Govt should not pay lip service to youth empowerment

On Saturday night, the government agreed to appoint a Federal Land Development Authority (Felda) youth representative as a member of Felda’s board of directors.

The decision, as revealed by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob at the dinner and annual general meeting of Majlis Belia Felda Malaysia (MBFM), Kami Anak Felda (KAF) and Permuafakatan Siswa/Siswi Felda (Persada) at Menara Felda, Kuala Lumpur, was the latest youth-centric initiative by the government.

It joins a list of several other conversations to empower youths in Malaysia.

The Housing and Local Government Ministry, for example, is working on several plans, including allocating more housing for youths, and easier financing schemes for first-time home buyers. It also set up a panel of experts, comprising lawyers, developers, home buyers’ associations, bankers, and representatives of the Malaysian Youth Council.

Critics may argue that the term ‘youth-empowerment’ seems to be the flavour of the day – just like gender equality and freedom of expression. These terms are widely bandied about and visible online, but not fully adopted in reality.

The timing, perhaps, is also questionable, as following the implementation of Undi 18, 18-year-olds will be allowed to vote in the upcoming Johor election. Every youth-empowering narrative will, hopefully, win a vote or two.

However, this “awakening” by the powers-that-be, is perhaps an acknowledgement of how youths in Malaysia today have to struggle to get even the most basic of necessities – like a roof over their heads or putting food on the table. This is due to price hikes, soaring inflation, a weak ringgit and pay scales that have generally remained the same over the past two decades.

It must be remembered that through the ages, the youth have had no problems in making their voices heard. Student-led marches and protests are not new, while varsity students having discourses regarding governance and being active members of unions, were common.

However, those voices are today amplified via social media platforms.

Let’s not forget that Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj was 48 when he was named the second Umno president and was 54 when he became the first prime minister of Malaysia.

Tun Abdul Razak Hussein was 48 when he succeeded Tunku Abdul Rahman as prime minister.

The world had seen how Malaysian youths rolled up their sleeves in times of crisis, as evident during the Covid-19 pandemic and the recent floods in several states. They took to the streets to protest the manner in which the government handled the pandemic, and more recently, in the saga involving the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission.

The youths of Malaysia are clearly eager to be a part of the nation-building process. But will they be given the chance to do so and uplift their social status?

The Johor polls is seen as the litmus test. Will young voters come out in full force? Will they move the needle? And if so, in which areas?

If the youths can make a significant impact in Johor, the government will have no choice but to concentrate on youth empowerment initiatives, ensuring that their voices continue to be heard. The outcome of the state election will determine the strategies for the 15th General Election.

The Youth and Sports Ministry will play a more prominent role – ensuring that every youth-centric government policy is amplified, and that the results are seen almost immediately.

The tricky bit is that youths are generally not known for being “loyal” to one political party. Instead, they value personalities and causes more.

And if the personality or cause diverge, or are at odds with their own aspirations, they would have no qualms about moving on to someone else who shares their same ideals.

As such, policymakers must ensure that they constantly work hard and continue to convince the young of their decisions, and the impact they have created. They have to man up when criticised, and not revel too much in praise.

This approach would greatly benefit the country in the long run.

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