Revisiting Vision 2020: Has the vision gone myopic?

by Donovan Mujah

For decades, our engagement with the world was based on the belief that we were bound to be followers; denouncing our capacity as potential playmakers in a globalised world. It was not until 1991 that then prime minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohammad introduced Vision 2020, an ideal vision that called for the nation to achieve a self-sufficient industrial, Malaysian-centric economy by 2020, and by our own choice, we set out to accomplish it using our own mould.

That was no doubt back in 1990s when Malaysia was at its pinnacle of success. Dubbed as one of the emerging titans of Asia, it was a shining example of both leading industrial-based powerhouse and champion of developing countries. In 2000, the International Monetary Fund reported that from 1988 to 1997, Malaysia’s economy experienced a sustained rapid growth averaging 9% annually.

Similarly, as reported by the World Bank in 2000, the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and foreign reserve were growing exponentially per annum. Before long, the country was hailed the ‘Tiger of Asia’ by Asiaweek in 1993 and it was during this time that Mahathir’s perfect vision was introduced under seemingly ideal conditions.

Based on these assurances, Vision 2020, which consists of nine objective pillars aimed at achieving fully developed nation status by the year 2020, was formulated. Figure 1 shows a summary of the challenges. Generally, Vision 2020 encompasses all aspects of Malaysian life to be illuminated through the actions of the so-called developed nationals.

Figure 1. Vision 2020 challenges

Such was the noble vision back then, but what is the reality today, given the volatile global occurrences in this new millennium? Unbridled global capitalism has brought about economic crisis, and policies meant to boost people’s quality of life have inadvertently widened the gap between rich and poor.

Malaysia’s economy was also severely tested by the unprecedented currency attack during the Asian Financial Crisis 1997-1998, the outbreak of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), and internal struggles such as the racial tensions that led to the Hindu Rights Action Force (HINDRAF) and Coalition for Clean Fair Elections (BERSIH) rallies in 2007.

Also, Malaysia’s competitiveness was ranked 24th globally, slipping downwards by three positions from the previous year according to the Global Competitiveness Report 2009-2010 by the World Economic Forum.

These are factors that contributed to the slowing down of the Malaysian economy and further entrenched the image of an increasingly intangible Vision 2020.

In Malaysia’s context, a quintessential society means a society that practices what it preaches; transcending religious beliefs, ethnicities and background. It celebrates differences and willingly adapts to global changes in terms of scientific and artistic knowledge through research and development (R&D) while preserving local values, traditions and honour.

These are the present critical gaps that need greater attention to ensure the success of Vision 2020. The 1Malaysia concept introduced by Dato’ Seri Najib Tun Razak in 2008 stresses on national unity and ethnic tolerance. I believe his call for unity and understanding among the races in Malaysia is timely when the country needs to recover from economic distresses.

The concept is likely to forge greater rapport, such as the acknowledgment of 16 September as Malaysia Day and a national holiday. It is designed to eradicate factions within society and spur development in terms of education, information technology literacy and the basic needs of the people. Ignoring claims that the 1Malaysia Concept is just another political ploy, I am certain that we can achieve Vision 2020 through the implementation of the concept’s various programmes.

Emphasis on science and technology is important to achieve developed nation status. Sadly, our focus on pursuing such knowledge is often obstructed by petty issues like the relevancy of the English Language in the teaching of relevant subjects, the dilemma in safeguarding Bahasa Melayu and so forth. Unless these kinds of viral trends are nipped in the bud, Vision 2020 seems bleak.

Having studied in Japan for my postgraduate degree, I was fortunate to have been exposed to their way of life. The Japanese are made up of a locus of different ethnic groups such as the Yamato, Ainu and Ryukyuans and it is somehow quite similar to Malaysia’s multicultural society.

It occurred to me that their speedy development after World War II was no coincidence. It was because of their incessant craving for knowledge in science and technology, and for the betterment of their country, while maintaining their own intrinsic value system. Why can’t that be Malaysia’s aspiration too?

The growing breaches in our society nowadays are the manifestation of each races’ desire to have a bigger piece of the economic cake. The thirst for greater security and survival is never quenched. It is hoped that through Vision 2020, Malaysians will appreciate each other as the sons and daughters of Malaysia, enjoying equal shares of the economic cake – even if it is shrinking!

The world has witnessed the rise and fall of civilizations and the most common reason is economy. If the Meiji Revolution in Japan helped transform that country into an economic giant of the twentieth century; if the Industrial Revolution in Europe allowed our Western counterparts to dominate the world economy; shouldn’t we be compelled to be next?

The reason lies not with the claim that Vision 2020 is unrealistic or that we are lacking in capability, but more our lack of effort in boosting Malaysia’s economy to the limit. We focused a great deal on frivolous projects like sending the first Malaysian into space and therefore sidelining projects to achieve developed nation status – at least that is the general perception.

While mega projects are commendable and help put Malaysia on world map, do they, for example, contribute to raising the economic status of the hardcore poor in the country? I am not necessarily suggesting that mega projects are wasteful, but could they be distracting us from achieving our grand Vision 2020? Perhaps it’s time to focus?

Donovan Mujah is an associate lecturer in civil engineering with Curtin Sarawak’s School of Engineering and Science. He is a graduate member of the Institution of Engineers Malaysia, Miri Branch and also a graduate engineer registered with the Board of Engineers Malaysia. This article is based on his essay submitted to the Perdana Leadership Foundation’s National Essay Writing Competition 2010, which won the consolation prize. Donovan can be contacted at +60 85 443939 ext. 3956 or by e-mail to