Malaysia in 2030

In discussing the issues we face in 2013, it will be instructive for us to find new perspective by looking beyond the horizon to consider the possibilities that 2030 holds.

Both Tun Abdullah Badawi who was Prime Minister from October 2003 till April 2009 and Dato’ Seri Najib Razak who took over from him since then have missed the boat to reform Malaysia. Likewise, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s Vision 2020 is just a distant dream, a castle in the sky.

Post-13th General Election, discussions about Malaysia’s future is no longer depending on Barisan Nasional. The government-in-waiting Pakatan Rakyat and the rakyat (people) need a broader horizon as a reference for this kind of conversation.

What will 2030 look like?

Barring any unforeseen circumstances, Malaysia’s population is expected to increase in tandem with the rise in world population. Coupled with the rising life expectancy rate, this will increase Malaysia’s median age and leave us with an aging population.

The resulting demands of a population increase deserve conscientious deliberation – the needs of food security, housing, transport, water, energy, healthcare and aged care, and education – all these must be considered.

Currently the BN government’s approach towards energy and water management appears to be a race to build more water facilities and infrastructure to meet the so-called future demand. However I would argue that this is in fact the demand of cronies.

In the long run, a supply oriented water management system alone will not be sustainable without water conservation efforts. Population increase will give rise to unlimited demand but those in power have yet to recognise that the earth’s natural resources are limited.

Fundamentally, demand management is the long range goal of water conservation efforts. In the context of Selangor’s water woes, do the people really benefit from creating new water sources such as the Pahang-Selangor water transfer project? Or are such infrastructure projects a cash cow for federal government-appointed contractors?

Instead, a forward-thinking government should strive to reduce the percentage of non-revenue water (source water lost due to pipe leakage, pilferage, or spillage) from 35% to at least the 15% benchmark set by Penang, as well as implement other water conservation strategies.

By 2030 when global warming severity increases, resource conservation and carbon emission reduction will be the inevitable steps we must take, not only in Malaysia but the world over. Our approach towards energy management also requires input from a demand-management angle.

Unless we rethink our traffic system and cities, the surge in private vehicle ownership will turn our highways into car parks. In other words, building more roads will not solve the problem of traffic congestion.

Urban sprawl grows as housing developers continue to build further into the suburbs and expand cities’ borders. Forced by rising house prices to live further away, consumers will become economic victims of rising fuel prices in a private vehicle oriented transport system.

Moving away from outdated models

Malaysia’s development model has always been capital city-centric, marginalising other states, particularly Sabah and Sarawak. The peninsular North-South highway (built with private vehicles in mind) reduced the usage of and planning for our railway system, precipitating the “hibernation” of many once-bustling railway towns.

 

We must build an affordable national public transport system, which should be mostly bus-based (for affordability) but also comes with a new vision for the railway. Our railway has not expanded much since independence. It is still essentially a north-south link with very little “branches” and loops to more cities and towns. The railway can be a viable mode of transportation for people and cargo.

With a bigger population in Malaysia and the world, food security is highly crucial for the stability of the nation. Hence there is a dire need to make the agriculture sector more vibrant.

With an aging population, Malaysia needs to think about the quality and economics of our healthcare system. Education and research have important roles to play as drivers of our economy.

We must also be alarmed by the fact that the current low-income environment would result in a very poor cohort of senior citizens as retirement needs are almost determined by one’s saving with very little state or collective support. Therefore, we must address the question of inequality and low-income now to avoid a societal breakdown.

Evaluating 2013 in the light of 2030, much deconstruction and reconstruction of our current train of thought are needed. We have to move away from outdated models of development. Unfortunately the BN government is not prepared to do so, putting our not-too-distant future at a serious risk.

We need a new way of seeing Malaysia and the world. We need to understand the challenges ahead of us. When we start to think in the new framework or terms of reference, we shall see beyond the old racial perspectives and work on our common agenda.

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