The Rukun Negara and modern science and technology

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THE Rukun Negara which was launched on August 31st, 1970 comes in two parts: the objectives and the principles. Now on its golden anniversary, it is again the principles that are being emphasised;  just like in the past the objectives are always elided. The result is that many are unaware of the transformational message of Rukun Negara which goes beyond  national unity and social harmony.

The objectives are: 1. Achieving a greater unity of her people, 2. Maintaining a democratic way of life, 3. Creating a just society with equitable sharing of prosperity, 4. Ensuring a liberal approach to the country’s rich and diverse cultural traditions and 5. Building a progressive society by harnessing modern science and technology. 

Equitable sharing of prosperity

If we look closely at the five objectives and where we are today, as a nation we are guilty  of ignoring them and of not translating them into actionable practices, beyond just reciting the five principles. Take the examples of the mutually re-enforcing third and fifth objectives.

Equitable sharing of prosperity is a function of a robust economy which is dependent on capacity to harness modern science and technology. In this context becoming ‘a high income economy, innovation driven, private sector led’ has been the declared target of successive government of the day. Yet we are still caught in the middle income trap. It is a reflection that our innovative capacity, our capacity to harness modern science and technology, is suboptimal. If we look from the perspective of TNC in STI (total national capacity in science, technology and innovation),  enhancement is much needed in each of its components which comprise:

  • A government committed to providing a comprehensive STI physical and soft   infrastructures.
  • A scientific and technological community, ethical and competent and able to contribute to and draw from the global pool of scientific knowledge and  technological knowhow.
  • A private sector capable of creating wealth through the application of  technology and innovation in both traditional and new sectors of the economy.
  • A society that is ‘at ease with science’, literate and imbued with a culture of creativity, innovativeness and entrepreneurship.
  • An efficient governance system, including an effective science advice sub-system, enabling effective policy making, planning, implementation; and public debate and international collaborations that ensures long term commitment to STI development.

Nation still in ‘catch up stage’

As examples, in terms of the  basic and high-tech infrastructure, network cohesion and global integration, Malaysia is placed in the ‘catch-up stage’ compared to the ‘frontier stage’ of our southern neighbour. We have failed to achieve R&D expenditure of 1.5 % of the GDP and of 60 R&D personnel per 10,000 population, two important targets we set for ourselves for 2010.

It is not that the country has not been alerted about having to optimise our capacity to ‘harness modern science and technology’. The Academy of Sciences Malaysia (ASM) published in 2015 the “SCIENCE OUTLOOK”, which identified our enduring and entrenched weaknesses in six strategic areas : STI Governance; Research, Development and Commercialisation ; STI Talent; Engineering Industries; STI Enculturation and Strategic International Alliances.

 Sixteen recommendations for improvement across the STI landscape were made including:

  • Empower a centralised inter-ministerial STI coordination and monitoring body to garner stakeholder participation; establish a Parliamentary Select Committee on STI.
  • Empower a centralised body to promote seamless RD&C implementation, management and monitoring to evaluate beyond traditional return on investment.
  • Bridge the gap between policy and reality through review of implementation; strategise effective policy measures to retain STI talent.
  • Aggressive and continuous dissemination of STI agenda to industry players to enhance their understanding and involvement.
  • Establish strategic long term plan on STI enculturation.
  • “Forge and increase STI-focused international alliances to establish Malaysia’s leadership and achieve excellence”.

Recommendations ignored

 However, “The Science Outlook 2017” states in its conclusion: “Malaysia’s aspiration to be an advanced nation requires all sectors to have the capacity for developing knowledge capital to fuel Malaysia’s drive to be an advanced economy. It is unfortunate that most of the recommendations outlined in the Science Outlook 2015 have not been taken up by the relevant stakeholders; thus affecting the momentum of Malaysia’s science, technology and innovation (STI) endeavours.”

The ASM’s Science Outlook is an example of science advice which is one sub component of the TNC in STI. The fact that the recommendations made in 2015 elicited no response would indicate that our capacity to give advice is not matched with capacity to receive and act on good advice. In view of the seriousness of this deficit, and the urgency of optimising the TNC in STI,  what is  needed to be put in place is a National STI Action Council, to deal with urgent issues in policy, consolidated programmes and implementation oversight across all sectors of the economy and of government. 

Encouragingly there are new initiatives being put in place, such as the National Technology and Innovation Sandbox. However such an initiative should be part of a comprehensive national STI agenda and actions at improving our TNC in STI must be a sustained commitment not vulnerable to capricious political agenda. Otherwise the objectives 3 and 5 will not be achieved;  we will fail to do justice to Rukun Negara.