, love, mercy, forgiveness, honesty and abhorrence of corruption. This has to be inculcated in the young beginning in our homes, our schools and religious classes. There is no short cut.
Abhorrence of corruption must be inculcated in both the public and private sector. If there is one thing that 1MDB taught us, it is that corruption is not limited to the public sector. Corruption thrives on greed and is enabled by a lack of ethics and transparency. So we really need to reflect on our own personal and social values.
2. Heeding the Cry of the Poor and the Cry of the Earth
We have to do all we can to uplift the lives of the bottom 40% of the population and even the middle 40%, many of whom are struggling to cope with the cost of living in the face of fairly stagnant real wages.
That means we need to empower all women, men and children to realise their full potential. For that, the education system, along with teacher training, needs to be revamped to empower the youth and promote a more inclusive and thinking society.
We not only have to clear government debt and create jobs – but the real challenge is how to ensure development that is in harmony with the environment. So we need to be more discerning with the type of investments we encourage. For example, do we destroy the environment to build even more expensive homes that few can afford to buy?
Indeed, we have to do out bit to stave off climate change: for this, we need to maintain the ecological balance, protect our forests and seas and hills. Let us examine our own carbon footprint, our own levels of consumption and materialism. Do we really need all that stuff we covet, which only provides fleeting gratification?
So let’s heed both the Cry of the Poor and the Cry of the Earth.
3. Promoting community solidarity
One of the unfortunate effects of corporate-led global capitalism is the trend towards self-centredness and individualism at the expense of community solidarity.
We live in an increasingly divided world – not only separated by the walls of ethnicity and religion but by socio-economic barriers. Thus we have international or private schools for the rich and government schools for the rest. We can see a similar demarcation between well-equipped private hospitals and underfunded and overcrowded government hospitals. The government hospitals, financed by just 2% of GDP, have to serve the majority of the people with fewer specialists than those employed in private hospitals.
Even our residential areas are divided. Guardhouses and gated communities separate the upper-middle class from their lower-income counterparts. Meanwhile, the migrant workers, refugees and asylum seekers live hidden from our view. Numbering perhaps six million (including those undocumented), they make up almost a fifth of our population – but most of us would not be aware of their struggles seeing how they are largely denied meaningful media coverage.
So how do we bridge these gaps? How to create a more ecologically sustainable, inclusive and honest Malaysia?
That is the challenge we have to grapple with and work towards in the coming year if we want to realise the full promise of the new Malaysia.
This article was first published in Herald Weekly.