Wawasan 2020: A Vision Impossible?


Written by Muhammed Ashraf Abd Wahab, Malaysian Digest

YEARS pass by and without us realising it we are shy of six years before year 2020 arrives. But what is so significant about this year you may ask? For any Malaysians, when the year is mentioned, Vision 2020 (also known as Wawasan 2020) will immediately come to mind.

Shaped three decades ago by the then Prime Minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, Vision 2020 outlined Malaysia’s goals in becoming a fully developed nation. Since its inception, every move the country makes is aimed at achieving this ‘Malaysian dream’.

But have you ever wondered where we are with it now?
The Vision

Vision 2020 is not only a mission for Malaysia to advance economically, but also for the nation to achieve an ideal social and political environment. Apart from that, it emphasises on the betterment of governmental system, life quality, social and spiritual values, national pride as well as confidence.

To refresh our memory, here are the nine key challenges in Vision 2020:

Challenge 1: Establishing a united Malaysian nation made up of one Bangsa Malaysia.

Challenge 2: Creating a psychologically liberated, secure and developed Malaysian society.

Challenge 3: Fostering and developing a mature democratic society.

Challenge 4: Establishing a fully moral and ethical society.

Challenge 5: Establishing a matured liberal and tolerant society

Challenge 6: Establishing a scientific and progressive society.

Challenge 7: Establishing a fully caring society.

Challenge 8: Ensuring an economically just society, in which there is a fair and equitable  distribution of the wealth of  the nation.

Challenge 9: Establishing a prosperous society with an economy that is fully competitive, dynamic, robust and resilient.

Economically Challenged

Strangely enough, the architect of the plan, Mahathir, has in the past expressed doubts on Malaysia’s ability to achieve economic goals of Vision 2020.

In 2010 at the Perdana Leadership Foundation’s CEO Forum, he pointed out the economic crises that hit the nation in 1997/97 and 2008 was a major setback and halted our progress in achieving Vision 2020.

The former Prime Minister then advised the government to focus on stimulating Domestic Direct Investments (DDI) instead of courting Foreign Direct Investments (FDI). He acknowledged FDI has helped the country grow in the 80s and 90s, but argued that the situation has now changed.

In recent days, it is difficult for Malaysia to compete with the significantly lower costs countries such as Vietnam and China have to offer.

Mahathir reiterated the emphasis on FDI during that period (80s and 90s) played a major part on why we aren’t progressing as much as we would have liked today. We at that time offered labour and resources at a much low cost, and this turned Malaysia into a country that specialises in labour-intensive activities.

Overtime, this had caused other countries that are focusing on innovation to out-leap us with technological prowess and their cutting-edge financial sectors.

The Middle Income Trap

According to a report by the World Bank last year, our dependence on low wage labour input has also put us in a ‘middle income trap’. This means, our country can no longer offer low cost labour compared to other countries, nor can we compete against countries with rapid technological advances.

In a 2011 research by the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth titled Mapping the Global Digital Divide, a map showing the spread of computer and communications technology around the world was created. In the study, it listed Malaysia as one of the ’emerging market economies’ along with 24 other countries among which are Vietnam, Indonesia, Hungary, and South Africa. The study explained that emerging market economies are growing nations that fall between the extremes.

Catching Up On Technological Advancement

In the same research, the 25 nations in the ’emerging market economies’ were found to be lagging in terms of computer and Internet use compared to developed countries such as the United States.  It also reported that these nations have yet to fully utilize the Web’s potential.

Perhaps, what’s even more alarming is the revelation made in a recent report by www.techbiggy.com which ranked Malaysia as one of the top 10 countries in the world with the slowest internet speed.

Efforts to overcome this problem however are in motion through the National Broadband Initiative formed by the government, a project that cost RM1 Billion.

In other sectors such as agriculture, it seems that we are still relying heavily on technology transfer (technology adopted from overseas) instead of nurturing homegrown technology.

Could the lack of innovation be a result of our education system?

A survey called Programme for International Student Assessments done last December places Malaysia at 52nd position out of 65 countries (behind Vietnam) in math, science and reading abilities of students.

In addressing the issue, the government introduced the Malaysian Education Blueprint 2013-2025, which was launched in Sept last year. One of the aims in the plan is to encourage young talents to innovate.

The social scene

On non-economic goals, renowned political analyst, Professor Datuk Dr. Mohammad Agus Yusoff thinks Malaysia still needs to work harder to achieve Vision 2020’s target.

“Socially, we are still polarized in many aspects. And that is the harsh reality for us to face,” said Agus.

“No one can deny that currently we are a nation that is politically, racially, and religiously divided. While it is true that the government has made efforts for ‘Bangsa Malaysia’ by coming up with the 1Malaysia concept, it strayed far from the vision’s initial objective.

“Instead of focusing on uniting the people, it has transformed into an array of products such as ‘Klinik 1Malaysia’, ‘Kedai 1Malaysia’, ‘Baucer Buku 1Malaysia’,” Agus said about the commercialising the 1Malaysia brand.

Mahathir too, is pessimistic in achieving unity through the introduction of Bangsa Malaysia. In 1991, he had envisioned an economic progress and general prosperity that could overcome communal-centric mindsets.

He also explained that the current disharmony the nation is facing can be attributed partly to Malaysia’s modest economic progress and also to the fact that the government is not as ‘strong’ as it used to be.

To him, this has led to the current regime to be easily taken advantage of and pressured by communal-centric groups.

For some, Mahathir is seen as someone who was able to keep racial issues under control (or rather under the blanket) during his tenure as Prime Minister. He is also viewed as a Prime Minister who didn’t give everyone equal slices of the cake, but he made the cake bigger instead for everyone to enjoy ‘accordingly’.

Agus pointed out that in a truly developed country, the social divide is kept at bare minimum.

“But sadly that isn’t the case for us. There still is a vast divide between the rich and poor, a significant divide between urban and rural areas of the country, and most importantly, a hefty divide between the leaders and the civilians.