Vision 2020: Malaysia (kinda) boleh?

Malaysia was a tiny nation of just 19 million people when we set out to realise Vision 2020. Twenty-nine years after, Malaysians have made their mark globally as doctors, scientists, engineers, architects, bankers, animators, artists. ― Picture by Choo Choy May
Malaysia was a tiny nation of just 19 million people when we set out to realise Vision 2020. Twenty-nine years after, Malaysians have made their mark globally as doctors, scientists, engineers, architects, bankers, animators, artists. ― Picture by Choo Choy May

COMMENTARY, Jan 1 ― If flying cars is the success marker for Vision 2020, then we have obviously failed.

One may argue that the idea of floating machines in sky traffic gridlocks is not meant to be literal, but a symbol of new-found industrial prowess.

Yet this philosophising, though acceptable, is still quite limited in its understanding of the highly complex concept.

I’ll be honest. My initial grasp of Vision 2020 was equally shallow. But in my defence, I was 11 when Vision 2020 came to life in 1991.

What little information kids my age had about this grand plan came mostly from snippets of the ever so dull state-scripted talk shows aired just before prime time cartoons, or our primary school teachers who ― now that I think of it ― sounded just as confused as most if not the rest of us.

Material development was certainly among Vision 2020’s key drivers. The idea was born by the fourth (and now seventh) Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad amid the industrialisation drive of the 80s and 90s, and was to become the overriding ideals of a massive socio-economic transformation project that aimed to make Malaysia among “developed” nations.

But industrialisation alone can’t cut the job. A developed society is not built on just material wealth. It also needs to be caring, ethical, hardworking, tolerant and mature, educated and skilled, democratic and just.

Such ideals actually form the core of Vision 2020, yet they are also the most overlooked.

So after nearly three decades, we are finally here. What has become of this vision? Did we actually succeed or did we fail? Are we where we envisioned ourselves to be? Do we feel any different?

For one, there’s the glaring absence of flying cars and robot workers. Malaysia is still very much a middle-income country although wages have risen five-fold since and more millionaires have sprung up.

We neither export high-tech goods nor are we industrially self-sufficient. We import our vessels, buses and trains, and while we are a car-producing nation the engines are powered by Japanese technology just as they were nearly 40 years ago.

Such an assessment would naturally make Vision 2020 seem like a total failure.

But is it a fair one? Arguably not. Because it’s hard to say outright that we’ve not come far since 1991, be it economically or socially. 

Take, for example, Vision 2020’s seventh and eighth goals. The former sought a fully caring society and culture, a social system in which society will come before self. The latter looked to a just and equitable economy.

It would be almost impossible to give the two goals an objective assessment. But can we say Malaysians are generally a cold and apathetic society? At the government level, the country provides some of the most affordable basic services to its people like healthcare, which is plausibly among the world’s cheapest, and education.

Without a doubt, nearly all the social ideals of Vision 2020 are still work-in-progress.

We had hoped by now we would be matured, liberal and tolerant enough that racial or religious tension is but history, yet we are still not quite there.

We had also hoped for a society imbued with good morals and ethics, but we still grapple with corruption and power abuse.

Still, we cannot deny that Vision 2020 has had some kind of impact on us be it as individuals or a society.

Malaysia was a tiny nation of just 19 million people when we set out to realise this vision.  But it gave us self-belief, pushed us to dream big and ignited our ambitions.

Twenty-nine years after, Malaysians have made their mark globally as doctors, scientists, engineers, architects, bankers, animators, artists.

This feat would not have been possible if not for the right policies, although who is to say we would not have arrived at the same decisions with or without Vision 2020.

We may have, but there is something about a coherent plan that has a powerful effect on the mind. A plan is assuring, it gives clarity, a sense of purpose and direction.

It unites.

To that effect, Vision 2020 scored a big shiny A.

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