(From left) ASLI CEO and director Tan Sri Dr Michael Yeoh, Plantation industries and Commodities Minister Datuk Seri Mah Siew Keong, Ramon and Malaysian institute of Management chairman/TMR Media Sdn Bhd ED Datuk Ng Tieh Chuan at the launching of Ramon’s book entitled ‘Malaysia’s Transformation Challenges-Debating Public Policies’ in conjunction with the 19th Malaysia Strategic Outlook Conference 2017 in Kuala lumpur on Jan 24 (Pic by Muhd Amin Naharul/TMR)
Why are individuals moved to write and record the passage of time and circumstance and their place in them? Perhaps, having seen, experienced and done it all, they find they are able to make certain value judgements.
Call them realisations, which invariably tend to trigger a desire for sharing them.
Needless to say, it happens a lot with those who find solace in religion, because it’s all about how we ought to conduct ourselves to gain maximum benefit in the time we spend on our earthly abode.
But it’s also true there’s evangelical drive even without religious underpinnings. Simple, plain understanding of how life works, cause and effect and how we stand to gain if we mend our ways with the right thinking, is the subject of motivational offerings in all their forms, be they print, electronic or even open discourses.
Seen in this light, this narrative about challenges of governance facing our nation starts with policies. How they are implemented are revealed in the effects, good or bad.
If proper thinking has not gone into them in the first place, they are more than likely to be found lacking when translated into action.
That’s when feedback comes into play. Given and received graciously, allows for putting things right, preventing wastage of effort and funds.
Change, as the great Mahatma Gandhi said, is the only constant in this world. It’s inevitable and in embracing it, the expectation is always change for the better.
No one has a monopoly on thin-king right.
That’s why dialogue, discussion, seminars, conferences and training become the underpinnings of change.
So, we have a book that seeks to “express honest views, and hopefully, provide constructive criticism”.
But who is the author anyway? The Asian Strategy & Leadership Institute (ASLI) director and the Centre of Public Policy Studies chairman Tan Sri Dr Ramon V Navaratnam, who belongs to the Merdeka Generation and who was among the early batches to graduate from the University of Malaya in Singapore in the late 50s, with an economics degree before joining the Malayan Civil Service, as it was known then.
The Ministry of Finance was where he worked for 30 years, bringing to bear his wide experience in economic and financial planning. Those years included a two-year stint as a World Bank alternate director in Washington. He capped his career as secretary general of the Ministry of Transport, following which he was CEO of Bank Buruh Malaysia Bhd for five years and currently he’s corporate advisor with the Sunway Group of Companies under Tan Sri Dr Jeffrey Cheah, a service span of 22 years.
Now 81, he says he’s been trained, to speak up to influence public policies and practices internally, inspired as he has been by Albert Einstein who said: “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything”.
Tun Mohammed Hanif Omar, a former inspector general of police, now serving as president of the Malaysian Institute of Management, where Ramon also sits as a board member, has this in the book’s preface:
“Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam writes honestly, openly and critically, but also politely. This is how I think he has succeeded as a critic, despite some of the nation’s harsh laws!”
Ramon alludes to them in the book. “We live in an overly sensitive society…even lighthearted cartoons are being regarded as inciting hatred”.
He offers his solution to the problem of fear and intimidation: Strike a balance between being polite and civil in our critical comments on one hand and being professional, pointed and sharp on the other. Being aggressive or confrontational is not in keeping with Malay or Malaysian custom. It is necessary to respect form and substance.
Criticism has to be in good faith.
Most of the underlying policy concerns related in the book are about good governance. Too much time is being spent on wasteful politic- king, racial dissension and religious bigotry.
Corruption is worsening and national institutions are weakening.
The Opposition parties have never been in power at the federal level to provide an alternative government and adequate checks and balances.
Ramon refers to “state capture” as the control of institutions of state by vested interest such as big businesses. State capture manifests itself as an unholy alliance between the two to stay in power.
State capture happens when the Opposition is suppressed so much that it becomes fragmented and almost incapable of providing checks and balances.
There are vital structural changes to be addressed and resolve is needed to break out from the “middle income” trap.
All in all, there’s a need to go back to basics and the purpose of the book, Ramon says, is to highlight the need to address all the negatives that have emerged in recent years to ensure growth “as a united, modern, peaceful and progressive nation” is not stifled.
The book’s many articles highlight perennial problems, such as graduate unemployment, the weak ringgit, budget deficits, bureaucratic waste and corruption.
The publisher’s note in the book urges Malaysians to stand up and demand necessary reforms on a sustained basis and poses the question: Will those who read the book take up the challenge for the sake of unity and progress?
Time will tell.