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My hopes for 2020

18 Dec 2019 / 19:34 H.

VISION 2020 was introduced in 1991. It challenged us to dream of becoming a modern and developed nation. In less than two weeks, we will be celebrating the arrival of 2020. Since coming into power, Pakatan Harapan has introduced reforms to steer Malaysia towards a new vision where no one is left behind.

Here are some of things that I hope to see in 2020.

More equitable distribution

Twenty-eight years since Vision 2020 was introduced, Malaysians have a new dream, equally bold and ambitious. The Shared Prosperity Vision 2030 is not only about equitable distribution of wealth. It aims to ensure that development reaches all communities.

We still have pockets of people who are unable to prosper on their own no matter how they struggle because they are trapped in a cycle of poverty brought about by years of abuse of power and unequal development.

Next year will see the introduction of the 12th Malaysia Plan. This will be the first Malaysia Plan under the Pakatan government and the Ministry of Economic Affairs has said the plan will focus heavily on the development of the Shared Prosperity Vision 2030.

The government must remember that to ensure the right communities are being targeted, we need to approach poverty differently. This can happen only if there is engagement with poor and marginalised communities. The civil service and officers must familiarise themselves with the people most affected by poverty or else the issues will continue to be ignored. Doing so will also allow aid and government schemes to become more focused and guided.

I am glad that the government will be adopting the multidimensional poverty index when looking at poverty, which takes into account demographic factors such as education, healthcare and standard of living to present a much more comprehensive view of the socioeconomic needs of society.

But even then, there must be a clear action plan on how we approach this. As Oxford University’s Poverty and Human Development Initiative director Sabina Alkire had stated, Malaysia needs to use its own multidimensional poverty index (MPI) and not merely rely on the global MPI when looking at poverty and inequality because of differences between countries.

All this also means that there must be indicators to gauge our progress in a systematic way. One way is by using the 17 sustainable development goals developed by the United Nations.

The government has introduced various initiatives under Budget 2020 to empower Malaysians. This includes the Malaysia@Work initiative that provides wages and hiring incentives especially to unemployed graduates and women returning to work.

Aside from the expansion of the Bantuan Sara Hidup, MySalam and Peka B40 incentives, changes were also made to allow EPF withdrawals for education and healthcare and contributions by housewives. However, the government must also focus on improving access to quality education because this will open up opportunities for individuals to receive necessary training and skills. Although the Ministry of Education received the highest allocation of RM64.1 billion, we must ensure funds are used in the best way possible to empower students for 21st century challenges.

Gender equality

Pakatan Harapan will introduce a Gender Equality Bill next year. I hope that the law will not just focus on addressing imbalances but seek to change attitudes and biasness to prevent gender discrimination and violence.

It is startling to know that police statistics on victims of sexual abuse for those below 18 is far lower than those reported by several community studies. Blaming victims is common and Deputy Minister of Women, Family and Community Development Hannah Yeoh said there have been instances of authorities asking victims of sexual harassment what they were wearing when the incidents took place. We do not have enough law enforcement and healthcare officers trained or equipped to deal with sex-related crimes and this must also be addressed.

There are also groups of women that continue to be sidelined or discriminated against. These include divorced women, who do not have adequate legal protection especially when it comes to payment of maintenance, and victims of rape and sexual abuse from poor communities who had to marry the rapists.

Aside from this, foreign wives do not share the same status as male foreign spouses. They are unable to open individual bank accounts, have limited job opportunities and do not enjoy the social protection schemes we do.

Married women must be empowered so that they are not completely financially dependent on their husbands, leaving them vulnerable to abuse and discrimination.

Abolish detention without trial

Detention without trial laws such as Sosma, Poca and Pota are still being used despite previous assurances from the government. Even members of the Pakatan Harapan government have not been spared. These laws are a violation of human rights and must go.

There needs to be a greater push for integrity within law enforcement agencies to uphold the rule of law. We must strengthen laws to maintain security and bring peace and justice.

Inclusivity and better social integration

This year saw issues of race and religion continuing to dominate headlines. This is a clear threat to our multicultural society and to move past this, we must focus on creating respect and understanding among various communities. Marginalised communities must be included when we talk about social integration.

We also need to consider how communities in Malaysia are developing within local communities. When it comes to certain areas even in Petaling Jaya such as Desa Mentari and Taman Medan, there is still a lack of integration; this is not just between different ethnic groups but also among neighbours.

As we develop our National Housing Policy, we should ask how we can ensure communities develop in a way that maintains racial harmony, takes care of elders, looks out for low-income families and creates community spaces that allow residents to interact with one another.

Greater protection for the environment

Issues affecting the environment are becoming more important and we need to seek sustainable solutions.

A report by Global Forest Watch stated that Malaysia had one of the highest rates of deforestation globally. Deforestation destroys wildlife and affects the livelihood of the orang asli. This year, a group of orang asli from all over Peninsular Malaysia gathered in front of Parliament to demand greater protection for the environment. They have been fighting illegal loggers on their own and receive little protection.

I hope 2020 will be a year where we continue to push for reforms to ensure no one is left behind. With a focus on developmental justice, reforming existing laws and institutions, and achieving greater accessibility to services, I hope that in 2020 Pakatan Harapan will be able to restructure the priorities of the country’s development to put us back on the right track.

Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

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