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M’sia can lead in implementing Sustainable Development Goals

December 15, 2016

UN-inspired SDGs are a good platform for the country to grow and in conjunction with TN50 announced by the Prime Minister Najib Razak in Budget 2017.


Ramon-Navaratnam_ekonomi_600By Ramon Navaratnam

Malaysia and Malaysians can be proud and hopeful that we could be the first country to fully implement the United Nations inspired Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) under the UN Agenda 2030.

The head start came on Dec 9, 2016, when Prime Minister Najib Razak launched the Professor Jeffrey Sachs Center (JSC) on Sustainable Development Goals at the Sunway University.

The launch of the JSC was made possible by the generous and visionary donation of US$10 million (RM44.2 million) by the Jeffrey Cheah Foundation.

It will be the only such centre in Asia and the second in the whole world. Indeed, it is the largest gift that is focussed on the education on Sustainable Development Goals and their implementation in Asia and worldwide, since 193 UN members adopted the 17 SDGs in September 2015.

ii) What are these 17 SDGs and can Malaysia lead the world in implementing them?

The answer lies in the prime minister’s announcement in the recent Budget 2017, that Malaysia has resolved to introduce Transformasi Nasional 2050 (TN50).

Although the details of TN50 have to be worked out, the basic essence of the TN50 cannot be much different from the SDGs which have been worked out carefully by hundreds of top experts from all over the UN, to arrive at these SDGs that hopefully will save the world from decline and deterioration in our standards and quality of life and from climatic disasters, due to global warming.

iii) Lets understand these 17 SDGs and see how we stand in Malaysia, according to the following 17 SDGs:

1. No poverty. Malaysia has practically erased poverty by the assessment of UN and World Bank studies. Although we are generally ahead in this goal, we also realise that low poverty does not mean that we in Malaysia are satisfied with our low incomes. Hence, we have to raise our incomes well above the poverty line, to feel satisfied and happier.

2. Zero hunger. We can claim that we don’t suffer much from starvation, but this is no consolation. There is considerable malnutrition due poor dietary knowledge and low incomes that are just above the poverty line. Here, we may fall short of the SDGs.

3. Good health and well-being. Our health standards defer from the poor and the wealthier sections of our society. The World Health Organisation will tell us that compared with the less-developed countries, we are generally better off, but there are growing signs of deterioration as in the case of diabetes and diseases, such as TB and malaria, that are returning due to the many foreign workers in the country.

But with regard to well-being, there is much to be desired. More and more Malaysians do not have a good sense of well-being, due inter alia, to low standards of living, inflation, corruption, insecurity and declining human rights.

4. Quality education is perceived to have declined generally. When we consider the international ratings for our primary and secondary schools and especially universities, we feel the loss of quality. And about 200,000 graduates are without jobs. So we have to buck up here or lose out by not achieving this important goal.

5. Gender equality needs a lot of improvement, although we have come along way since Merdeka. The 30% Club which seeks to have more ladies in the top echelons of leadership and management, has to work harder to bring about better gender balance, The consolation however, is that women now are well represented at our universities at about 60% or more in some fields.

6. Clean water and sanitation. Many if not most Malaysians do not now drink directly from the tap, as we used to before. The tap water is often dirty and we need to boil and filter the tap water before we drink it. But many in rural areas do not even have access to tap water. This is unfortunate and has to be rectified.

7. Affordable and clean energy is somewhat lacking. Energy costs have been rising and should be much cleaner to protect our health through a cleaner environment. Worse still many areas in the country do not have access to energy.

We have plenty of sunlight but ironically use little solar energy. Surely we can set the lead here?

8. Decent work and economic growth can be improved considerably. Although our economic growth rates are fairly respectable, they may not be sustainable in the longer term, unless we are bold enough to introduce more structural changes and socio -economic reforms.

We have the New Economic Model but have not fully used it to improve the economy. Perhaps the TN50 can take this issue into account. It’s only with better economic growth and education that we can have more decent work and higher income jobs.

9. Industry innovation and infrastructure has been quite impressive in Malaysia. From agriculture we moved successfully into manufacturing and industrial innovation reasonably well. But to move forward more deliberately and not to be caught in the middle-income trap, we have to innovate even more.

However, we are constrained by limited research capabilities and the steady and severe brain drain. The TN50 has to incorporate these concerns before we can lead in the implementation of the SDGs.

10. Reduced inequalities is a growing and major problem in our country. It can cause social instability and national disunity according to race and economic class. The Budget`s fiscal system has to be more equitable and progressive and the ease of doing business has to be improved further, to attract more domestic and foreign investment in the country.

11. Sustainable cities and communities have not been suffiently emphasised in our planning and implementation and must be reinforced.

We believe that Sunway City is perhaps the closest to becoming a full Sustainable City. Already it has won Green City certification and is now working with the Malaysian Industry and Government for Higher Technology (MIGHT), to obtain Smart City status. So we need to encourage this development in other cities and communities in Malaysia.

12. Responsible consumption and production has not been pursued effectively as a major goal. The JSC will have to come out with clearer guidelines to enable Malaysia and other countries to follow through with government incentives and the identification of the actual consumption and production items, that need to be made available for the public good.

13. Climate action is becoming more urgent as the world suffers more and more from the growing carbon footprint, global warming and disastrous climate changes, all over the world. There has to be greater international consensus and even sanctions against those countries that do not comply with the reduction of carbon emission targets.

However, we in Malaysia must nevertheless, be truly committed to keep our pledge to reduce carbon emissions.

14. Life below water has been neglected and destroyed too long by neglect. Our marine life must be protected and preserved as part of our food supplies and eco system. We have to strengthen our marine enforcement authorities and clean up our dirty rivers and lakes more earnestly.

15. Life on land covers all forms of life, human beings and animals as well. We have not done enough to protect our wildlife, especially our national symbol the tigers and our unique orangutan and many other dying species of flora and fauna. The pursuit of these SDGs will help us to show the world that we are serious and sincere in protecting Mother Earth and all that dwell on and in it.

16. Peace justice and strong institutions are being consistently threatened and must be defended at all costs. Peace is a vital prerequisite for human progress. But wars continue to be persistent and destructive, despite our best efforts especially through the UN.

Is human strife in our DNA or is it due largely because of poor and weak institutions of government. Is war and the lack of peace due to bad governance – greed and corruption?

Then the TN50 and the UN SDG`s have to be geared to ensure good governance especially on the part of leaders who should not stoop to state capture.

17. Finally, the 17th SDG aims to promote partnerships for the goals. This is where all countries have to contribute their share in achieving these SDGs. Without cooperation, collaboration and a close world community partnership spirit, the SDG`s and TN50 will not work.


It is momentous that the Jeffrey Sachs Center (JSC) was launched at Sunway University in Kuala Lumpur.

The prime minister in his speech at the launch of the JSC, invited the JSC to contribute ideas and knowledge to the formation of our own Transformasi Nasional 2050 (TN50).

Lets hope that Malaysia can lead in this great global effort to implement the UN sponsored Sustainable Development Goals, with the JSC firmly established in Malaysia We have a huge challenge to face and overcome – and we will.

Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam is the Chairman, Asli Centre for Public Policy Studies

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