By Michelle Ng
On the 28th of August 2022 I returned to the Malaysian Public Policy Competition as a keynote speaker.
As we celebrate Merdeka and this month, Malaysia Day, I found it cathartic penning a speech which brought me back to why I returned to serve my country in the first place.
I pray you find hope in this piece.
Allow me firstly to record my gratitude to the organisers, for having me deliver the keynote address today.
Before we get to the boring stuff, first – a story.
Twelve years ago, a group of friends from universities across London were acquainted for the first time. They comprised of first- and second-year Malaysians, who came together because well, we are Malaysians.
Being in a country far away from familiarity, from people we know and love – there is a certain solace in being with friends who share the same struggle, but there is an added comfort when those friends share the same identity and history.
For this group of friends, beyond identity and history – we also shared the same love for our country.
Gatherings and meals were filled with conversation about our homeland, Malaysia. We talked about the latest news, our views on what needs to improve, policies.
Often these conversations were tinged with a sense of helplessness. Let’s call a spade a spade – we were basically complaining. We wanted laws to change, gaps to be bridged, the economy revived like when Malaysia was known as the Asian Tiger, our universities to be ranked top in the world, for our sports teams to be known for its glory days back then, as formerly witnessed by our football and hockey teams.
In short, we wanted the best for our country.
Eleven years ago, three of those friends found ourselves in a greasy kebab shop across the Holborn Tube Station munching away on a cheap meal of kebab and fries. We decided that we had enough of complaining and that a platform had to be created for like-minded young people to come together and propose solutions.
And so, it was in that greasy kebab shop across the Holborn Tube Station that the Malaysian Public Policy Competition was born.
When the inaugural competition was held 11 years ago, never in our wildest dreams did any of us from the OG team thought that it would see 11 instalments – with each year being better than the one before.
And I believe this – that each and every instalment saw its day because there was a group of young Malaysians who loved their country and who decided to rise to the occasion to organise the MPPC.
Policies from various topics have been tabled and tested – from Transparency to Transport, Green Energy to Sustainability, Healthcare to the Urban-Rural Divide and today, Digital Empowerment.
I hope in this competition that we will find answers that will help solve the nation’s patchy connectivity, the question of funding, speed, price, improvements required in the laws surrounding cyberspace, cybersecurity, competition amongst service providers, enforcement, administrative problems within governing agencies – the list is endless, really.
To all participants,
Today would be an exercise of identifying problems, but beyond that – solutions. And there is something empowering in being able to overcome a problem. I hope you discover that today.
But taking a step further, my prayer is this – that each of you will put aside the goal of winning the prize money and reflect at every juncture the role that you can play in bringing change to the problems you identify today.
Our perspective determines Malaysia’s future.
I recall how after completing the Bar Professional Training Course, my parents out of concern advised me that there is no future for me in Malaysia, and that I should look for a job in London.
But with each interview I went for, I found myself in conflict. See, the reason that I read law in the first place was because I loved my country and saw the many areas of law that could improve. Running away felt like being a hypocrite.
One day, I found myself in my shoebox room in London – reflecting.
I asked myself two questions.
First – can I do something about the state of affairs back home, however small? The answer was – ‘yes’.
Second – can I forgive myself if I didn’t do my part in bringing about a better Malaysia? The answer was – ‘no’.
At this point I recalled the lessons my father taught us over the dinner table – that there is one thing in all of our lives which we cannot determine – i.e. that which is written on our tombstone.
The final words about the how we’ve lived our lives will be determined by the impact that we’ve made on the people around us.
And that’s how I’ve chose to live this life – by impacting lives.
Participants, do not believe what people say – that there are no opportunities in Malaysia. Like you, I too once viewed opportunities in the taller ladders overseas – London, the financial hub and home to the legal fraternity’s magic circle; booming economies like Hong Kong, Singapore, Germany.
Let’s face it, you would not (yet) have those ladders in Malaysia to climb.
BUT, fellow Malaysians, the opportunity you have here, is to build those ladders for other people to climb.
In every problem that you identify through this public policy competition lies an opportunity for change.
I hope this process inspires all of you.