2020 – the unwanted child that could turn into a monster

Twin Towers KL

Malaysians greeted 2020 with sarcasm as lyrics of the song Wawasan 2020, made famous in the 90s, made the rounds.

The vision, set by then fourth Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in 1991, was to see Malaysia turn into a developed nation by 2020.

Today is Jan 2, 2020. And Malaysia still has a long way to go before achieving developed nation status.

But beyond the sarcasm lies a bigger problem that has plagued administrators here for decades – the lack of continuity – thus their inability to progress quickly compared to leaders from other developing countries.

Dr Mahathir is back in the driver’s seat. A petrolhead, the 94-year-old prime minister would certainly be missing the days where he could step on the clutch, change gears, accelerate and be in firm control of the steering wheel.

Being Umno president and Barisan Nasional chairman then, he was in control of the government, thus the rapid development that placed Malaysia in the eyes of the world. But it came with a price, including the sacking of his then deputy Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

Today, he may seem to have both hands on the steering wheel but it’s an automatic car and that can be rather frustrating for a petrolhead, especially if the vehicle has an underperforming ‘engine’.

Politically, he isn’t in control like he used to be as his ‘engine’ is made up of four major components – DAP, PKR, Parti Pribumi Malaysia and Amanah – different ‘brands’ with different workings trying hard to synergise.

Dr Mahathir may be at the top but he is surrounded by a majority of leaders who are incompetent. Recent polls show only a handful of Cabinet leaders earn admiration from the people.

The doctor is obviously still eager to leave his mark, like the skid marks at the driveway at the Prime Minister’s Office. But such marks are quickly erased – which pretty much sums up Vision 2020.

The lack of continuity and stability are among the main reasons why the nation is not progressing as quickly as it should.

Dr Mahathir conceptualised Wawasan 2020 but his successors Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and Datuk Seri Najib Razak had other plans. They too were eager to leave their own legacies and little attention was given to 2020.

The same attitude is observed within ministries. Ministers, mostly serving five years in office, are hungry to leave so-called legacies and implement directives to suit their agendas, often failing to address the bigger picture.

Corporatisation, instead of nationalisation, is key to achieving developed nation status. Yet, the government plans to buy toll highways while in sports, it seems contented with bankrolling elite athletes and sports associations instead of teaching them to stand on their own feet in a bid to inject professionalism.

It is amazing that leaders are allowed to change agendas, directives and policies without being called out or “penalised”. Wawasan 2020 gave the people false hopes for close to three decades. The vision failed.

Yet, no one was held responsible and the timeline has been conveniently shifted – Najib, during his time in office, dreamt of prosperous, ultra-modern Malaysia by 2050 while Dr Mahathir now sees a Shared Prosperity Vision 2030.

Despite all the pomp and fanfare in the past, 2020 turned out to be that unwanted child, no fault of his. In fact, 2020 could end up as a monster.

The US-China trade war, a general slowdown, rising debt and currency gyrations are some of the elements that will eventually lead to a global recession next year.

But businesses are also using the uncertainty in leadership as an excuse to adopt the “wait-and-see” approach while slashing budgets and holding on to investments. The internal political bickering is nauseating.

Business owners, who used to enjoy playing golf or being in the company of ministers, today find it difficult to even set an appointment with politicians. Instead of begging for attention, these entrepreneurs should create opportunities and move on their own.

Those in power then, and now, must be blamed for killing the Wawasan 2020 dream.

They had a good opportunity to make the entry into 2020 epic, but their personal agendas got in the way.

It’s best that leaders start focusing on bread and butter issues – economy, education and unity. It’s about time they set realistic visions.

As American scholar Warren G. Bennis once said: “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.”