IT’S certainly a good proposal that needs attention. There are plenty of reasons why the time has come for a special national consultative council (NCC).
The last time the country had one was in 1970 – a year after the bloody racial riots of 1969 that rocked the nation.
Malaysia will celebrate its 60th national day next year and it will be exactly 47 years since the last NCC meetings.
We will just be pretending if we say that all is well and fine in this country. It is not.
It will be foolish to think that all is hunky dory and that there is no real basis to have another big meeting following which the reports will gather dust, as some cynics may think.
The reality is that the country’s economic growth is expected to stabilise at around 4-4.5% per annum but the hurdles ahead are clear with the continuing volatile oil prices and our dependence on palm oil.
The over reliance on palm oil and crude oil/gas as drivers of value added opportunities would put growth at risk if these sectors were to slow down as evident now.
We are grappling with a weakening ringgit, soaring prices of goods in the country and increasing cost of living.
Against this backdrop, there are issues of governance, ethics, credibility and accountability that have dented the image of our institutions. To put in plainly, we are facing a trust deficit in this country with people losing their faith in our leaders.
Poor investments and alleged questionable deals have all led to tremendous loss in public faith and funds.
Malaysia isn’t going bankrupt as some want us to think. Our foreign exchange reserves have increased to a decent level, our economy expanded 4.0% year-on-year in the June quarter of 2016, moderating from a 4.2% growth in the previous period and in line with market expectations.
It was the fifth straight quarter of decelerating growth as a surge in investment and a faster increase in private consumption and government spending were unable to offset a decline in net exports.
In terms of WEF Global Competitiveness Report 2016/16, Malaysia was ranked 18th but in the 2016-2017 report, we have dropped to No. 25 out of 138 countries but this is due to lower oil and commodity prices and the weaker ringgit.
We have gone up to No. 4 in the world, from the previous No. 5, in protecting our investors in Malaysia and No. 6 in complying with easiness in doing business in Malaysia.
But all these official figures mean nothing if ordinary Malaysians feel they have become poorer and frustrated at the lack of good prospects in this country.
It is bad if our talented and educated pool of Malaysians think of migrating – and certainly a large number of Malaysians have given up on this country and they leave because they think their children deserve better.
The data shows that household debt to GDP now exceeds 86.7% due to high mortgage and consumer credit.
The problem, according to one report, is particularly acute at households earning less than RM3,000 per month because their debt is seven times their annual income.
The reality is that bumiputra households are reportedly most vulnerable to high debt problems.
Our economy need fixing, our competitiveness needs to be sharpened, our human capital development needs an upgrade, new sources of revenue are urgently needed and for sure, our education system needs to be honestly, if not brutally, addressed.
We spent over 6% of the GDP on education, one of the highest in the region, and yet we produce graduates with bad command of English and equally bad thinking skills.
Surely, by now, many of us cringe with embarrassment when our politicians use terms like “world class institutions” to describe our higher education system.
Every time a new minister comes, new policies are set, with one economist rightly saying there are also “too many silos of academia, business and civil servants all working for their own agendas or curriculum”.
We surely need a conversation on education policy and religious studies, and for sure, on disturbing religious trends in this country which have threatened the moderate kind of Islam practised in this country.
CIMB Group chairman Datuk Seri Nazir Razak is right in suggesting the formation of the NCC 2, as he calls it. The time is ripe to brainstorm ideas for the country’s short term and long term future, and to reinvent Malaysia.
Perhaps, even a New Malaysia, as we want to see it.
The NCC 2 should not just look at the economy but surely we need to talk about how we can galvanise a common Malaysian vision on issues of culture, religion and national aspirations.
We need a conversation on how we want to tackle corruption effectively, how we intend to strengthen our judiciary, device check and balance mechanisms and improve transparency in political financing.
The NCC 2, unlike the one in 1970, should allow Malaysians to have their say and to contribute in a constructive and rational way, by providing their input through proper social media platforms. It shouldn’t be just the work of appointed personalities.
Let ordinary Malaysians show that they can go beyond the loose, meaningless chatter on social media and to offer views with substance towards a better Malaysia.
If there is a need to make structural changes for the future and the next generation, let’s hear how we can do it.
If we feel strongly that we need leaders with moral and ethical standards, not just religiously, but from a corporate governance point of view, millions of us can send that message online, in an accountable manner, without having to wait for the next election.
Malaysia needs to move forward in a more constructive and meaningful way. Enough time has been wasted as some of our neighbours, with bigger market size, look set to overtake us. We need to get our act together, beyond posting nasty messages on social media.
Let’s give Malaysia a chance, let’s give NCC 2 a chance, too.