This article first appeared in Forum, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on December 21 - 27, 2015.
THE year is coming to an end soon and the countdown to 2016 has started. This is the perfect time for us to look back and reflect on how our nation has fared this year.
There are various ways to gauge the people’s views about this. But if the recently announced annual selection of Chinese characters, jointly conducted by the Federation of Chinese Associations Malaysia (FCAM) and Han Culture Centre Malaysia (HCCM), is any indication, it is not a rosy picture that is painted, but a “bitter” one.
Yes, “bitter” is the Chinese character picked as best describing the general sentiment for 2015. This year, 14,078 Malaysians participated in the annual survey, the most in its history, and of these, 16% picked the word “bitter”. Some 15% chose “corruption”, and 14%, “tax”.
To a certain extent, “bitter” reflects the widespread disgruntlement of the people in general over the relentlessly rising cost of living, impact of the new Goods and Services Tax (GST), and growing distrust of the government.
For me personally, in looking back at the year, the following five “numbers” best define it: G25, 6% GST, 1MDB, 2.6B and 1CM.
G25: The group whose membership has since expanded, was originally formed by 25 eminent Malaysian personalities, comprising former high-ranking civil servants, including a director-general, secretaries-general, ambassadors and prominent individuals, all of whom are Malays.
Since it first sprang into the limelight in December 2014 with its open letter to the national leadership, G25 has been at the forefront of the battle of ideas — which ideas are better to serve as the foundation upon which our nation stands.
In short, G25 decries the “lack of clarity and understanding” on the place of Islam within Malaysia’s constitutional democracy, as well as a “serious breakdown of the federal-state division of powers, both in the areas of civil and criminal jurisdictions”.
They also expressed concern at how religious authorities were “asserting authority beyond their jurisdiction”, and had violated the Federal Constitution as well as the consultative process. Since then, they have been subjected to severe criticism by the more conservative forces in the government, academia and some Muslim members of the public for raising sensitive issues.
6% GST: The implementation of the 6% GST in April has pushed up the business community’s cost of doing business and the people’s cost of living in general.
In fact, the dissatisfaction of the people about the state of affairs is so widespread that it can no longer be contained. Hit by the implementation of the GST and sharp depreciation of the ringgit, burdened by the rising cost of living and frustrated by the political uncertainty, who can blame them for feeling bitter about 2015?
1MDB: 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) has been in the limelight throughout the year, with stories in the foreign media, including the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, amid allegations of false auditing, huge debts and bad corporate governance.
The potential repercussions prompted the Conference of Rulers to issue a statement whereby they collectively wanted investigations into 1MDB to be swiftly resolved and the results made public to show that nothing was being hidden in the probe.
The Conference of Rulers further cautioned that improper handling of the 1MDB controversy and related investigations could affect the economy and even threaten national security.
2.6B: A probe into the flow of the controversial RM2.6 billion donation into Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s personal accounts (he has denied taking any for personal gain) has brought into sharp focus the dire need for regulating political financing in Malaysia.
Acknowledging that modern political campaigns require a lot of funds and resources to organise, operate and manage, the newly formed National Consultative Committee on Political Financing should look into ways to safeguard and protect the public interest and private ownership from being violated by special interest groups with plenty of money.
However, despite the better-late-than-never formation of the committee, many Malaysians have lingering doubts. Will proposed reforms be accepted by the government, and will they be implemented without fear or favour?
1CM: If we were to hold a survey to pick the Malaysian political leader for 2015, I am quite sure one man would make the list — Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem.
After assuming the chief minister’s post, Adenan has been rigorously pursuing the restoration of the state’s powers under the 1963 Malaysia Agreement. According to the 1963 agreement, powers over policies, such as those governing the state’s health and education sectors, are meant to be returned to the state administration eventually.
Since then, he has exercised his autonomy in several decision-making processes. The first was the recognition of the United Education Certificate (UEC) — the Chinese school equivalent to the Sijil Tinggi Pelajaran Malaysia — by the Sarawak government. Then, he declared that English is now an official language of the state and that correspondence with state offices can be either in Bahasa Malaysia or English. All these have created waves in Malaysia’s rather complicated political landscape. Many believe that under his leadership, this is only the beginning of the devolution of powers.
But hold your horses until the curtain finally drops on 2015 because a few surprises may yet be sprung.
Khaw Veon Szu, a former executive director of a local think tank, is a practising lawyer. Opinions expressed in this article are his own.