As we are going to celebrate our 64 years of independence, there is always a confusing thought at the back of my mind. I always wonder, if after more than half a century of independence, are we moving forward, or have we stagnated while our neighbouring countries have made significant advances?
Politically we are at a turning point, but there is no clear direction of where we are heading. After GE14, Pakatan Harapan came into power but did not last. It was a historic moment, a government that was in power since independence came crashing down. This government was in power for more than 60 years and the people wanted a change, it was a euphoric moment for Malaysians. Malaysians were upset that corruption was becoming a norm for the ruling Barisan National politicians and they wanted them out and as they wished, Pakatan Harapan consisting of heavyweights Mahathir Mohammad, Muhyiddin Yassin, as well as Anwar Ibrahim, robbed Barisan National of victory. Dr. Mahathir Mohammad became the Prime Minister again, returning after 22 years, something never seen in any part of the world I believe. Things moved on well and Malaysians were happy with the multi-party, multi-ethnic government. Unfortunately, a coalition that had triggered great hopes for change collapsed in 22 months. Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohammad who promised to hand over the post to Anwar Ibrahim resigned, thus allowing Muhyiddin Yassin to defect with more than 30 MPs to form an alliance with UMNO, PAS, and a few other parties to form a new government, Perikatan Nasional. From day one, most Malaysians were not happy with the government. Covid-19 reared its ugly head at the time Perikatan Nasional came into power. Covid-19 cases continued to ravage Malaysians. Lockdowns were imposed and thousands of Malaysians lost their jobs. Many industries were crippled and forced to pull down their shutters for good. Many families lost their family members. Bread-winners could not put food on their dinner table and resorted to donations given by numerous good-hearted NGOs and Malaysians. At the same time, many former leaders including the former PM, his deputy, and others were charged with corruption. A lot of unhappiness was created among their supporters, who claimed the charges were politically motivated. Some were charged while a few went scot-free although they had many charges of corruption. As a result, many members of the PN coalition withdrew their support for the PM, forcing him to lose his majority in parliament and after about 17 months, the government collapsed with the Prime Minister submitting his resignation letter. Sadly, this is not what Malaysians were looking forward to. After 64 years of independence, our leaders should have been a matured lot. Many showed that they cared for themselves more at the expense of the country. They did not have integrity and honesty to show their love for the country. While other countries were also hit by Covid-19, they were moving forward to battle the virus through solidarity but we Malaysians are at a stalemate.
At one point in time, we Malaysians lived harmoniously in the true spirit of “Muhibah” but at the turn of the 20th century, we have seen this harmony disintegrating. Discrimination among race, religion, and customs has affected Malaysia badly and it has been shaped by our politics. During happy times, it was a norm for Malaysians to visit one another and even share the food in the house. However, now Malaysians of various races don’t even visit each other leave alone sharing a drink or food. They don’t even patronise restaurants owned by a different race. Identity politics has come a long way in promoting disharmony. False claims by certain leaders have created a lot of misunderstandings among the various races. There are Malaysians who blindly follow political leaders who use race, politics, and hatred to create fear of a particular race trying to rob others. Such rumours are dumbfounded but trusted by naive people even in towns but more often in villages. In the last fear years, there have been incidences of sporadic racial clashes fortunately thanks to our police who nipped it in the bud. Many NGOs and peace-loving Malaysians had on numerous occasions sounded the alarm of racial polarisations and its dangers but have fallen into deaf ears. The leaders must understand that unity among the various races is important for the country to move forward, but self-interest and greed have blinded many leaders. In a nutshell, we are not moving forward in achieving the true spirit of “muhibah” as enshrined in our Rukun Negara.
Our school system has not been effective too. We have a system today that has become a stumbling block towards achieving unity and progress. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development or OECD has reported that our education system has failed in imparting knowledge in basic skills such as reading, mathematics, and science to the average student and creating academic excellence in talented students. In a study on 65 countries, Malaysia’s rank for mathematics, reading, and science were 52, 59, and 53 respectively. Malaysia’s scores were comparatively lower than that of our nearest neighbours, Thailand and Singapore. At the same time, Malaysia’s expenditure on education per capita was much higher than countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Mexico, and Chile. There was a huge gap between these countries but our performances were much lower and as such, there is an indication that something is seriously wrong in our education system. Another issue is that the curriculum requires many courses to cater to the political demands. There is simply not enough time to teach the core subjects. Students in some schools are required to study many subjects as well as many courses in history, religion, and society. Students become too stressed and lose the ability to focus on core subjects. Education also plays a crucial role in promoting national unity, but our school system segregates students at a very early age. We have national schools, vernacular schools, private schools, private international schools, Islamic schools, and private Chinese schools. Except for the national schools, the other schools have their own curriculum. At the primary level, there is no such thing as unity as there is no contact among the students of different races and cultures. They don’t have an understanding among themselves. When they move on to secondary and tertiary education, they will tend to group among themselves. This is one reason why racial clashes sometimes happen, each race fears one another. Isn’t this moving backward?
In sports, we were kingpins at the Asian level at one point in time. Athletics and football are two sports the world looks up to indicate a country’s glory in sports. I believe that other sports though important, are not seen at the same level as these two sports. This is where sportsmen like the late Mokhtar Dahari and Arumugam, Soh Chin Aun, Santokh Singh, and Mani Jegathesan made their mark in Malaysia. Among others around the world who made their country proud are Pele, Messi, Beckham, Carl Lewis, and Usain Bolt among others. Though not comparable to these legends, we had many world-class athletes too. Our sprinting doctor Tan Sri Mani Jegathesan who was also known as the flying doctor was an icon in the golden era of athletics. He was the first Malaysian to qualify for the semi-finals in the Olympics for athletics. We had our hockey team which finished 3rd in the 1974 World Cup. Our football team qualified for the Munich Olympics. Then we had our badminton greats, the Sidek brothers, Punch Gunalan, and Lee Chong Wei who were world-beaters. Not to forget, we also excelled in squash through Nicol David and Shalin Zulkifli in bowling. Unfortunately in recent years, the fame once associated with sports has dwindled as a result of Malaysians changing lifestyles. Many Malaysian sports are going through a crisis because the schools which once supplied talented sportsman and women are now running dry. Parents and students have shifted their emphasis to academic performance. They are all looking at the number of A’s a student scores. We can’t blame them because only brilliant results assure them a scholarship and entrance into critical subjects in a university. Principals in many schools too, do not have knowledge in sports at all. Additionally, most teachers in schools are ladies and they too have zero knowledge in the technical and coaching aspects. So, how can we expect schools to supply talent to the sports associations? Having realised the setbacks in sports, the country has introduced many programmes to regain its past glory but we have not seen much progress. We were at par once with South Korea and Japan in football but today, these two countries have taken part in World Cups but Malaysian footballers are still struggling to become kings in South East Asia and even losing to minnows like Singapore and Myanmar. In athletics, I don’t think we will see any more Mani Jegathesan’s or Rabuan Pit’s as no one in Malaysian athletics has come close to their standard. In the recent Olympics, Malaysians came back with a silver and a bronze. If we take into account the return in investments as in economics, we will surely be equivalent to being broke. Can we call it a great achievement?
Financial scandals have also rocked Malaysia internationally. The most popular scandal 1MDB is world famous. People all over the world were surprised how tens of billions of ringgit could have been lost. A few irresponsible officers have been brought to court and some money were recovered, but it is unbelievable how such a scandal can happen in Malaysia. It’s all due again to dishonesty and greed. From the beginning we didn’t have a check and balance. To steal so much money there must have been a team of dishonest people helping one another but what’s surprising is it looked like they weren’t scared of being caught and punished. The 1MDB case is only the tip of the iceberg. There were also many other cases of corruption involving ministers and sometimes their wives. Many went scot free without being charged, although they had a string of charges. There was also an instance when the person giving money was fined and jailed but the receiver was not punished. All these instances have shamed our beloved country and if compared to the post independence leaders who had integrity, love for their country, and honesty, the present ones are well below par.
As we celebrate our Independence Day soon, there is hope again for us to pull-up our socks. We will have a new government soon and we hope that we will have the right team. We hope we will not have a cabinet of ministers who will lock themselves in for their own interest. We need to have a team that will guide us out of this abyss. We can be the ‘Tiger of Asia’ again. We cannot be a toothless tiger like present times. We have the strength to rise up and reach for the stars but we need good leaders. We have potential talents in Malaysia and if fairly governed, one day we will be flying high again.
Palaniappan Karuppan is a content writer under Headliner by Newswav, a programme where content creators get to tell their unique stories through articles and at the same time monetize their content within the Newswav app.
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