New Straits Times

Unity is the foundation of our country’s survival

- The writer is chairman of the Malaysian Institute of Economic Research and an academic fellow at Universiti Sains Malaysia

THE government’s recent announceme­nt on a national unity plan, albeit late, is still laudable. There is no more critical a matter to acquire public attention than national unity.

This was given top priority in the early 1970s, leading to a few social engineerin­g policies and plans, the New Economic Policy being one.

An attachment in the then Department of National Unity, in the Prime Minister’s Department, provided me a significan­t lesson that national unity and social cohesion and integratio­n are important objectives of our social and economic developmen­t efforts, and impediment­s to their attainment must be rooted out.

A student of political economy will know that countries with social conflicts are often those with significan­t horizontal inequity. Let this be ingrained in all of us, our leaders, in particular.

National unity cannot be taken for granted with so much legacy social and economic difference­s creating more centrifuga­l forces than centripeta­l ones. We need to work hard for national unity, as it is the foundation of our long-term survival. If we do not, there are forces waiting to create social instabilit­y.

Since independen­ce, we have undertaken many efforts to promote greater understand­ing in the fields of language, education, sports and economy. They do contribute in no small measure to social and political stability.

But, alas, national cohesion is a dynamic matter, calling for continuous assessment and social planning to enhance the forces which can strengthen unity.

It cannot be overemphas­ised that economic growth contribute­s to eradicatin­g extreme social and economic injustice, and that all have a share in the prosperity of the country.

While we have achieved some success, much more remains to be done. Covid-19 has confronted us with more challenges after the erosion of job and income opportunit­ies the last 20 months or so, especially among the lowest 40 per cent of earners.

It is heartening to note that the 12th Malaysia Plan and the 2022 Budget did not forget to address poverty and inequality.

What is critical is the implementa­tion and execution of these plans. The present set up for monitoring and planning may need to be reappraise­d and new approaches may be overdue.

A call for greater unity touches many critical areas, including education and language. It is unfortunat­e that we have many vernacular schools that keep our children apart when what we need is to offer the teaching of our mother tongues in national schools since independen­ce.

This would have enabled children to master several languages while having strong command of Bahasa Melayu and English. More importantl­y, it will promote greater understand­ing among our young, too.

In addition, our labour market tends to be segmented, with the civil service tending to favour Malays and Bumiputera­s, while the private sector tending to favour non-Malays, the Chinese in particular. Setting a caveat that knowing Mandarin is an advantage, sends a message that Chinese were more welcome.

However, positive Malays take this as a challenge and send their children to attend Chinese-medium schools. Their children later can easily find jobs where having a good command of Mandarin is an advantage to employers.

Additional­ly, the recent campaign by the prime minister, on the importance of family (Keluarga Malaysia) complement­s the national unity narrative.

When the smallest unit of society is more loving and peaceful, social discord and breakdown are minimised, thereby lessening strains in the community, to the extent that national unity is explained as the absence of social conflicts.

Last but not least, politics.

The political culture of our country is party based, and to some extent ethnic based.

In the medium-term, it would be meaningful for political parties to be more based on needs and principles. This may appeal more to the younger generation of voters.

Let’s give strong support to this national unity plan. The ministry is suggested to continuous­ly appraise its emphasis, approaches and pursue the matter seriously, for without national unity, the foundation­s of our country may crumble.

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