The word must not be seen only from a quan­ti­ta­tive point of view; qual­i­ta­tive and in­tan­gi­ble as­pects of life are equally im­por­tant

New Straits Times - - VIEWPOINT -

MUCH has been said about the 2019 Bud­get’s three ar­eas of em­pha­sis: im­ple­ment­ing in­sti­tu­tional re­forms; fos­ter­ing an en­tre­pre­neur­ial econ­omy; and en­sur­ing so­cioe­co­nomic well­be­ing of Malaysians.

While most com­mented on their quan­ti­ta­tive di­men­sions, few said much about the qual­i­ta­tive as­pects, creat­ing a kind of value bias against the lat­ter. This has many vi­tal im­pli­ca­tions with re­gard to en­sur­ing a more holis­tic and hu­man-cen­tric rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the 2019 Bud­get.

This is best il­lus­trated from the as­pect of the third fo­cus area: to en­sure the so­cio-eco­nomic well­be­ing of Malaysians, which in Malay reads as memas­tikan ke­se­jahter­aan rakyat. It is as though this as­pect is the ac­cu­mu­la­tion of the other two — in­sti­tu­tional re­forms and en­tre­pre­neur­ial econ­omy — to ar­rive at the state of well­be­ing (sejahtera) lim­ited to the so­cio-eco­nomic realm. The lim­i­ta­tion be­comes even more ob­vi­ous when ren­der­ing of “so­cioe­co­nomic well­be­ing” of Malaysians falls short of fully ex­plain­ing what memas­tikan ke­se­jahter­aan rakyat is all about (the word “so­cio-eco­nomic” is not even im­plied).

Af­ter all, as ex­plained in the 2019 Bud­get, this as­pect has a broader spec­trum, em­brac­ing the quality of life and wel­fare, health and so­cial wel­fare pro­tec­tion, and em­ploy­ment and em­ploy­a­bil­ity as its sub­themes as the over­all tar­gets. The re­al­ity is that the key­word sejahtera is more com­pre­hen­sive and so­phis­ti­cated than just “so­cio-eco­nomic well­be­ing” — which is just one layer of its mean­ing. Sejahtera is a rather mul­ti­lay­ered con­cept that con­veys a deeper mean­ing than any sin­gle word can con­vey. As such it has no equiv­a­lent in other lan­guages, nei­ther can it be ac­cu­rately trans­lated into dif­fer­ent lan­guages due to its close cul­tural lean­ing and nu­ances to the lo­cal Malay(sian) tra­di­tion.

Hence to un­der­stand it from a one-di­men­sional per­spec­tive is to miss the whole point and can even give a very dis­torted mean­ing. What would be most sorely missed is the qual­i­ta­tive-cum-in­tan­gi­ble as­pects that are to­day’s ma­jor con­cern. Health, for ex­am­ple, is not just about the ab­sence of dis­ease or ill­ness that may be quan­tifi­able, one way or the other. How­ever health is also uni­ver­sally recog­nised as the state of emo­tions, sans “phys­i­cal” dis­eases, that could lead to a sit­u­a­tion of tidak sejahtera (read de­pres­sion, stress, vi­o­lence) with­out any clear signs and symp­toms un­til per­haps it is too late to deal with.

A re­cent re­port that cited the case of some 20 per cent of stu­dents in Pe­nang ex­pe­ri­enc­ing de­pres­sion and about six per cent at­tempt­ing sui­cide is an alarm­ing case in point. This is just the tip of the tidak sejahtera ice­berg beyond so­cio-eco­nomic terms. In­deed, sejahtera is fore­most spir­i­tual in na­ture, em­brac­ing both emo­tional and eth­i­cal di­men­sions that are too of­ten left out in the lim­ited un­der­stand­ing of the word. In short, it is de­fined by val­ues and virtues as its ba­sic frame­work.

This takes us to the con­cern that Prime Min­is­ter Tun Dr Ma­hathir Mo­hamad has been ex­press­ing all along: val­ues must come first be­fore any form of skills or com­pe­ten­cies. In fact, with good val­ues, it is a lot eas­ier to ac­quire skills and com­pe­ten­cies of all sorts be­cause the eth­i­cal and moral dis­ci­plines are well nur­tured as a base for any skills and com­pe­ten­cies to be built upon. He was re­cently quoted, on his work­ing visit to Ja­pan, reaf­firm­ing his con­vic­tion lead­ing to the es­tab­lish­ment of the Look East Pol­icy some 30 years ago.

Good moral val­ues should be given at­ten­tion and taught to chil­dren from kinder­garten to univer­sity, said the prime min­is­ter. Ac­cord­ingly, he re­marked that the “na­tional ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem should teach stu­dents good val­ues and char­ac­ter” beyond im­part­ing (mar­ketable) knowl­edge which is the true pur­pose of “ed­u­ca­tion” as per the “Fal­safah Pen­didikan Ne­gara” (later “Ke­bangsaan”) (na­tional ed­u­ca­tion phi­los­o­phy) .

Quality of life is an­other area that “so­cio-eco­nomic well­be­ing” is in­ad­e­quate at ad­dress­ing. It fails to grasp the full mean­ing of the en­tire hu­man per­son (life). “Life” as in quality of life is in­vari­ably re­lated to the “spir­i­tual be­ing” first rather than the ma­te­rial be­ing which is so­cio-eco­nom­i­cally de­fined and de­ter­mined. Other­wise, val­ues/virtues such as hap­pi­ness, love and mu­tual re­spect will be marginalised.

In a nut­shell the el­e­ment of “sejahtera” must be fully un­der­stood, in­ter­nalised and prac­tised be­cause it is the foun­tain­head of good val­ues/virtues that are in­nately hu­man (and di­vine too) that will lead to a right­eous and bal­anced way of life in nur­tur­ing the hu­man per­son as ad­vo­cated by the “Fal­safah” which is in no un­cer­tain terms the ba­sis of the na­tional ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem from pre-school to the univer­sity and beyond. The ur­gent ques­tion is whether this is taking place in a con­tin­u­ous, holis­tic and in­te­grated man­ner (as ad­vo­cated by the “Fal­safah”).

Un­til this hap­pens, “sejahtera” in all its forms and taglines are noth­ing but empty clichés. Ap­plied to a doc­u­ment as crit­i­cal as the 2019 Bud­get (the lat­est to lever­age “sejahtera”), the out­come may fall ter­ri­bly short of what the word is sup­posed to con­vey qual­i­ta­tively as a way of life based on val­ues and virtues that Malaysia des­per­ately finds want­ing es­pe­cially of late. Salam sejahtera.

“Life” as in quality of life is in­vari­ably re­lated to the “spir­i­tual be­ing” first rather the ma­te­rial be­ing which is so­cioe­co­nom­i­cally de­fined and de­ter­mined.

The writer is the rec­tor of In­ter­na­tional Islamic Univer­sity and an hon­orary fel­low of CenPRIS at Univer­siti Sains Malaysia


Fi­nance Min­is­ter Lim Guan Eng tabling the 2019 Bud­get on Nov 2.

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