Sarawak must build up participation, roles in the new media
December 17, 2011
"We can no longer think about how to get the people informed and get them to be better recipient of information any more. The time will come when we have to upgrade the quality of grass root leadership because more successful development will only happen if the people at the lower level can become more actively involved in the process.
For this reason, the State government is taking steps to change the hierarchy of machinery in the local government with the primary objective to make it oriented towards serving the people at the grass root level. It will engage more people, who can interact with people comprising of young and old people in their own community with a view to bring them to become more active in social and cultural activities.
Basically, the jobs of the people, who will be appointed as councilors with local councils, will get the people at the grass root level to be involved in the overall efforts to get the society improving all the time. For example, they can help to attune the people to the changing way of life from longhouses or traditional kampongs to those in new housing estates that will come up more and more throughout Sarawak.
Therefore, efforts must be made to get people to interact among them so that they can accept the changes. Obviously, there must be interactions that can start through interpersonal communication with the people. That can be achieved through the normal government machinery to be developed at the level of the local government, which is the closest to the people."
First of all I take this opportunity to thank AZAM for giving us the opportunity to get together this evening. I always consider AZAM as an organization that can assist the government to get closer to the people, who must be involved in whatever task that the government undertakes in the process of economic transformation to uplift their standard of living from the medium to high income economy
For this reason, AZAM was the first organization to be set up as soon as I became the Chief Minister of March 26, 1981. Then, the State government under me understood that without a communication tool all efforts on development on sustainable and continuous basis would not be successful as what we had been hoping for. Actually, AZAM was set up earlier than the introduction of the politics of development and the New Reality.
The two concepts were and still are very important in our efforts to develop Sarawak as they emphasise on the roles of the people as the important components in carrying out development for Sarawak. For this reason, we have been able to recognize from the very beginning that communication is very important as Sarawak comprises of more than 5,000 settlements that are scattered over a wide area. They comprise of traditional kampong and longhouses in remote areas that risked being isolated without efforts to establish communication link with them.
The first study that AZAM made was to ascertain the roles of Radio and TV in the process of transformation of the people. The study found out that more people listened to Radio as their sources of information as the people. For example, housewives listened to Radio while cooking, washing clothes or doing other house chores. Of course, TV needed greater concentration and it could not reach, some places until now, certain areas in Sarawak. For this reason, development communication has become an inseparable component of the overall efforts to develop Sarawak.
When we introduced the Politics of development a lot of people were mystified by the idea. Some suggested why not call it Sarawak economic development as it was really an economic development. But if we do that, we take away the broad understanding of what development really mean; today we better call it the process of transformation. Development in Sarawak means the participation, which is increasingly becoming the important component of development, of the Rakyat in whatever the government tries to do for them.
In the initial stage of development, it was good enough for the Rakyat to accept whatever development being carried for them. But this cannot remain forever because the Government wants feedback and more enthusiastic response from them. The new requirement will probably emphasize on the re-organisation of the way the people can participate in the process of development; they can even take initiative in making the implementation of development more effective. Therefore, AZAM has to become an inseparable part of the strategy of development and the politics of development.
Politics of development means the economy constitutes one component of it only as politics is the prime mover of transformation. The nature of our government means that we must make the social component as important part development. For example, the government must know how much the people understand development and react to it. For example, how they can benefit in the process and get greater input from their participation. Therefore, development communication and successful development are inseparable.
Obviously, AZAM in co-operation with the traditional media, comprising of the print and electronic media at that time, helped to spread the understanding of development among the people on the ground. But of course, we did not anticipate globalization of the world economy that requires the State to be more aware of what is going on outside the country, would come too soon. We must be more aware of what is going on outside the country because whatever we do in Malaysia, particularly in Sarawak, we have to export them, most of them any way, to the global market.
In fact Sarawak is very much an export oriented country and its contribution towards the National economy in terms of the balance of payment is quite substantial anything between 30% to nearly 50% from time to time within the last 20 years. Therefore, Sarawak cannot focus on internal development only without keeping the people abreast with what is going on in the world.
Thanks God we have entrepreneurs in our country, who from the very beginning because of the very nature of their pursuits namely selling timber and later on manufactured timber products have to keep people abreast with what is going on in the world. Later, more and more people grow and export palm oil and undertake many other undertakings. They have to be aware of what is going on the world.
It can be anticipated that Sarawak’s place in the global economy is going to be more exposed. Therefore, we must appreciate that the new media must come in a more powerful way in influencing the people’s way of thinking. At the moment, it is confined to urban areas but moving into the rural areas.
The State Government has taken a plunge to have its own company to get WiFi connection to reach out into the rural areas. The target is to have 50% coverage of the areas by WiFi sometime this year. Therefore, the penetration of the Internet into the society will get more and more with the realization that the pressure from young people of ages 20 upward wanting to be exposed to the borderless new media influence; some influences are good and some so good. Some of them because of the borderless nature are carrying a lot of outside struggles, which have no relevance to us, into our shores.
Some of the one- line campaigns, for example, on how to save world environment, are not relevant to us and yet we find people shouting here and there in our jungles in Ulu Baram. We have from the very beginning preparing ourselves for a more sustainable management of our forests. Obviously, they cannot find substantial flaws in our forests policies, which have been endorsed by ITTO based on sustainable management of the resources. Hence, they begin to take the fate of the Penans without knowing that the Penans only constitute less than 5,000 people and only 500 of them are still wandering in the forests.
The fate of the nomadic Penans was blown out to the world to portray the State as neglecting one portion of the population. Some of the critics would say that the Penans should be preserved like human museums. The other side, for example, the Human Rights group would say people should not be left in isolation in development, which is being enjoyed by the rest of the society. Both are right of course, depending on how one looks at it. But the result of it is the conflict of views, which sometimes are hard for the people to reconcile.
Therefore, there will always be a struggle that confuses young people in the new media unless ways can be found to sort out the real picture. People do not owe to us, at least that is how they feel, to tell the truth or to expose a balanced view between ours, who are affected and theirs who are campaigning against us. This is the nature of the world and to complain will not bring us anywhere.
The best way for us is to build up our participation and roles in the new media. This means we must learn something new how to approach and interact with younger generation, whom until now are regarded as protected groups of people in schools and sometimes in the earlier part of the universities. They are no longer protected groups anymore. If we protect them, they will be exposed to the new media and probably following more second hand rather than the first hand information based on what they have to live within their own country.
Therefore, we have to strengthen what we have been doing for the country. Our views must dominate the people as they are the ones who will enforce and determine the success of the transformation that must be achieved for them. And they should not be detached too much from the fundamental path of nurturing and contributing ideas that are relevant and practical for the better development of the society and country.
Of course, we cannot completely shield them away from concepts like democracy, transparency and integrity which we have been trying to promote in the country. But as we all know a country’s structure of democracy really cannot last long unless it is in harmony with its own cultural identity and the basic way of how the people think. There will be the beginning of conflicts of opinions between generations if we overlook the natural process of the generation gap. There will be a feeling that the people, who fight for ideas that may look nice on papers or on the network but destroy a lot of valuable things that keep the country in peace, stable and able to implement the aspirations for the people.
Therefore, AZAM and SDI must find a way how to reach out and continuously feed the people with what is going on in the country. For us truth is better than anything else. We should not take the stand or take side of any particular people even in the government; when the government is wrong, the government is wrong that is all. We must do what is good for the country, which I believe AZAM has been trying to do this all the while. Any analytical view that reflects the best of the people namely the accumulation of experience that development and the incorporation of the latest methods of management and better means of evoking people’s participation must be brought into the approach to inform the people, particularly the young people.
Admittedly, this is a very hard thing to do. We do not only give out information but interact with the people through machinery all the way down to the grass root level. We can no longer think about how to get the people informed and get them to be better recipient of information any more. The time will come when we have to upgrade the quality of grass root leadership because more successful development will only happen if the people at the lower level can become more actively involved in the process.
We are in the stage of bringing the transformation to benefit everybody. It is no longer the same economic model that does not emphasise much on the need for people in the middle income to migrate to high income group; it is alright to have a few people to enjoy the best that they can have. The emphasis is to upgrade them. There must be a migration towards from the middle to the high income economy. The opportunities are there and ways have to be found how to get as many people to pursue the opportunities.
That explains why the explanation for the New Reality emphasizes change as the fundamental that has got to be embraced. If the people, particularly the older people, do not embrace change they will not be able to work in harmony with the younger generations. Therefore, when they understand that the process of transformation requires people to embrace change efforts have to be made to expose the idea of development program with more need contents that can be understood at the lowest level.
Therefore, development communication must expose to the people what are the opportunities that are available for the change. Otherwise, change does not inspire people and opportunities must be exposed as widely as possible and that the opportunities must be incentives for the people to try harder and transform or change through education and training. That makes the process of development becoming more and more the process of participation; it is no longer benefitting only the few rich people. That is the stage we are entering now.
SCORE is a massive redirection of the development of the State from oil and gas. Therefore, the people must be made to understand there will be change that will bring about opportunities. However, efforts must be made to identify to the opportunities and how they can become within reach of the people. It can be anticipated that when we go for heavy industries, the people’s aspiration will migrate away from the old things that we have been doing for the last 20 years. They will venture out to seek for better job opportunities and trainings in technical field. That is what SCORE is all about.
More than half of the 1.5 million employment opportunities that will be created in SCORE up to the year 2030 will benefit people who prepare themselves with technical training and education. The State, for example, will need about 50,000 engineers within the next 20 years. This means that the State must produce 1,500 engineers every year. That is within reach of the present build up of university facilities.
But to get the change from the broad spectrum of subject matters that are essentially arts, management and a bit of science to that of heavy engineering migration is not an easy matter. The State may experience some shortage of trainers or lecturers. However, we been trying to find solutions to the problems. So the coordination between getting the solution to be worked out and the people to respond to them requires a great deal of explanation. For example, what are the ambitions of young people, who can go to university or those that can pursue diploma courses in engineering?
Besides, we have to start talking to young people who would like to become fitters, mechanics, carpenters or other technical jobs? Generally, the minds of young people are still governed by the perception of the old opportunities. So efforts must be made to explain to them new opportunities that are growing; the old opportunities will be decreasing in quantity. Therefore, young people must change with the new emphasis on technical education. We are entering the era of technical education.
Some people may have the misconception that technical education requires good mathematic. They think that technical education involves a lot of academics in training. But technical education, at the lowest level, for semi skilled and skilled workers does not require a person master calculus. A person with Form 3 education can be considered for technical education as long as he can recognize the machine or whatever equipment that he will us to do his jobs. However, he must understand the theory behind the machine to enable him to repair them if things go wrong. Besides, he must be able to work together with other people in the work place.
I believe technical education at that level will be easier for a lot of young people from rural areas. Normally technical education is regard as something for the people who are experiencing good educational upbringing in urban areas. But now we must bring this transformation in a massive way throughout the country; that is what we must do. And communication to enforce the ideas to the people especially at the grass root level must be prepared by now. Therefore I suggest that AZAM should start thinking about it from now onward.
Meanwhile, the State government is about to change the hierarchy of machinery in the local government with the primary objective to make it oriented towards serving the people at the grass root level. The machinery of the local government will engage more people, who can interact with people in their own community comprising of young and old people with a view to bring them to become more active in cultural activities. Basically, the jobs of the people, who will be appointed as councilors with local councils, will get the people at the grass root level to be involved in the overall efforts to get the society improving all the time. For example, they can help to attune the people to the changing way of life from longhouses or traditional kampongs to new housing estates with more new growth areas coming up throughout Sarawak.
These are things that come up more and more from now onward. Therefore, efforts must be made to get people to interact among them so that they can accept the changes. Obviously, there must be interactions that can start through interpersonal communication with the people. That can be achieved through the normal government machinery to be developed at the level of the local government, which is the closest to the people.
Thus I think AZAM should take into account that the local government must be oriented to become the machinery that can involve the people at the grass root level more actively in the process of development. They can become the new forces of development or transformation of the society through cultural, social and school activities. Of course this needs a lot of coordination and AZAM can be the centre of them all with the dissemination of ideas.
I do not know how complicated things can because I have not thought all of them very deeply yet. It is up to you to work out the details. But I have a feeling you may need a communication institute to get the interactions between you and many others like the mass media, people in the Administration, local government machinery and of course how to get people to have the networking between councilors, who will be trained by you and other active members of the community so that we will find out a new approach to development transformation that makes people respond to development and that makes things smooth for people to change their pattern of life, which is going to be brought about by new development, new economic changes in their environment and new opportunities for employment.
These are things that will come up for the next 20 years. Obviously, AZAM will have to play a more active part, probably get more professionals into the strategies of development communication, for example, on how it can permeate into the society through the process of inter-personal communication and, of course, normal communication.
It will not be that hard although speaking about it will make you feel that it will be so. But it can be as simple as my speech if only you put your mind into it. I am sure you can do it. Thank you very much.
(Excerpt of speech of the Chief Minister, Pehin Sri Haji Abdul Taib Mahmud during AZAM’s dinner “ An evening with AZAM” on December 17, 2011 at Grand Magherita)