TODAY Malaysia turns 54 years old. Selamat Hari Malaysia!

But what are we exactly celebrating? Fifty-four years of nationhood that brought four, then two years later, three territories as one new nation?

By any measure, this should be a joyous occasion but events in the past year have shown how fragile this nationhood is, how brittle the ties that bind us as one people, as Malaysians.

If we are one people, why did our brothers and sisters in Sarawak send a legal team to London to look into the original Malaysia Agreement of 1963? Why are they quibbling over revenues from tourism taxes? And petroleum royalties?

Do we as a nation even know the contents of the Malaysia Agreement of 1963? Have we abided by the points asked and given to the people of Sarawak and Sabah when they agreed with Malaya to form Malaysia in 1963?

The irony, of course, is the fact that the governments in both Sarawak and Sabah are the same as the federal government, Barisan Nasional (BN). Can’t they, as the same ruling coalition members, sort out these issues?  

Can’t they as the same ruling coalition develop the nation equally, or do we have to have Sarawak announce it will finance some RM1 billion in upgrading schoolsto 21st century standards because Putrajaya does not have sufficient funds?

If that is the case, where did Putrajaya find RM30 million to upgrade tahfiz schools to ensure they meet building codes for health and safety?

The simple fact is this, can we claim that with Malaysia, our education system has improved by leaps and bounds? If that is so, why do we see more options for parents, from private schools in spanking new buildings that cost a fortune to schools in private residences that lack even the basic safety standards?

Several years before Malaya became self-governing and then independent, the British colonials founded the Malayan Teachers Training College in Kirkby, near Liverpool. It operated from 1952 to 1962.

They set new standards for the new country of Malaya, just as the Public Works Department did with school buildings that emphasised health and safety measures.


Malaysia still has those standards for those setting up private schools. But those regulations seem to be ignored with the smaller schools such as the tahfiz ones. Are the teachers qualified to teach? Are the buildings safe? Who regulates them?

These questions arise after the Kg Datuk Keramat tahfiz school blaze, which killed 21 pupils and two teachers who lived in the school dormitory that caught fire on September 14. It was the country’s worst fire in 20 years.

Will there be any public inquiry into this tragedy? A nation that is 54 years old should have by now a school system for all, and standards that cover private education institutions. And not deaths from a dormitory with just one door and fixed security grilles.

That is a sign of a failure in the system, the dereliction of the duty of care, the lack of oversight and responsibility.

As it is, Malaysia suffers from a growing trust deficit. First, it is the government, be it the ruling coalition or its political foes who run two states. Two, it is now slowly spreading to institutions that not only care for us but those that invest on our behalf.

Go beyond the 1MDB scandal.

Was there ever a time when Malaysians openly quibbled about investments by the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) – Malaysia’s largest pension fund? Was there a time when we questioned flag carrier Malaysia Airlines buying Boeing passenger jets?  

We do now just as some have castigated the prime minister for eagerly saying Malaysia will help strengthen the US economy. What about the Malaysian economy?

Sarawak’s decision to fund improvements to its school system tells us the answer. That Malaysians will have to rely on themselves to make Malaysia better, if not great.

At the age of 54, we can all see that an independent nation requires people to be independent enough to make the tough decisions that keeps a government both honest and accountable.

That means having your voice and using it. That means having a vote and using it. Because Malaysia does not belong to the select few to run, but to all citizens.

Selamat Hari Malaysia!