Rafidah Aziz: What ails Malaysia? (The Edge)


Cover Story – What Ails Malaysia? : No shortage of leaders, but lack of leadership

I was asked to write on what ails Malaysia, but that would be the wrong focus. Malaysia is a blessed country, but completely dependent upon where and how Malaysians shape and make of it.

Is the nation progressively heading towards developed nation status, or stagnating? Or worse still, sliding backwards as would have been the case if the reins of government were left in the grip of kleptocracy?

The question should be: “What ails some of us in Malaysia?”

Basically, some are not willing to accept the fact that all of us Malaysians are of one nationality, made up of diverse racial backgrounds and heritage.

Wherever our forefathers originated from, it is immaterial because each of us who is a Malaysian citizen is a Malaysian national.

Why ignore this important fact? Why inject racial diversity into any and all discourse? Why must race be a political tool to be kicked around, just to win political brownie points?

Equally concerning, why must some people continue to interpret religion so subjectively that the religion of moderation, integrity, unity and progressiveness has been made out to be one that is the antithesis of its real teachings?

One’s chosen religion is a leap of faith. No one else has the right to impose his or her beliefs on anyone else or judge the depth of another’s faith. Especially when some display shades of hypocrisy and use religion for other objectives. There is no room in Malaysia for such divisive bigotry.

Often, we Malaysians look inward, to the extent that we are not aware that those who were, not too long ago, behind us in many areas of socioeconomic development have now already overtaken us.

What happened?

I would say it is a composite of things.

There was the slack in public sector governance over the last decade or so, and the abuses of power and authority, which have set the nation back. Furthermore, we allowed mediocrity to be our benchmark, rather than reaching for excellence.

We are now in recovery mode, which will take time.

And impatience among Malaysians will not help. A decade of erosion cannot be repaired and rebuilt in two or three years. I am confident that with some necessary tweaks and changes and strategic planning, along with the implementation of relevant measures, moving forward, we will, God willing, bring Malaysia firmly back on its feet. A nation that is able to rid itself of the constraints of the excess baggage of the past, and can move forward with confidence so that we can make world headlines only for the right reasons.

Our talented and capable young, regardless of gender, are capable of reaching global standards of excellence. But these will not come automatically. All stakeholders, especially Malaysians themselves, must help to shape that Malaysia from now on.

To my mind, our seeming preoccupation should not be “menjaga tepi kain orang”, being busybodies such that we forget our own individual roles and responsibilities towards nation-building. If Malaysia is a big residence in which we are all finding shelter, then we should look after the house well.

Many of us are retirees or homemakers, but we have the pivotal roles of nurturing and forging the right values among the new generation. Still, each and every one of us, as Malaysians, CAN, and must, add value to nation-building.

As they say, we should be solutions to problems, not part of the problem. What ails us in Malaysia is that some seem to thrive on being the problem. Some love to add fuel to the fire, rather than help put out fires.

Some start fires for reasons only known to them, leaving the rest of us asking why.

It seems almost sadistic among some to start those fires. We can’t be wasting effort fighting fires; instead, we should be continuously creating an environment that enables the forging of, and catalyses, unity and understanding among Malaysians.

This is our country. Together, we belong to Malaysia.

We must make sure that Malaysia can continue to be resilient and strong. It is important to bear in mind that the very source of that strength and resilience is each and every Malaysian — our individual and collective attitudes, values, principles, motivation, sense of responsibility, discipline and integrity, and our pride in being Malaysian.

Today, we seem to allow ourselves to be preoccupied with the “transition of power”, forgetting the ultimate power of The Almighty to determine and decide.

Man proposes. God disposes.

Let no one have the arrogance to ignore the Will of The Almighty. Regardless of whomsoever the new PM will be, and whenever it is, the most important thing is that the person MUST take over the responsibility of governing a stable, resilient and united Malaysia. There is NO pride in heading a nation beset with rancour and fractiousness, a people splintered by toxic divisiveness, fuelled by unproductive ego-triggered narratives of racial origin.

No one should be so impatient as to set timelines to “effect the transition and takeover”. That so called “timeline” itself has become a source of debate and contention.

Leadership is not about the position one holds; it is about the leadership qualities in any one individual.

Malaysia does not merely need “leaders”, but leadership which can take the country successfully into the future.

As we head into the new decade, let us resolve to leave behind for good the problems and irritants that ail us now, and unite to create the Malaysia that is effectively governable, where we all have a deep sense of belonging, respected by the world at large, and a legacy that our young, for generations to come, can truly uphold and continue to benefit from.

Malaysia is a nation for every Malaysian citizen. No one can take that away. Let us be Malaysians that we ourselves can be proud of.

It is all of us together who will shape the kind of Malaysia, moving forward. Let us put our right foot forward and move strongly forward, together in unity.


Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz was minister of international trade and industry from 1987 to 2008 

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