Battles of reality

SEPT 14 — The recently held Malaysian Public Policy Competition [MPPC] was extremely timely and much needed. Timely because Malaysia is at a junction where she can use a little hand from one of her largest growing demography and if harnessed properly, the effects could be disproportionately positive.

It’s a much-needed one because there is a sense that Malaysia youth hasn’t been properly integrated into the policy-making apparatus of the nation. We are heavily courted by both sides of the political aisle primarily due to our numbers at the ballot box rather than our brains. And that’s just a waste. 

But now that the competition is over and the hype that surrounded it has cooled off, it really begets the question of “Now what?” And that goes to the heart of what I intend to highlight today: that there isn’t a systemic or sustainable platform that taps the cognitive surplus of the Malaysian youth – especially on the policy-making front. The MPPC and initiatives of its sort are great but they are ad-hoc at best and should be viewed as a jumpstart to something much more organised. 

Public policy is not a craft that is honed overnight. It involves the tenacity to grab hold of an idealistic vision and dousing it with strong concentrations of realism so that it can be shepherded into the world with the least resistance from relevant stakeholders. I was told that a skilled policy maker knows how to construct something feasible without compromising its core ideals.

It’s a tough balancing act that has seen many casualties and like any other discipline, it’s something that gets better with practice. Currently in Malaysia, there just isn’t a platform that allows youths to systematically dabble in this arena at an early stage. 

Thus I think it’s high time that we either have a public policy organisation that is run by youths or that major think tanks in Malaysia start moving in a direction that ropes in this demography in a more tangible manner. I would much prefer the latter as it’s a process of integrating the abilities of the youths in an already pre-existing structure as opposed to starting from scratch. Needless to say such an overarching initiative isn’t an overnight affair as well. It takes time, namely because there are resource constrains but we have got to start somewhere. 

I feel strongly about this because I am a direct beneficiary of such a system in the United States. Public policy was the last thing on my mind when I stepped into the final stages of my academic cocoon. But I was at an event where the university clubs did their recruitment drive and there was an organization named the Roosevelt Institute Campus-Network that caught my eye.

It is a public policy student think tank that has members nationwide. It was via this organization that I got my first taste of this discipline and it ultimately landed me an internship with the City of Chicago at the Department of Aviation. Needless to say, I haven’t looked back since. Such an experience need not and should not be exclusively mine. 

It is imperative to know that public policy isn’t just about politics, for the latter is the subset of the former. I know many of my peers who are passionate about moving this nation forward but are incensed by the state of our political environment. This initiative has to be beyond that and those who choose to partake must not be seen as “joining politics la tu!” 

And the second myth that must be wrestled with is the notion that public policy is always about the big stuff. If taking on NEP, PPSMI or AUKU is your cup of tea, then be my guest. But it could also be about double parking, clogged drains or more books in the library. The most interesting assignment I had was to write a policy paper on fixing the men’s urinals at O’Hare International Airport. Sounds trivial to you? It saved the city a couple of millions over the course of a few years. 

In short, such a systematic initiative should be based on the premise that an idea however big or small, if done for the greater good can make Malaysia a better place. Malaysian youth have long camped in the arena of ideas. It’s high time that they cross the bridge into the battles of reality.

* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.



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