I spent most of my growing up years in a two-street town outside Kuala Lumpur and the only form of industry that was worth mentioning and acknowledged by people as providing employment to most of the people in town was the large cement factory that had existed for many years. Today when I visit that same town, forty years later, the old landmarks are barely recognisable given the fact that there has been much development that has taken place in and around the surrounding areas of what was once the two-street town. Many of us will acknowledge that there has been much development in Malaysia in the last few decades. It is not uncommon to meet people overseas who remark that Malaysia is a developed country and we have the Twin Towers and well connected highways to attest to that. However, development has got to be more than just the infrastructure.
Most Generation X Malaysians are well acquainted with the phrase Vision 2020 which was launched by the then Prime Minister , Dr. Mahathir Mohammed in 1990. In fact, it was announced as the New Economic Policy (NEP) was coming to an end after twenty years. Vision 2020 was developed to be a long-term goal for the nation – the goal of Malaysia becoming a “fully developed country” by year 2020. What seemed to be a long time to achieve back in 1990, we are barely three years away from 2020 and the question that is in my mind is have we moved any closer to being a “fully developed country”?. The main goals of Vision 2020 were to modernise and develop our country based on its own model and develop that nation economically, politically, socially, spiritually, psychologically and culturally.
There is no denying that we have become a more affluent society despite the fact there are still people who experience extreme poverty and the rising urban poor. Perhaps the gap between the rich and the poor has narrowed marginally. But development is not merely measured by economic growth, lifestyle, infrastructure or even the capacity to spend on luxury items. There is surely more to development than just economic growth.
Though we are a young nation (59 years of independence) when compared to many other countries, surely we have progressed significantly more than some of the other countries in our region. However, it may be worth reflecting if we are truly on the road to becoming a “fully developed country” apart from economic terms. In this issue we look at the many other aspects of Malaysian life and ask the question, ’Have we developed?’ In developing Vision 2020, nine challenges were listed and of them, six were listed as creating a new Malaysian society that is respectful, caring, mature, integrated, and ethical. Looking around us there is overwhelming evidence that we are nowhere near solving most of the challenges. In fact, one could even say that we may be worst off since Vision 2020 was launched.
There are many things to celebrate about being Malaysian and there are things that we wish could be better. The missed opportunities that have gone by which could have made us a truly “developed nation” in more ways than just economically are indeed sad realities that perhaps may not come our way again. However, there is also reason to be optimistic. Change takes time to happen even though we all wish to see it in our lifetime. Perhaps ours is the time to sow the seeds of change and someday the future generation will reap the harvest of change and look back and be thankful for the seeds that were sown.
Selamat Hari Merdeka and to a better future!