WHAT an eventful year it has been for my Malaysia. A year that began with so much hope and optimism, only to be met with additional difficulties and challenges.
We hoped that the discovery of vaccines would reduce the risk of Covid-19 pandemic, yet virus mutation remains a severe threat to humanity.
Thousands of Malaysians have died, and many more have lost their livelihoods. Many industries are collapsing in front of our eyes as a result of the prolonged lockdown and border restriction.
The appearance of Omicron only adds to our fear and trepidation. One can’t help but wonder when we’ll be out of the woods and resume our normal lives.
To make matters worse, significant flooding is currently occurring in the majority of Malaysian states.
Some would argue that mother nature is fighting back to restore balance. A call to humanity to maintain the ecosystem, protect our heritage, and do everything possible to combat climate change.
Witnessing all of these disasters from thousands of miles away gave me a sense of sorrow and helplessness. The grief and pain of Malaysians are difficult to put into words, but I can only take solace in my work and hope that my words can help my fellow citizens.
‘What do we do now?’ Is Malaysia’s future doom and gloom? Is this the beginning of a regressive Malaysia? Were we not formerly referred to as Asia’s tiger?
To many of us, it seems like a distant memory that we used to be a role model for many developing countries and a leader in the Muslim world. The only cure for despair is hope, and after seeing how Malaysians have banded together, I believe we will strive even further.
Empathy and compassion will be our greatest assets, and with good and honest people in charge, we have a brighter future.
However, we must not squander this opportunity. A crisis reveals a flawed system, and we must be courageous enough to rectify mistakes and construct a better one.
This article is about looking ahead, resetting our goals, and making our country a better place. A country with plenty of opportunities for everyone.
A country in which we might offer social mobility and a sense of belonging. To be a proud Malaysian, we must achieve once more and advance on various fronts.
It is critical that we demonstrate our capability and that no barriers will deter us from achieving our objectives.
Needless to say, we’ve come a long way since independence, transitioning from an economic backwater to a competitive emerging economy.
We did many good things, such as building institutions, investing in human capital, reshaping cities, and constructing world-class infrastructure.
Nonetheless, our success has turned out to be our worst enemy. Instead of continuing to strive for a developed nation, we began to interfere with and undermine the legitimacy of our own institutions.
Trust, an essential component of social capital, is gradually eroding, making policy implementation more difficult.
Lack of trust leads to inefficiencies and leakages, which means we will never have enough budget to offer what Malaysian’s desire. Why don’t we invest more in trust if it’s such a valuable commodity?
Not only should people be punished for corruption and cheating, but people with excellent integrity should also be rewarded. Encourage positivity by rewarding positive and effective conduct.
Isn’t that what we want? Honest and trustworthy leaders. So put your money where your mouth is and continue to reward excellent individuals rather than tightening rules and inflicting tougher penalties.
Second, let us continue to advocate for economic independence, as a relationship-based economy would only distort the market and provide sub-optimal results.
Discriminatory economics will continue to stymie our ability to compete with the best. The world is changing at a fast pace, and creating value remains a difficult task.
Due to a lack of investment in science and technology, our market value has grown slowly. Apple Inc is anticipated to be the first company to be valued at $3 trillion, which is about double the total market capitalization of Malaysian companies.
By no means I am advocating for no intervention, but rather a positive mechanism that harnesses the power of an amenable ecosystem. A more prosperous and empowered society will benefit everyone, as we all agree.
Third, acknowledge that we as a country are straining to keep up with rapid technological advancements that are required for the post-covid future.
We need to improve our capabilities in a variety of fields, including quantum computing, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, 3D printing, genome sequencing, and many more.
We shall be bystanders, watching the rest of the world from the sidelines, if we do not have enough potential. We must be in the thick of the activity, which necessitates significant investments in personnel and research.
I understand that it will not happen fast, but we need big ideas and big thinking.
I am confident that only with optimism can we bring this country together and surge ahead of our regional peers.
Last but not least, let us work together to build an ecosystem that encourages Malaysians to make better decisions. We are responsible for ensuring that the general public is financially literate, aware of environmental issues, and familiar with the digital economy.
At the government level, we must confront pressing concerns and rethink our economic strategy. Reforestation, for example, should be viable and encouraged as a value generation activity through carbon trading.
There is an urgent need to change certain outmoded policies and reconsider how to build a better nation.
These are just a few of the many options available. Make no mistake, these are not perfect solutions, but we must begin somewhere in order to ensure and convince the next generation that as a country, we can aspire to be better.
I am a firm belief that in order to change, we must develop a system similar to how we accept capitalism. Today, we are attempting to improve the sustainability framework and Islamic finance. We must continue to strive until we find a better option.
This is my vision for my country, a narrative that will make us a great nation and the envy of many.
Malaysia, a story to be emulated and a source of hope for many other countries. I know I’ll return one day, but until then, my mission is to improve Islamic finance and, ideally, to making this world a better place.
Assoc Prof Dr Mohamed Eskandar Shah Hamad bin Khalifa
University, Qatar Foundation