Indeed, we proudly sell ourselves as a model of inter-faith and interracial harmony and go around inviting others to learn from us.
To many in the Third World, we were the template for successful economic development based on political stability, sound economic strategy and respect for the rule of law.
On the business side, we were considered a safe and exciting place to do business with and invest in.
Investors were assured of strong government support, an efficient bureaucracy and a business environment free of corruption, red tape and political interference. Our English-educated workforce was a decided advantage.
Regrettably, we have not been zealous in propagating our 1Malaysia brand name lately.
Recent scandals, corruption and mismanagement, as well as misguided policies, have seriously left brand 1Malaysia reeling from a thousand cuts.
Currently Datuk Seri Anwar Ibahim’s sodomy case part 2 continues to fascinate Malaysians with its sordid details. Datuk Nasir Safar’s alleged racist remarks against the Chinese and Indians uttered ironically at a 1Malaysia rally in Melaka added fuel to the already simmering situation. The fact that Nasir is designated Special Officer to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak certainly didn’t help matters.
Is Nasir’s subsequent resignation and public apology enough? You decide.
Is the torching of churches over the use of the word “Allah” an example of the Malaysia we want to be?
Did the torching of mosques and throwing of wild boar heads into mosque compounds in an effort to ignite racial tensions work? Nope, Malaysians know better than to be fooled by such malicious actions.
Did the cow head incident in Shah Alam succeed in igniting racial disharmony? Nope again.
Then you have the illegal sand mining affair splashed all over the news. The Kugan case, the death in custody of Teoh Beng Hock and other high profile cases brought us a great deal of unsavory international attention. This, together with equally sensational scandals involving our judiciary, seems to convey the view that our whole justice system is in crisis.
As well, the massive PKFZ fiasco, the selling of official army secrets to a foreign embassy and the brazen theft of RMAF jet engines and other outrageous public sector corruption scandals have convinced many foreign observers and businessmen that corruption is now out of hand in Malaysia.
It is not for no reason that Transparency International recently gave Malaysia its worst corruption ranking ever.
Increasingly, visitors to Malaysia (as well as many Malaysians themselves) routinely complain of demands for bribes and kickbacks at many levels. Are we now destined to become a chronically corrupt state?
Though we tend to play down the extent of corruption in Malaysia, it is negatively impacting our image in more ways than one and may well be related to the declining levels of foreign direct investment.
On the political front, the continued use of detention without trial and limitations on fundamental freedoms have undoubtedly diminished our democratic credentials in the eyes of the world.
At the same time, the attention grabbing headlines concerning the caning sentence imposed on Kartika Dewi by the Syariah court, high profile Jakim raids on popular nightspots, the controversy over the use of the word “Allah,” the recent attacks on churches and the desecration of mosques have left many foreigners wondering whether we are heading down the slippery road towards intolerance and extremism.
Of course there are those who will argue that some of these actions are religious imperatives and must not be questioned. The point is we cannot have it both ways: we cannot act in this manner and still hope to cling to the “moderate” label we are so proud of.
Cases of unfair treatment of migrants and foreign workers in Malaysia have not helped either. The United States Senate issued a damning report last year that even implicated some government officials in human trafficking!
This, together with the abuse of migrant workers by their Malaysian employers, has brought shame to our nation and invoked the ire of some of our neighbors.
And then there is the exodus of Malaysians, more than 300,000 in 2008/09, in search of a better life abroad. What does it say to the rest of the world about brand 1Malaysia when many, including some of our best and brightest, are leaving?
It is clear to those of us who closely monitor Malaysia’s image abroad that brand 1Malaysia is in trouble. One commentator even went so far as to call us a “failed rich state!” It is nonsense of course, but it is a sign of the shifting perception of Malaysia.
Unfortunately, there are no Band-Aid solutions. Mere slogans or clever publicity campaigns won’t cut it. The scandals, the worsening corruption, the political dysfunction, the decay of national institutions, etc., are symptomatic of a much deeper malaise affecting our nation.
At the end of the day, we need to ask ourselves some hard questions about where we, as a nation, are headed. Foreign observers are certainly asking the question and reaching their own less than flattering conclusions about brand 1Malaysia.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak issued a clarion call last week for Malaysia to do “something extraordinary.” The most extraordinary thing we can do is to halt the sad decline of our nation and somehow find a way to spark a national renewal.