TN50: Do Big Ideas Work in Malaysia?

The Prime Minister passed a bill in January introducing the new 2050 National Transformation Plan (TN50), popularly marketed as a youth driven national plan. The government will be collecting feedback from members of the public for about a year. This will then be compiled and passed on to the Economic Planning Unit who will strive to implement these ideas. Subsequently, this master blueprint will be the basis of every one of their five-year Malaysia Plans leading up to 2050, according to Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, under whom the TN50 plan has been parked.

Unfortunately, TN50 has only a thin veneer of a progressive and inclusive national vision. This is despite its goal for Malaysia to become ‘one of the top countries in the world in economic development, citizen well-being and innovation’.


How is it a youth driven national plan?

The government has recruited national youth ambassadors to promote this initiative. Furthermore, they have also been organising many roadshows and townhalls to engage with the youth, gaining their feedback and ideas to help craft TN50.

The Malaysian Youth Delegation representing climate change interests at the huddle. Source: Power Shift Malaysia

The Malaysian Youth Delegation representing climate change interests at the huddle.
Source: Power Shift Malaysia

The format of approaching the public include methods such as roadshows, essay competitions, surveys, and engagement events. I became interested in TN 50 when I attended the recent TN50 x SDGs Huddle as part of the Malaysian Youth Delegation. Organised by the Commonwealth Youth Council, this is an effort to engage the youth’s creativity and teamwork. In this manner, we may construct sustainable and inclusive visions for Malaysia’s future.

They organised a series of panel discussions for speakers to share on this topic. Later on, the youths were separated into three clusters (based on the three pillars of sustainability – social, environmental, and economic) where we brainstormed ideas within teams. During the presentation later on, many of the ideas sounded quite admirable and egalitarian. I was glad to hear that they would communicate all our ideas to the higher authorities. However, there was a niggling doubt in my mind as to the meaningfulness of this endeavour.


How feasible is TN50?

TN50 proposes grand plans; on their official website they paint a future where ‘people work mostly from pods as they are connected virtually […] life expectancy approaches 150 […] death of the office as people no longer commute, working mostly from home’. It reads more like the premise of a science fiction novel than a realistic policy objective to me.

I will admit that big dreams and visions are necessary for progress and development. However, too much of a focus on grand plans and initiatives, coupled with a sidelining of the day-to-day nitty-gritty details, has been a big problem in Malaysia. We see this at all levels of society and governance.

Source: MH Online

TN50 – grand plan or unrealistic vision? Source: MH Online

Big ideas and large budgets are not always the key to solving problems – they just look sexy for media and promotional purposes. The authorities allocate huge funds for new infrastructural development, but we quickly see these infrastructures degrade and function at less than optimal working conditions. We buy fancy planes and then realise that no one has the expertise to fly and maintain them. Likewise, we fail with our KTM stations where problems with poor maintenance and security abound. We hastily established policies with grand goals in mind but poor groundwork remains a problem. One example is the flip-flopping of our policy over the language of instruction in government schools. The rhetoric that comes through in our governance also reflects this skewed focus.

In fact, big plans are sometimes counterintuitive, as seen with our culture of non-continuity at the governance level. When the leadership of this country changes, out go the old plans and in comes a new one. As leaders want to make their own mark and leave a legacy, they will often scrap previous policies. If the incumbent does not manage to retain their majority in parliament, then TN50 will most likely be discontinued. Pakatan Harapan have already criticised TN50 – with PKR youth chief Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad calling it a ‘public relations blitz without a big idea of its own’ – and have hastily put forth their own plan: Tawaran Anak Muda (An Offer to Youths).

The truth is, both plans sound very much like political fishing lures to get the youth votes at the next general election, rather than concrete policy plans to better Malaysia and its citizens. More relevantly, because of this culture of non-continuity, TN50 may very well be a pointless initiative if the government, irrespective of the political party in power, does not adhere to it.

What does this mean?

For the youth to lead and shape this nation adequately, we cannot follow the old exemplars which have grand visions but minimal sustained action.

Our visions for TN50 should be to improve and build upon Malaysia, not create new dreams for her that we cannot sustain.

I look forward to a Malaysia where we all enjoy a wholesome life in line with principles of sustainable development. A Malaysia where we succeed in our efforts of looking past race and religion. Rather than a country where people live ridiculously long lives. Or a country in which infrastructural development comes at the expense of other things, like green spaces for recreational purposes.

These are not grand plans. We will not achieve them by pumping in large, one-off payments. Rather, it needs careful crafting of policy with foresight, and changes in our ways of thinking. Attention to the nitty-gritty details should be the rule of thumb for our policies. We should keep this in mind when envisioning TN50.

Written by Lhavanya DL

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"All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." (George Orwell, in Animal Farm, 1945)

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