With the transition of leadership following the 14th general elections, policymakers would be looking into new ideas and new policies to chart the destiny of the nation. This is imperative especially as the nation’s finances are in dire straits.
Think tanks in the country have a role to play towards shaping policy agendas as they are able to mobilise expertise and push for innovative change and catalyse action.
Two prominent think tanks that come into mind in Malaysia that would have a greater role to play are the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) and the Malaysian Institute of Economic Research (MIER).
Unfortunately, both these institutions are in a deplorable state as their input towards nation building has been at best mediocre. ISIS Malaysia set up in the 80’s under the stewardship of Dr Nordin Sophie was in the forefront of policy-making and had led to many valuable contributions towards many important policies in the nation.
His untimely demise led to the sharp descent in the standard of the institution with very little to show in terms of research outputs, alternative views or initiating important projects. A prominent civil servant said that even government projects would not be given to ISIS on account of the recent fall in calibre at the institution.
Its dismal leadership can be directly attributed to the lacklustre role of the institution, that has sunk into a ‘political bureau’ of the previous Barisan Nasional government.
In recent times, we saw very little contribution from its researchers aside from coming out with opinion editorials regularly in newspapers.
A cursory examination shows it would be difficult for it to justify a large number of people and huge expenditure compared to its meager output.
Many have accused the Institute of being quick to justify government policy without carrying out substantive research.
Before the General Elections, former Prime Minister, Najib Razak quoted a Director of Economics at ISIS who said that it “was nonsensical for the Pakatan government to abolish the GST and replace with SST”. That was done without even carrying out a detailed economic study on the matter by ISIS. Was that only done with the hope of winning brownie points with the Barisan Nasional Government?
How is that the present government can look at various ways of reducing the burden of the people due to an increased cost of living and still afford to abolish the GST. Did ISIS carry out an extensive study before deciding that abolishing GST was not tenable?
In the case of MIER, the rot already started a long time ago, with journalists finding little necessity to cover its annual economic survey. Its views and opinions are nothing but reiterating the government official view with nothing more to offer.
As an economic think tank, its fingerprints are notably absent in all the economic agenda’s of the government to date and it would be simply a waste of taxpayers fund to justify the existing of these two institutions.
For these two think-tanks to be useful in nation-building, the top brass of leaders must now make way for many other talented individuals who want to contribute to the nation’s progress.
The political landscape has changed and those who are not acquainted with dishing out ideas must do the only honourable thing left for them and that is to leave!
This Article is written by Hang Purba.