On 31 March 2006, the federal government tabled the Ninth Malaysia Plan (9MP) in Parliament to great public acclaim. This 524-page document contains the first of three Five Year Plans to achieve Vision 2020 and its goal of making Malaysia a fully developed country. Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has said that the 9MP is the centrepiece of his administration and that no other policy implementation task is more important.
What is the 9MP and what are its implications for Christians? This article will briefly sketch out some of its main features and notable points. Those who are more interested in it will obviously want to read the Plan for themselves. A soft copy is available from the following website: http://www.epu.jpm.my/rm9/RMKe9.htm
At the heart of the 9MP is a RM220 billion allocation for federal government development expenditure over the next five years. The Plan specifies the objectives and strategies that will guide the government in spending this amount.
Also central to the Plan are policies and regulatory requirements that do not have an explicit cost but which are nonetheless critical to the achievement of specific goals. These include measures to redistribute employment, income and wealth along ethnic lines and enhance public service delivery.
At the outset, it is important for the Christian community to note that there is an anomaly early in the 9MP. Page 9 of the Plan states that:-
“Islam Hadhari was introduced in 2004 as a comprehensive and universal development framework for the nation. The framework was formulated as an approach that enjoins progress and advancement as an imperative for the people, while being rooted in the universal values and injunctions of Islam.”
The statement that Islam Hadhari was introduced as a framework for “the nation” seems to lack a sound factual basis. If it is indeed grounded in reality, then Christians and non-Christians alike should, in the interests of transparency and accountability, seek clarification from their leader as to the exact manner, circumstances and details by which such a framework was adopted by the nation.
The idea that something can be both intrinsically universal and particular all at the same time is, at very least, a debatable one. In no way can it be considered as beyond question and an accepted fact. Indeed, in a multi-religious society like Malaysia, the association between universal values (no matter how desirable) with one particular religion (no matter which one) should be considered, at best, inappropriate and, at worst, insensitive.
The assertion that non-Muslims should embrace the principles because they are not specific to Muslims is especially tenuous when the above statement is compared with another on the same page: “Islam Hadhari is an effort to bring the people back to basics and back to the fundamentals, as prescribed in the Quran and the Hadith that form the foundation of Islamic civilisation.” If this indeed accurately describes the true intentions, then it quite clearly contradicts the universal claims that are made.
Leaving aside the specificity of the philosophy, the 9MP outlines a National Mission for 24.4 million Malaysians that comprise five thrusts.
The first thrust of the 9MP is to move the economy up the value chain. This requires two complementary strategies, first, the migration of existing economic activities such as electrical and electronics towards higher value-added and technology segments and, second, the establishment of new activities, as in biotechnology, services and agriculture.
The second thrust of the Plan is to raise the capacity for knowledge and innovation and nurture a ‘first class’ mentality. The primary means of doing so is via the education system, namely by improving the access and quality of secondary and tertiary institutions, nurturing top quality R&D and innovation, and by harnessing the efforts of women and youth, and the development of strong moral values.
Christians should strongly support both of these thrusts and participate to the fullest extent possible. Many are already involved in services and the New Economy and the Plan provides for more opportunities in such areas.
Education is also something that has been one of the core values of the Christian community, especially one that avoids an over-emphasis on text books, tuition and examinations.
The third thrust of the 9MP is to address socio-economic inequalities constructively and productively. Importantly, the Plan approach in resolving socio-economic imbalances is to “focus on capacity building and competitiveness, taking into account the lessons of the past and the pressures of globalisation and liberalisation”.
The fourth thrust of the 9MP is that of improving the standard and sustainability of the quality of life. This takes the form of meeting the needs for housing, health, transport, energy and water, as well as culture and sports.
Christians must stand for social justice. That we have not done so to a greater extent is reflective of the lack of teaching that our gospel is as much a social as a spiritual one.
We can have no quarrel that the poor and marginalised must be given a hand up into the economic mainstream. Our reason is not the negative fear of social instability but the positive opportunity to show love and concern. The emphasis on eradicating poverty, intra-ethnic inequalities and care for such groups as the elderly, disabled, single mothers and orphans all resonate sympathetically with the Christian agenda for the past two millennia.
Where we would take issue with the 9MP is the unnecessary identification of socio-economic inequalities with race, and by implication religion. The ability to improve one’s standard of living should be based squarely on necessity and not ethnicity. The Christian premise is one that regards all as equal in the sight of Almighty God.
Christians must also be uncompromising against corruption, waste and inefficiency. As is well known, however, a large part of these problems emanate from policies that break the relationship between work and reward. The removal of ethical incentives is contrary to moral teachings of any religion, regardless of Christianity or Islam.
Fifth and finally, the 9MP seeks to strengthen institutional and implementation capacity of the government by promoting good governance and enhancing the public service delivery system.
Needless to say, policies without implementation are sterile and fruitless. Thus, the inclusion of a culture of public service is an appropriate antidote to the present public services culture.
Christ Jesus’ analogy of the vine, branches and the bearing of fruit should fully inform not only our lives but also policies and plans.