MALAYSIANS celebrated the 57th anniversary of Merdeka with much to be thankful for and a lot to look forward to.
There is peace and stability in the country. Despite the occasional flaring up of racial and religious tensions, scary incidents like the terrorist incursion into Sabah and the tragedies of the two Malaysia Airlines flights, the people are generally happy.
The glue that is keeping the nation together and making the rakyat feel confident about the future is the economy. In our multiracial society, with sensitivities that crop up now and then to raise communal tensions, a strong economy is essential to make the people feel that this country is still the best place to live and work in, raise children and grow old.
Indeed, as the New Economic Policy stressed at the time it was introduced in 1971, and as the Economic Planning Unit articulated it so well in the Second Malaysia Plan (1971-1975), which was tabled in Parliament in April of that year, the best way of ensuring multiracial harmony was through sustained economic growth.
Most economists predict that with the country’s favourable resource base and strategic location in one of the most dynamic growth regions in the world, the opportunities to develop into a high-income country are great. However, this confidence is conditional and the country must enforce strong policies to reform its fiscal and economic policies, raise the quality of its education system, review its institutions of justice and law enforcement, and strengthen the professionalism and integrity of the administrative services.
Further, with exports playing a pivotal role in our economy, liberal economic policies and transparency in government decisions are essential.
There is wide consensus among financial observers that the government is doing what it promised by implementing the various aspects of the National Transformation Programme, for example, the hard policies like Goods and Services Tax, subsidy rationalisation programme and open procurement of government contracts, which are being implemented.
The Education Ministry launched its Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025 to signal changes for raising the quality of education and increasing the importance of English in schools.
The steps taken to ease doing business in the country, coupled with efforts by Talent Corp to attract talents, have earned local and international praise for the government.
There are hopeful signs that the country will get an upgrade of its sovereign rating if the reforms proceed on track. Meanwhile, the Bursa Malaysia has reached its record high. The ringgit is strong, inflation and unemployment are low and real incomes are rising and improving the lives of the ordinary man on the street.
In addition to fiscal, financial and economic policy reforms, the hope is that the government will also be moving to review old laws and regulations impinging on human rights and political freedom in the country.
The issues of human and political rights, and freedom of expression need to be addressed to meet the expectations for change among the young and educated, whose electoral influence is growing rapidly.
Our leaders have to accept the liberal view that for the nation to enjoy peace and stability, and for economic growth to be sustainable, there must be openness in the government where dissenting views can be freely expressed. This will facilitate the checks and balances necessary for ensuring good governance and for enhancing the country’s international image as a democratic country and a role model for other Islamic countries.