Without fear or favour – Star (14 April, 2017)

21-04-17 Sangev Punirselvam's 0 comment

Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam compiles many of his thoughts on public policy in his 12th and latest book.

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CRITICS are probably some of the most misunderstood people in human history. They are not always popular: no one, after all, enjoys hearing why something they are doing is wrong.

And yet the duty they do is fundamentally important. Without critics, complacency would reign, and there would be no space for improvement anywhere. When delivered constructively and meaningfully, criticism is a powerful tool, capable of honing the basest of thoughts into the most powerful of strategies.

Author and economist Tan Sri Ramon V. Na var at nam is well aware of the power of criticism. Driven by a strong love for the country and a desire to see it succeed, he has been speaking frankly about issues of Malaysia’s public policy for over three decades.

His latest book, Malaysia’s Transformation Challenges: Debating Public Policies is a compilation of many of Ramon’s thoughts, which have been expressed in the form of letters and articles to local newspapers over the years. They contain the author’s insights about various national issues, including governance, economics, the budget, national unity, foreign policy, corruption, and more.

“Public policy debate is very important. Without it, the government will tend to have a very narrow view of public concerns, and not be able to ascertain public sentiment. As a result, you will have policies that are distorted, or are not understood properly, or are implemented wrongly,” Ramon said during a recent interview at his house in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur.

“It’s part of a healthy democracy. In the interest of good governance, you must have debate. And that’s why I write, sometimes critically, hopefully constructively, and in a way, provocatively as well.”

Having worked as a government “insider” for almost 30 years, Ramon is perhaps one of the best people to comment on the workings of the nation. The author, now 82, has served in the Finance Ministry for almost three decades, where he obtained wide experience in the areas of economic and fiscal planning.

A graduate of economics from both Universiti Malaya and Harvard in the United States, he was a former Deputy Secretary General of the Treasury, a former SecretaryGeneral of the Transport Ministry, and served as the CEO of Bank Buruh for five years. He is now Corporate Advisor with the Sunway Group, a post he has held for the past 22 years, and is a regular contributor to The Star.

Malaysia’s Transformation Challenges is Ramon’s 12th book. His previous works include Malaysia’s Economic Challenges (2002), and Quo Vadis, Malaysia? (2006). His life story, My Life And Times: A Memoir, was published in 2005.

This latest book contains Ramon’s honest thoughts on issues such as transforming the civil service, the importance of taking a moderate approach, criticisms on the country’s economic model, tackling income inequality, and many more.

Also included are his opinions on both past and current Malaysian events, such as the 11th Malaysia Plan, the implementation of hudud laws, and the previously suggested Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Perhaps what’s most striking about Ramon’s book is that the author’s commentaries on public policies are written with the utmost sincerity and respect. “He writes honestly, openly and criticially, but also with the right decorum,” Malaysian Institute of Management (MIM) president Tun Haji Mohammed Hanif Omar writes in the book’s foreword, attributing this to how Ramon has succeeded as a long-time critic.

A major part of the book is devoted to good governance, something the author believes all true Malaysians want and deserve.

“…. We have badly fallen short in the area of good governance. For instance, we spend too much time on wasteful politicking, racial dissension and religious bigotry. The common perception at home and abroad is that corruption is high and worsening, and that our national institutions are weakening,” Ramon writes in the book’s preface.

According to him, while the country has certainly excelled in many areas, there are also areas where public policy seems to have strayed.

“I hope for some basic rethinking, review and renewal. Rethinking where we are, and where we are going. Are we going on the right trajectory? I don’t believe we are. We should review our policies, see where we have gone wrong, and what people want. I think the Transformasi Nasional 50 is a good move, but I am concerned that they may not consult everybody and be fair to everybody,” Ramon said.

“A society like ours, we must have fairness. We must keep to the ideals of Rukunegara and the Constitution. Go for basic needs, and human rights, and you can’t go wrong. Maintain equity and the rule of law.”

While the book could serve as a useful guide to Malaysian public policies now, Ramon added that it also serves as a historical record of the nation for the purpose of posterity.

“In 20, 30, 50 years’ time, if someone wants to know, what was Malaysia like? What were the concerns, the anxieties, the policy debates that the country had? I think my book will serve a useful purpose, particularly about our concerns of the time, whether race, religion, economic growth, or where we are going from here, ” Ramon said.

“Maybe in the future, all of our problems would have been solved. But if they’re not, they can read this (book) and see how we Malaysians felt at the time.”

According to Ramon, Malaysia’s Transformation Challenges may be his last book. However, as long as he has “health, mental alertness, intellectual curiosity and a conscience”, he will continue to write.

“Who knows, in another year, I may have enough to write another book!” he said, with a laugh.

Asked about his hopes for the future of the country, Ramon mentioned Malaysia’s youth, who he hopes would vote for the people who have what it takes to transform the country. What is needed, he added, is for everyone to work together for the good of Malaysia.

“If you look at our faces, we have about four inches across our brow, and five inches down. With only twenty square inches, and seven billion people in the world, yet no two faces are exactly alike,” Ramon said.

“God made each individual unique, with unique skills and talents. The challenge is for us to realise our own talents and weak points, and optimise our potential for full development.”

Malaysia’s Transformation Challenges: Debating

Public Policies is available at major bookstores at RM48. All profits from the sale of the book will go to MIM.