On a positive note, greater emphasis has been given to the need for transparency and accountability, cutting across the public and private sectors. We see the active promotion and implementation of key performance indicators that keep government-linked companies in check. There is greater fiscal discipine in the country’s budget. Finally, it is evident that we have witnessed a slow but gradual opening up of society; one that is increasingly more willing to engage in public discussion of issues that were previously considered threatening to the very fabric of our culture and our individual well being. Malaysians are now less constrained to express their criticism. But they are still under the fear of the ISA and often use it as an excuse not to see or say or hear anything. They are the so-called silent majority who want others to stand up and see if they are being chopped down! To me, they are our national liabilities and cannot contribute effectively to influencing the formation of new strategies for survival and progress!
However, the pledge of openness has also apparently indicated to certain quarters that they are given a free reign to make unnecessary and antagonistic statements. That society is given a license to air views and opinions does not translate into a license for open racialistic sentiment. I cannot stress more that with a culture of openness should come the equal responsibility to manage and handle this openness in a prudent and mature manner. Do we have the self-discipline and maturity to maintain the right balance? In fact, some of our leaders to whom we should look up, have failed miserably and have caused despondency in the strategic outlook for our future prospects.
The deeper problem for Malaysians today is that we have not the historical advantage of having cultivated a culture of open discussion, dialogue and debate in the most basic of institutions: the education system. Malaysia has in fact inherited a system of democracy without necessarily having developed simultaneously a discourse in democracy. It is akin to having a basic structure that propels Malaysia towards achieving a developed nation, but not having answered questions like “What it means to be Malaysian” foremost, and “What it means to be a developed Malaysian nation” – not just in its socio-economic statistical sense, but in philosophy and spirit. What is the driving force that really maintains the Malaysian society as it is today, and will this change in the near future?
We might say that the concept of the Malaysian nation and Malaysianness is based on the so-called “Social Contract”. However, this Social Contract, which is envisaged in the constitution, the Rukun Negara, the NEP, and Vision 2020 has been often badly breached in the implementation of sound policies! The underlying consideration of the basic right of fairness has been undermined, income gaps have widened, large numbers of the poor are still not enjoying their basic needs and human rights of access to drinkable water, decent housing, transport, healthcare, electricity and a clean and safe environment. This is unacceptable in Malaysia where we are blessed with God-given rich resources of arable land, water, good climate and commodities like tin, rubber, palm oil, timber, petroleum and gas etc. Why is this? What is happening to Malaysia?