THE JOURNAL consists of selected, most notable and newsworthy POSTINGS OF THE DAY.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

> What's wrong with Malaysia?

by Tony Fernandes, CEO AirAsia Group

I am ever the optimist, but recently I have been a little despondent about our country. I love Malaysia and am so proud to be a Malaysian. Have always been that way and always will, but now I can't help feeling like we seem to be losing the plot. Reality is sinking in that we are not that great after all and we have lots to do.

My heart goes out to the families of the victims and the survivors of the landslide at Bukit Antarabangsa. Personally, the landslide came as devastating news to me. Coupled with an incident where a friend of mine lost his life in Plaza Damas because of an accident caused by poor building regulations and those of my friends who lost everything in the Highland Towers collapse, the Bukit Antarabangsa disaster emphasized some home truths for me.

I feel that in the year 2008, Malaysia is still behaving with a Third World mentality. With just 12 years to go, are we really serious about our goal of achieving developed nation status by 2020? Highland Towers happened in 1993 and 15 years on, we have Bukit Antarabangsa.

How can we ever achieve First World status if we do not plan, if we continue to take short cuts and allow unscrupulous behaviour for short-term profits? It made me think that if we as a nation don't change, we will be squashed just like the houses in the landslide.

What is wrong? We need leaders from all political parties to act truly as leaders. Honestly I'm despondent and tired of politics. It’s just you vs. me, me vs. you on a very personal level and let’s see who gets one up on the other all the time now. Is anyone doing anything about the problems that the common Malaysian faces? What about the education system or the health system or the impending economic recession?

We need freer markets and more inquiring minds, an independent judiciary, a first-class civil service and a great police force. And on top of that, we need first-class transportation infrastructure. Think of how much productivity is lost by just sitting in traffic jams.

How can we still argue about less freedom? We need a press that’s more free; we need a great police force that instills more confidence, and a great civil service that helps private businesses and increases productivity. How can we still be arguing about an independent judiciary? How can we be developed without it? How can we be developed without copyright protection and protection of intellectual property? It's not about Petaling Street, and the ingenuity shown by Malaysians who can produce “genuine fakes.” We are still selling ourselves cheap. What about the innovator who could be the next Bill Gates but all his work is stolen so he has to be a sales consultant? How about our next great composer?

I could go on and on for ages. There is frustration in this post. Frustration as I see a great nation sliding downhill. The world is moving at warp speed. While we fritter away our valuable time engaging in petty political squabbles and arguments about individual ethnic identity, other nations are catching up – and even passing us by on the global economic autobahn.

We cannot resolve the problems of the digital age by using an analogue mindset. We need new, visionary thinking. And we need to be brave enough to act decisively and implement policies that benefit Malaysia and Malaysians. If we do not change our ways, I fear that just like the houses in that landslide, we are in danger of watching Malaysia - the nation we all call home - being washed away into irrelevance.