A renaissance for our science agenda

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A NEW age for Malaysia has dawned not only for good governance but also in the realm of science, technology and innovation (STI) under the visionary leadership of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

There is jubilation in every corner of the country as if the country has been liberated from “stagnation if not digression”.

Malaysia is now witnessing the return of its former prime minister who had lent a strong agenda for science when he helmed the nation from 1981 till 2003.

After he retired, the national agenda for science went to the back burner for many reasons, including economic reasons and mega scandals affecting the nation.

I first stepped into Universiti Pertanian Malaysia (now Universiti Putra Malaysia) in 1989 to pursue my Bachelors degree and never really left the academic world since then.

It has been three decades now and never before did I witness such a major catastrophe in terms of research funding.

The last decade also saw the mushrooming of agencies in the name of STI, their output vaguely creating impact to the society – but siphoning huge operational funding.

The new government certainly has a huge cleaning up job to do and there has to be herculean revamping and streamlining of STI activities and priorities.

The ministry of science has to emerge once again as a strong and key ministry. I have always believed that two strong pillars and investment of any nation are education and STI.

Only these two, can future-proof the country and its citizenry to stay relevant in the age of “disruption technologies” and the rapid pace of scientific revolution.

In all fields of science, Malaysia has lots to catch up. And there is hardly time to catch up as the world is not staying stagnant in this area.

As we take one step ahead, the others are taking a leap.

Malaysia also has too many invisible walls that hinder collaborations between different institutes and in some cases among the same institutes.

The culture of working in silo ecosystems and duplicating the same research must come to a stop. Research priorities should be set to address national challenges and collaborative research should be the norm.

While these walls need to be brought down, a new wall must be erected – that is a wall between science and politics.

Science should not be politicised. The scientific community should be given autonomy to speak out about emerging technologies, ethics, policies and regulations and their positions on current issues.

Ivory towers have always served as a place for intellectual discourses since its establishment centuries ago.

We also had enough of political appointments. It is time proper screening and vetting, based on merit is put in place to fill up the top positions to make government agencies a driving force to steer STI.

I am also glad that the walls between the many States and Federal government have finally come down.

I personally saw negative online remarks that I was working too closely with the Selangor government and supporting their biotech initiatives.

Two years ago, I gave an interview to SelangorKini on biotechnology and last year I was featured in one of Selangor’s video clip to promote Selangor International Expo and was also a speaker at the Expo.

I also sit on the Selangor Bio Council.

This has irked some people at the previous federal government but I remained steadfast in my commitments to serve the country.

In my capacity I help many other countries develop their biotech policies and regulations, so it is utmost silly if I am restrained from helping my own nation.

All this must come to an end. I hope the new government will not have such unwritten rules anymore. I look forward to working closely with any state held by the opposition as well as the new federal government.

My humble request to all new MPs, Ministers and Deputy Ministers – I hope all our YBs will take some time to grasp strong knowledge on STI so it can be debated intellectually in the Parliament.

No one doubts Tun Dr Mahathir’s depth of knowledge in wide-ranging topics of science and technology. The new members of the august house have to match his speed and impressive knowledge in these complex and rapidly evolving areas.

Looking forward for our leaders to bring back the glory of STI in Malaysia.