Our nation is blessed with many assets. These include the land on which we build our homes and cultivate our crops, resources such as water that we often take for granted, the fragile environment we share with flora and fauna, the people who make up the population and the talent we have nurtured over the years.
These assets are both tangible and intangible.
How we manage these assets will determine how well the nation will progress.
We have been able to manage the assets quite well since independence, except for that episode in 1969 that has taught us a terrible lesson.
This explains why the nation has experienced good growth with relative peace and harmony.
Many of our country’s contemporaries still struggle to grow and prosper.Many are still embroiled in domestic conflicts that derail progress and inflict suffering on their people.
We are fortunate, but can we sustain it?
Lately, there have been disturbing developments which can pose serious threats to the nation’s assets.One top concern is divisive issues,including race and religion, that have been played up by some people.
We must be reminded that the prosperity of the nation owes a lot to our ethnic diversity.
As a trading nation, this racial diversity has been a big boost to trade links with countries like China and India.
We also do not treat another of our key assets, water, well.
The way we allow logging in our precious water catchment areas may soon spell trouble.
Many still think we will never be short of water because of the monsoons which bring abundant rain to the nation.
We fail to realise that without efficient catchment areas, all the water will just run to the sea.
Next on the assets’ list is the air we breathe. The environment we share is an important national asset. The air we breathe is critical to our health. Lately, our healthy air has been under attack, mostly caused by our own doing.
Air pollution has become rampant in recent months.Some unscrupulous companies have been dumping toxic wastes in places that can harm the surrounding community, close to rivers and other water sources.
The incidents in Johor, where many families and schools were affected, stood out as an important lesson on the dangers of environmental neglect.There were also incidents in Selangor.
Unless such bad practices are stopped, it will not bode well for the future.
Poor health is a major contributor to the decline in the productivity of nations.
Some of our economic assets are also under serious threat. Take the case of palm oil, a commodity that has served us well for decades.
Palm oil has not only contributed immensely to the alleviation of rural poverty, but also provided a base for the growth of many value-added manufacturing businesses in the country.
Lately, palm oil has come under the unfair scrutiny of environmental groups, which may lead to the banning of palm oil in some countries. The proposed European Union ban on palm biodiesel is a case in point.
Our dependence on petroleum, another of our key assets, is not sustainable. It has been reported that with the rise of electric cars,a sizeable chunk of global demand for oil will disappear, putting additional pressure on world oil prices.
What is clear is that we not only have to take good care of the assets that we have, but must also start developing new assets if we are to remain sustainable.
This is where investment in strategic research and development is critical.
Looking at what is developing in Asean nations lately, our neighbours are already ahead of us in terms of resource allocation for research and development.This needs to change.
PROFESSOR DATUK DR AHMAD IBRAHIM
Fellow,Academy of Sciences,UCSI University