THE much-awaited Ninth Malaysia Plan (9MP) will be unveiled at the current parliamentary session amid high expectations following the fuel price rise and other pressing problems.
The Plan’s implementation period, 2006-10, is particularly strategic because we are now entering the second phase towards realising Vision 2020, to become a developed nation.
Also, this is the first plan formulated under the stewardship of Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi since he took over as Prime Minister in late 2003.
High on the people’s mind is to what extent the 9MP will address the fundamental issue of building a united Bangsa Malaysia or Malaysian Nation (NB: not the “Malaysian race” as often stated).
Simply put, Bangsa Malaysia is about nation building and moulding our ethnically and culturally diverse people into one nation with a collective national will, consciousness, shared identity and shared destiny.
It is about ensuring durable cohesiveness and unity with tolerance and respect for difference – be it ethnic, cultural, religious, ideological or political.
It is about forging a strong socio-cultural and spiritual glue to bind current and future generations together as one and surviving periods of prosperity as well as adversity.
The strength of our diversity as a nation – after some five decades of independence – has lately come under serious challenge, with many issues coming to the fore and creating uneasiness, misunderstanding and tension as well as testing the parameters of our inter-ethnic and inter-religious tolerance, peace and civility.
Externally, we are faced with the challenge of intense global competition (particularly in terms of attracting foreign investment), the consequences of market liberalisation, rising fuel prices and turbulent global geopolitics. All these have a serious impact on our nation-building enterprise.
However, it is a blessing that the various internal problems are not being swept under the carpet. This helps to draw attention to what we have to do urgently and effectively together as a nation.
It is encouraging that the top leadership is giving emphasis to greater openness, dialogue, consultation and change. This gives hope for working out a lasting solution together.
The 9MP needs to address some of the shortfalls and consequences of the previous plans. We urgently need a development paradigm that is more holistic and human-friendly, based on principles of good governance, justice and fairness.
Of particular importance is, we have a strong development-oriented state that is determined to realise the two-pronged objective of eradicating poverty, irrespective of ethnicity, and the restructuring of society.
We have had impressive growth through export-led industrialisation, with our GDP today being 14 times larger than that in 1970.
Malaysia now enjoys the status of an upper middle-income developing country and an economic powerhouse that is ranked the 17th largest trading nation in the world.
However, we have serious problems arising from our success. The emphasis on material development and the focus on certain areas, particularly on urban western industrial corridors, have resulted in the under-emphasis of a more holistic development.
Agriculture has become a sunset sector, and some states do not feature significantly on the development radar screen.
While there have been focus on the Malays, other indigenous groups feel left out.
While anti-poverty programmes have been successful, the non-Malay poor feel neglected.
Despite increasing prosperity, there is rising inequality, with an under-class in urban areas emerging.
Corruption and malpractices in both the public and private sectors reflect badly on governance and integrity.
Over and above these, crass materialism, environmental degradation and increasing social problems, particularly crime, are impacting seriously on the quality of our lives. The Prime Minister has spoken many times about these issues.
We will have a disunited nation if development is not seen and felt as benefiting all sections of society, all ethnic groups and all regions.
The 9MP under Abdullah’s leadership is thus the first major testing ground in putting his ideas and aspirations into policy and practice.
He not only needs the people’s support but also constructive inputs and criticisms to achieve the country’s mission.
Dr Abdul Rahman is Professor in Sociology of Development and Principal Fellow at the Institute of Malaysian and International Studies (IKMAS), Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. He is also president of the Malaysian Social Science Association.