EACH year, when Merdeka comes around, the nation does some soul-searching. We reflect on national unity, integration and development goals.
Historically, Merdeka on Aug 31, 1957, marked freedom from British rule.
Merdeka gave the people, through the parliamentary system, the freedom to think for themselves.
For a country that boasts of being a melting pot, cracks are more visible than ever today.
Despite pledges by political leaders to preserve integration, the reality is that when it comes to the crunch, Malaysians disperse into their social, religious and political groupings.
This defeats national unity. The fact that ethnic groups are not coming together is of grave concern.
How do Malaysians handle the fact that they come from different ethnic and religious backgrounds?
How can Malaysians live together while upholding their religious and traditional characteristics?
A unified society can be defined as one where different communities live together in a friendly, congenial setting.
Malaysians can say that this realistic approach to multiculturalism is what the people have adopted to avoid inter-ethnic clashes.
Co-existence, where people respect one another’s differences, should be sustained as a national philosophy.
The real mark of freedom is that the Malaysian constitutional democracy offers people justice and fairness in the delivery of constitutional rights.
At a forum on poverty, the government poverty line of 0.4 per cent and minimum wage of RM950 were disputed as they were not seen as a realistic and fair measure of poverty on the ground nor its eradication.
The argument on poverty was provoked by a United Nations special rapporteur, who collated his own report after conducting an 11-day research in Malaysia.
Citing the inaccessibility of government documents and data, the report drew its own conclusion and recommendations based on interviews with selected people and agencies with visits to poverty-stricken communities.
All is not well for the poor in Malaysia is the gist of the report.
More government policies and plans to establish sustainable social protection schemes for the poor must be put in place.
The government must make poverty eradication its priority.
Nothing contributes to harmony more than citizens who are well-buffered by equitable and fair affirmative action policies.
DATUK HALIMAH MOHD SAID
President, Association of Voices of Peace, Conscience and Reason