By Ameen Kamal
ONE key element often underestimated and overlooked in Malaysia’s past national visions and policies is human transformation, which involves instilling key ethical values and principles.
Economic, technological and social targets could not be achieved (or sustainably achieved) if people are still corrupt to the core.
National visions have always included ethical and societal elements which should have translated to a better socio-economic justice and prosperity.
Arguably, we are off target and this is clearly an issue of “cakap tak serupa bikin”, meaning, all of these ethical principles are laid down in national visions but what’s being practiced behind the scenes is in contrast to these values.
It’s clear we need a new vision with three major steps to fix our national trajectory.
The first is to reform key institutions with clear separation of power and transparent governance.
Second would be to strengthen and empower institutional control measures (by application of rigorous legal framework, law enforcement, oversight and through the use of Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) technologies and digital transformation).
Thirdly, to embark on human transformation (through strengthening of the family unit, education system, deep integration of technology in society and through exemplary value-based leadership).
Human transformation in the national context is largely a leadership issue. In organisations or in the Government, leaders have to show the right examples from the very top. Culture is top-down and in time it would trickle down to all segments of society.
So, what’s been trickling down over the many decades in Malaysia?
We have a long political history that indicates severe issues degrading the sanctity of the judiciary and a poor separation of power.
Our political history had also set a political culture that persist until today – party-based and individual-based, instead of value-based leadership.
Nobody believes in the sanctity/judgement of our judiciary. Any criminal investigation befallen a political figure is simply seen as a political move by either side.
Sanctity of party/individuals far surpasses the sanctity of values (if at all).
Are we surprised then that politicians and leaders that are being investigated for alleged crimes still garner significant support from the grassroots?
If people really believe in the sanctity and judgement of our judiciary and that the executive powers have absolutely no influence on the judiciary, then this wouldn’t happen.
Clearly, this is the result of two key factors: 1) an artefact of our political history where the people no longer trust the independence of institutions and 2) the prevailing culture of party-based/individual-based politics instead of value-based leadership.
The impact of these two factors coalesce in the form of a severe trust-deficit on the authority as a whole. Whichever party/coalition helms the Government will be subjected to never-ending mistrust and accusations by the other side and its supporters.
Increasing COVID-19 cases, lockdowns, a state of emergency, royal decrees, national budget, clear-cut criminal cases, water disruptions and water pollution, cancellation and/or award of projects and many others are all politicised and are subject to conspiracy theories and accusations.
This state of deepening trust deficit is a key contributor to the disunity that we see right now. Politicians don’t trust each other yet they expect the people to be united?
We need to return back trust to the people and we start by ensuring that the governance of our institutions, particularly the judiciary, law enforcement and the bodies involve in oversights and elections are trustworthy.
Other major issues that require hard actions are the cancerous culture of money politics and corruption.
The political scene involving large projects is smeared with cases of alleged abuse of power. Party leaders are tainted with alleged bribery and tax declaration failures.
Leaders involved in embarrassing world-renowned cases such as 1MDB. Opportunistic politicians engage in party-hopping/coalition-jumping driven by desire for power and pecuniary interest. Crooked authorities involved in meat cartels and many other endless examples.
This is the culture that has been trickling down over the years, spreading firm and deep roots in institutions and the industry.
Officers involved in these cases can say that they are simply ‘going with the flow’ of the culture from above.
As reported in the Global Corruption Barometer Asia 2020 Report by Transparency International, 71% of Malaysians opined that corruption in the government is a serious problem.
Are we surprised then that this translates into a significant trust-deficit to the authority?
Understandably, people (and politicians) take time to change, so we’ll have to start with institutional reformations first. In the near term, proper adoption of technology and systems together with institutional reformations can help prevent corrupt practices.
We need a new vision of a society deeply integrated with technology, governed by inclusive and equitable principles and practices. We don’t have to start from zero and we can take lessons from other advance nations.
Japan’s “Society 5.0” vision is a good futuristic societal model that puts the people at the heart of inter-connected 4IR technologies and through what Japan refers to as a ‘super-smart’ society, people’s problems can be addressed. It also promotes the segregation of power and opportunities instead of concentrating it.
This forms the basis of the new “Malaysia 5.0” national strategy vision, which takes the inspiration from Society 5.0 and integrates Malaysia-specific circumstances and goals (such as those outlined under Shared Prosperity Vision 2020).
Malaysia 5.0 goes beyond ‘super-smart’ as it recognises the often underestimated and overlooked human transformation that must accompany technological revolutions and institutional reformations.
Through these virtues, it promotes equitable sharing of the envisioned increased prosperity as well as socio-economic burdens.
It is only under these transformations and hard changes can we solve society’s problems, give back trust to the people and therefore, find our way back to a united and ethical society.
Many would be quick to dismiss ethics and principles as ‘idealistic’ and that is simply reflective of how these much-needed values are severely alien in society.
Visions must always be based on the ideal, but the implementation of steps to get there must always grounded on realistic optimism, etched in an overarching national vision and strategy that transcends the uncertain lifespan of political regimes. – Jan 13, 2021
Ameen Kamal is the Head of Science & Technology at EMIR Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.
The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.