The Star Online > Nation
Sunday May 13, 2007
KUALA TERENGGANU: Reducing racial segregation and inter- as well as intra-racial tension are among the five main objectives of the National Unity and Integration Plan 2006-2010.
The plan, which draws up the steps to be taken for the next five years to enhance racial integration in the country, was launched by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin here yesterday.
The plan was launched in conjunction with national-level Unity Month celebrations at Batu Burok.
Among the other objectives of the plan are to boost the spirit of unity and patriotism among Malaysians and to increase the level of tolerance and harmony among the various ethnic groups in the country.
The plan, which was approved by the Cabinet on May 17 last year, was drawn up in the hope of further strengthening racial unity and creating a sense of belonging in this country, as well as a feeling of being proud to be Malaysian.
The plan outlined 19 strategies which government agencies and statutory bodies were supposed to implement.
The agencies were to foster close racial relations by applying principles like mutual understanding and to carry out steps like monitoring of current affairs or conflicts and gauging of the impact of unity.
The private sector, non-governmental organisations and the public are to be roped in.
The plan also sought to promote a national identity through a quality education system and to boost the people’s understanding of the Rukunegara and the Federal Constitution.
The plan said one of the challenges faced was that integration among the various ethnic groups in the country was still at a “functional level”.
It said there was only integration among working peers while sincerity, a caring attitude, honesty and understanding of one racial group towards another was still not achieved.
On the Bangsa Malaysia concept, the plan stated that the definition was still unclear and had yet to be discerned by society.
During the event yesterday, former foreign affairs minister Tun Dr Muhammad Ghazali Shafie, former Sabah chief minister Tan Sri Peter Lo Su Yin, and previous Sarawak Dayak National Union vice-president Datuk Seri Tra Zehnder @ Philomena Tra ak Jemat received the first “Generators of Unity in Malaysia” awards.
ฉ 1995-2005 Star Publications (Malaysia) Bhd (Co No 10894-D)
Sunday Interview/National unity and integration: Behind closed doors, sometimes
13 May, 2007
Racial unity in the country has come a long way since May 13, 1969. Though the foundations are strong, more can be done to strengthen it. PATRICK SENNYAH speaks to Datuk Dr Maximus Ongkili, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of national unity, on the issue Q: How would you describe racial unity now?
A: I have been in this job for the last three years. Coming from Sabah where the level of inter-racial tolerance is high, I have seen some very positive developments in the peninsula also.
In fact, the relationship among the Malays, Chinese and Indians has never been better. People are more conscious now and aware of the importance of racial tolerance.
Nobody wants a repeat of May 13. I have visited Kampung Medan five times and believe the people there have learnt from the bitter experience.
However, I have noticed that in urban areas, Malaysians are much more vocal these days and speak openly when they come across obstacles to national unity.
Even the media is allowing people to comment and discuss certain issues more openly.
The problem is sometimes when people are allowed to express views, sometimes competing ones, it tends to look like they are disunited.
This is not so. People are just more open these days and comment more freely. It does not mean that the core of unity is under threat.
They should be allowed to speak openly for it builds maturity. It is better for people to voice their opinions and grievances openly rather than have demonstrations and riots.
We (Prime Minister’s Department) encourage people to speak out. We welcome people of all races to sit together and speak out and resolve any misunderstanding or differences.
The only way to come to an understanding or resolve anything is to speak freely and openly, sometimes, behind closed doors.
However, things must be within limits. People must talk sensibly to build better relations and not talk nonsense.
People must be careful about what they say. Sometimes words uttered by certain groups or people may cause others to react.
That is why sometimes the government has to impose certain restrictions, like when we curtailed open discussion on Article 11 of the Federal Constitution. Some issues are sensitive and only those with the relevant knowledge should speak.
Back in Sabah, about 80 years ago, we were hunting each other’s heads.
However, after sitting down together and speaking our minds and understanding each other, we have learnt tolerance and today we live in harmony.
I believe in Malaysia, unity strongly exists. What we need to work on is the integration part.
Overall, the situation is fine. The police don’t get many race-based complaints, just about 300 per year.
Q: Could you elaborate on these race-based complaints?
A: Sometimes it is over a woman, like the last such complaint in Cheras two months ago.
However, there have been no major incidents. People are sensible enough to get to the root of the problem without getting at each other’s throats.
Each year, I visit every state at least three times and I have noticed that there is strong harmony between the three main races in smaller towns, even in Kelantan.
Based on reports from our Rukun Tetangga beat bases, there is no problem of racial unity and tolerance in small towns. The problem is in bigger towns, and especially among the middle-class.
Sometimes sentiments are triggered by some Bumiputera middle-class intellectuals who feel strongly and speak openly on the fact that other races cannot question their rights.
This is not necessary and everything can be explained and clearly understood in a more conducive and less tense situation. In fact, other races strongly respect Bumiputera rights.
At the end of the day, we should all move towards working hand in hand.
With a ruling party like the Barisan Nasional, multiracialism should form the cornerstone of our strength and no one race should belittle or look down on the other.
Q: What is the aim of the National Unity and Integration Action Plan?
A: The thrust of the plan is to co-ordinate the responsibilities of all ministries and government agencies concerned.
With the plan, we hope to inculcate unity and get all people to celebrate diversity.
Q: How will the RM100 million allocated under the Ninth Malaysia Plan be used to strengthen national unity and racial integration?
A: The money will be used for infrastructure development. We need money to build community halls, meeting areas and other facilities where people can meet and interact.
More and more people are living in flats these days where, with no meeting rooms and playgrounds, there are few opportunities for interaction.
We have raised this with the local governments and have asked them to ensure all flats and high density areas have facilities for people to mingle and organise activities.
In countries like Singapore, the ground floor is for residents to hold activities.
Our government is also going to make it compulsory for open spaces and community halls in housing areas.
We need the money to organise sufficient programmes to prevent repeats of the Kampung Medan incident. We need to spend to increase the buffer of tolerance.
Q: Was there any follow-up on the proposals submitted by the Young Lawyers Committee?
A: I have submitted the proposal to the National Unity panel that will meet next month to study it. There are some bright ideas from this group of young, bright professionals.
The proposal includes, among others, visible multiculturism in the civil service and private sector.
They (Young Lawyers’ Committee) are also doing a survey on hindrances to national unity.
Q: What has been done to ease tension in certain hotspots, such as Kampung Medan?
A: There is a high level of crime, drug abuse, unemployment and congestion in these hotspots. All these elements create tension.
Under such conditions, the smallest incident can cause tempers to flare.
And when this happens, people tend to take matters into their own hands.
Worse, there is a high concentration of illegal immigrants living in these areas.
Many of these illegals look like Malaysians and sometimes when they misbehave, we think it is actually the work of one of our people.
One way to defuse the situation would be to set up more Rukun Tetangga beat bases in these hotspots.
There are 230 such hotspots nationwide, mainly in Selangor, Penang and Johor.
We are also working closely with the police for more RakanCop projects in these areas.
There are plans for more dialogue sessions to give residents in these areas a suitable avenue to speak out.
The Youth and Sports Ministry is also organising more events for the youth in these areas.
Sometimes, there is not much for these youths to do and when their minds are idle, all kinds of negative thoughts come to them.
Q: What are the efforts to enhance racial harmony among schoolchildren?
A: The National Unity panel will focus on racial polarisation in all public and private institutes of higher learning. We will also focus on all national schools to ensure students begin mingling at an early age.
Our aim is to make national schools more multiracial and have more teachers of various races. We want to get rid of the perception that preference is given to Malays.
The problem is some teachers on their own are exuberant and because of this, we label the whole school.
If parents feel their children are not being treated fairly, they should use all available avenues to voice their grievances. We have so many avenues, including Suhakam.
In fact, the Students Integration Plan for Unity (Rimup) will go into full gear in July under the leadership of Education Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein.
This plan will ensure students from both national and vernacular schools share common activities and mingle at an early age.
Another integration programme called E-Integrasi was introduced in Penang recently where students use an e-module to learn the background and cultures of each other.
Q: There have been allegations that enforcement agencies, like the police, have been unfair to certain races.
A: We have not received any such complaints. If anyone feels they have been treated as such, please contact us, email us.
Q: What about the use of certain words that may upset certain races?
A: Well, that all depends on what the word is. My panel has raised this matter before and certain words deemed derogatory by the Indians have been removed.
If anyone feels any word is upsetting to their race, we will act on it.
Even in parliament, we find that some of our MPs have used certain words, though in a joking manner, which have upset other races. This must stop.
Q: What about certain ongoing issues which are race-sensitive?
A: (For instance) when one wants to leave Islam, it raises a lot of questions. This is a new experience to us.
In a way, it is good that such cases have come up for sooner or later, we will have to deal with them.
If the outcome of a case causes dissatisfaction and unhappiness among certain communities, then the government will definitely look into the matter.
If certain laws are outdated, unclear or unfair, we will clarify them and make the necessary changes to ensure they do not affect race relations.
Such cases will increase consciousness and we must resolve them on a case-by- case basis.
Q: What do you think about the recent footage on apostasy on Al Jazeera?
A: The courts must play their role. If there are no laws on certain issues, then it is the government’s duty to enact them.
I feel the judiciary has acted fairly. Issues of apostasy are sensitive to all, especially Muslims.
Before one converts to Islam, he must have sufficient understanding with the authorities. This will ensure he fully understands the nature of his conversion.
The prospective convert must be fully educated and this should be open and transparent. The convert must be fully aware of his responsibilities so that there are no future problems.
This issue of apostasy must be resolved by the relevant agencies.
People must never use religion to achieve certain goals, for example, to claim rights to their children.
I don’t think the Muslim community is happy with this as it is a clear abuse of religion.
National Service is one initiative by the government that enhances racial integration.
What is needed now is a post-National Service programme to ensure the lessons learnt during National Service are not forgotten.
© Copyright 2007 The New Straits Times Press (M) Berhad. All rights reserved.