Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, the founder of one of Malaysia's largest legal practice and the Member of Parliament for Kota Bahru, has this to say recently on the development of human capital under our 9th Malaysian Plan (9MP):
It is true that the development of infrastructure and superhighways has propelled this country to great heights... However, it is impossible to maintain our present economic status, let alone achieve developed nation status, without world-class manpower and highly skilled workers.Datuk Zaid asked if we possess the "First World mindset" that our Prime Minister continually harped on throughout his tenure, and particularly in the 9MP. He went on to argue that many of the policies contained in the 9MP are in themselves contrary to the Prime Minister's aim of inculcating the "First World mindset". He rightly pointed out that "government nannying and restrictive affirmative-action policies will hinder the development of Malaysia's human capital".
What is needed is a holistic approach to creating a framework whereby knowledge and skills are developed; where society puts a premium on ideas and the country values people who are intelligent.
Datuk Zaid proceeded to highlight three key critical success factors in achieving the "First World mentality" as well as to achieve maximum gains from the crtical objective of developing human capital.
...we must subscribe to meritocracy as a desirable and valuable proposition; which is worthy of support as it is an ethical proposition. Only through a vigorous adoption of this policy can we achieve a world-class economy. How else can we garner the best and the brightest to serve the country if we are not resolute about developing and nurturing them?2. Ethnic Neutrality
It is impossible to get the best to serve the country in any field of human endeavour unless we value and reward them accordingly. The emphasis on meritocracy does not mean we have to abandon our desire to help the disadvantaged among us. The compassion we offer to the less fortunate and the less gifted must continue. However, no allowances should be made to accommodate mediocrity and laziness.
...we must overcome this obsession with racial statistics within the various contexts - corporate ownership, the civil service, the number of professionals in the country, and student ratios in schools and universities.3. Academic Freedom & Intellectual Growth
Past or existing affirmative action policies extending assistance to Bumiputeras must be reviewed to remedy drawbacks because these have contributed to unhealthy practices and inculcated a feeling of alienation among some Malaysians.
...the development of manpower capabilities requires an environment that is conducive to intellectual growth and stimulation. Such an environment would encourage and promote the rational pursuit of knowledge, reward healthy competition and be pragmatic in its approach...Well, I can't agree more. Dearest cabinet members, can you hear the rakyat speak?
We must be willing to grant some autonomy to our academic institutions, protect freedom of expression to allow our media to comment and inform without fear of prosecution, and nurture intellectual growth through open debate by academics on crucial issues of public importance... We must adopt and adapt the cultural values of the First World if we are determined to compete against them on the playing field of knowledge.
Footnote: Datuk Badruddin Amiruldin was also infamous for his statement that "Malaysia ini negara Islam, you tak suka, you keluar dari Malaysia."