By VINOD SEKHAR
Let’s face it – 2020 is not what we envisioned it to be.
From the very start, we have faced trials and tribulations that significantly impacted our country. We had a change in government, which is still ridden with political instability.
However, it is the Covid-19 pandemic that takes the cake in completely paralysing our country and economy since the Movement Control Order was implemented on March 18.
So, amid a global pandemic and petty squabbles by politicians to stay in power, what does Malaysia Day truly mean for us this year? What does it mean to be Malaysian?
We just celebrated Hari Merdeka, and while there was no big parade due to Covid-19, we still made quite a spectacle about it, with live concerts (albeit sans audience due to physical distancing SOPs) and elaborate ads on loop on social media.
However, many Malaysians are unaware that Aug 31, 1957 marks the Independence Day of Malaya and not the creation of modern-day Malaysia.
Sarawak declared its independence on July 22, 1963 while Sabah declared its own on Aug 31, 1963. It is important to note that both these states were considered independent sovereign nations thereafter.
It was not until Sept 16, 1963 that the Federation of Malaysia was formed with the union of Sabah and Sarawak (along with Singapore which later left the Federation in 1965).
What we celebrate as Hari Merdeka here in the peninsula is something of indifference to the people of Sarawak and Sabah. Similarly, many peninsular Malaysians are not aware of the different independence arcs Sabah and Sarawak undertook and the circumstances that made them join the Federation of Malaysia.
Other than sheer geographical distance, this is one of the fundamental issues that continue to widen the gap between East and West Malaysians.
To be blunt, Malaysians in the peninsula often take East Malaysians for granted.
We continue to fail to acknowledge the fact that their lives, rights, needs, economy, welfare, and politics are different from ours. We may be from the same region and share similar cultures, but we have different historical backgrounds that shaped our distinct identities.
In the age of Covid-19 we all must put aside our prejudices and stand together. Our country and our people have been seriously hit economically, with livelihoods lost, businesses closing down, and with many struggling to make ends meet for themselves and their families.
It is important for us to look across the South China Sea and check in with our fellow Malaysians in Sabah and Sarawak. What can we do to uplift them and stand together with them?
As we all know, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are the backbone of the nation’s economy and these businesses are facing the brunt of the Covid-19 fallout.
Many are struggling to stay afloat, while others already have closed down to cut their losses. I often equate this situation to a car that is out of petrol. Until the petrol arrives, you need to keep the car running so that its engine does not permanently break down.
Similarly, we need to help SMEs brace this difficult period until the economy recovers. The government is providing a stimulus package to help them but I feel that we must do more.
My colleagues and I at the PETRA Group recognise the importance of SMEs to our nation and we are in the midst of launching an initiative for the next 12 months to help these businesses.
Against the backdrop of all of this, I think Malaysia Day this year becomes a lot more meaningful. In fact, I believe Malaysia Day should be our official National Day.
The independence days of peninsular Malaysia, Sarawak and Sabah should be observed respectively as significant milestones in colonial dismantling, but Malaysia Day is the day when we should celebrate ourselves as a nation state.
This year, Malaysia Day is also an opportunity for Malaysia to show the world that even a pandemic will not stop us from rising up again to create a prosperous and sustainable economy for all and stay united as one nation.
I urge all of you to take time to reflect this Malaysia Day on what it is that makes you truly Malaysian and what is your contribution to the nation and the rakyat. Satu Bangsa, Satu Negara. Happy Malaysia Day.
Datuk Vinod Sekhar is the chairman and group chief executive of Petra Group.