Abdullah should convene an all-party roundtable conference to develop a national consensus on a dozen vital issues to create a nation of towering Malaysians imbued with “First World Infrastructure, First World Mentality”


at the Penang DAP Chinese New Year Open House
by Lim Kit Siang

(Penang, Sunday): In  his speech to some 2,000 UMNO leaders the previous Saturday, the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi  called for the generation of “Malays with  towering personalities”,  outstanding in the respective fields they embark upon.

Questions many Malaysians ask in the past week about the Prime Minister’s speech, which had been described as "the best speech he has given”,  include the following:

  • Why  48 years after independent nationhood, we are talking about “towering Malays” when the focus  should be on  “towering Malaysians”;
  • Whether it will be equally acceptable for calls to be made for the generation of “towering Chinese” and  “towering Indians” in Malaysia;
  • Where are the “towering Malays” in the various fields of national endeavour 48 years after Merdeka; and
  • What are we doing to ensure that Malaysia has “towering institutions”, like “towering Parliament”, “towering judiciary”, “towering universities”, “towering police force” for the emergence of such “towering Malaysian personalities”?

During the Chinese New Year holidays,   I was painfully  reminded of  Malaysia’s lack of a “towering university” in international academia  - an internationally-recognized university of academic excellence.  This was not just the recent revelation by the Minister for Higher Education Datuk Dr. Shafie Salleh that foreign students have plunged from some 40,000 at the end of 2003 to the present 23,000 -  a far cry from Singapore’s ambitious target under its “Global Schoolhouse” project to increase its  50,000 international students in 2003 to 100,000 international full-fee paying students and 100,000 international corporate executives for training by 2012.  

I came across a website reporting on the  rankings of world universities, such as

(i)  the Asiaweek Best Universities 2000 where regionally, University of Malaya was ranked a lowly 47th position out of 77 universities, with Universiti Putra Malaysia in 52nd and Universiti Sains Malaysia in 57th position.

(ii)  The Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) global ranking of the world’s best 200 universities in November 2004,  with University of Malaya ranked No. 89 and the Universiti Sains Malaysia ranked No. 111; and

(iii) The Shanghai Jiao Tong University 2004 World’s  Best 500 universities, where not a single Malaysian university was listed.

These three world university rankings are no news to me, as I had spoken about them both  in Parliament  and outside,  calling for a masterplan to develop Malaysia into an international centre of academic excellence by ensuring that at least two Malaysian universities are recognized as among the world’s 50 best universities by 2008.  

This should not be a tall order and a mission impossible, when Singapore has  two universities and Australia six universities in the Top 50 universities in the Times Higher Education Supplement global ranking.

But what surprised and unsettled me was a “web”  ranking of 1,000  Universities, by the Madrid-based InternetLab (Observatorio de Ciencia y Tecnologia en Internet), and there was not a single Malaysian university listed on it.  The Internet  ranking of 1,000 universities started from the assumption that the Web has become one of the main sources to obtain information on academic and scientific activities, and it used several “webometrics” indicators, such as size, visibility, popularity and number of rich files.

There can be many different views about the criteria used for the Web ranking of universities, but what should be a  very late wake-up call for Malaysians is that there is not a single university listed in the 1,000 universities, although we have been talking so much and so long about turning Malaysia into an international centre of academic excellence as well as the nation’s ICT  quantum leap into the information age. 

This is Abdullah’s 16th month as Prime Minister, and as his son-in-law and Deputy UMNO Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin said in Singapore last  December, the honeymoon period was over for the Prime Minister and the people were waiting for him to deliver on his promises of political, economic and government  reform and fight corruption. 

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who is visiting Malaysia tomorrow, had apologized for his failure to  fulfill a range of pledges including an end to corruption in his first 100 days, which he blamed on the tsunami catastrophe. 

Last Tuesday,  Kenya President Mwai Kibaki’s advisor on corruption, John Githongo, handed in his resignation from London because he feared for his life – marking the  total failure of the two-year Kenyan fight against corruption, which was the main  election campaign pledge  of the new Kenyan leader. 

Two years will be a fair and reasonable period for the people to expect Abdullah to bridge the disconnect between the reality and rhetoric of  his political, economic and government reform,  which means that the next nine  months are going to be the most critical and testing  months for the Abdullah premiership. 

Although we are from different political parties, we are all Malaysians and we want Abdullah to succeed in his political, economic and government reform and the battle against corruption – and we will give him full support to fulfill his pledges.

2005 is a “breakthrough” year for Abdullah.  He  should convene an all-party roundtable conference to develop a national consensus on a dozen vital issues to create a nation, not just of towering Malays, towering Chinese or towering Indians, but of   towering Malaysians imbued with “First World Infrastructure, First World Mentality”, fully backed-up by towering institutions, whether Parliament, judiciary, educational, economic or civic.


* Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman