In the recent past, Malaysian leaders had taken joy in deriding the West for its social, moral and economic decline. Recently, however, Malaysia has found itself facing the prospect of social and moral decline even before reaching the status of a fully developed nation as in the West.
Clearly, something has gone wrong with the entire development process, particularly with the Vision 2020 of being a fully developed nation "infused by strong moral and ethical values".
Vision 2020 made it clear that there could be no fully developed Malaysia until "we have finally overcome the nine central strategic challenges that have confronted us from the moment of our birth as an independent nation".
The fourth strategic challenge is to establish "a fully moral and ethical society, whose citizens are strong in religious and spiritual values and imbued with the highest of ethical standards".
Although Malaysia is already one-third way into the 30-year programme of Vision 2020, the country is still quite unprepared to address many of the nine strategic challenges and in some cases, had even slipped further behind - as evidenced by the mushrooming of social ills affecting the youths in the country.
This is most saddening and there must be a great soul-searching in the country as to why Malaysia has not been able to harness the power of the world's great religions to impart good moral values to our citizens and youths, when Malaysia has the unique distinction of being the confluence of these great religions.
Today, the Cabinet Committee on Social Issues headed by the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim will be holding its first meeting to discuss the problems affecting the young.
The Cabinet Committee should identify the areas where the government on its own could make the greatest impact and areas where unless it could mobilise the influences of the family, the home, the religions and the community, there is very little it could do to check the mushrooming social ills among youths.
The areas where the Government could have the greatest impact on society is for government leaders to be good role models - or its concern about social ills would lack credibility and would be seen as sheer hypocrisy or double-standards by the youths.
For instance, in his Hari Raya Aidilfitri message, the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamed identified corruption as one of the social ills affecting the country.
The question is what has the government done in the first seven years of the 30-year programme for Vision 2020 to deal with the problem of corruption, and whether the highest political leadership has ensured that all key political leaders in government, both Federal and State, have undoubted reputation for their honesty, integrity and uprightness.
If not, one of the first things the Cabinet Committee on Social Issues should do is to recognise corruption as a key social ill which must be eliminated in Malaysia and to take action to ensure that all important political leaders both at national and state levels are exemplary models of rectitude and integrity.