SHAH ALAM: An academic has called on the government to invest more on multicultural studies to understand how Malaysians can be motivated to work harder to spur the economy.
Professor Lau Sim Yee, of Reitaku University Japan, said the economy could be spurred according to the strengths of each ethnic group in the country.
He said Japan was able to emerge as the third largest economy in the world with a nominal gross domestic product (GDP) of about 500 trillion yen (RM18.75 trillion) and Malaysia can also do so.
Like Japan, Malaysia will have to draw on the strengths of its people.
According to Lau, a Malaysian, many elements underpin the development process in Japan.
They include strong government intervention in mobilising resources, acquiring foreign technology, development of indigenous technological capability and restriction of imports, among others.
“Equally critical, because of the scarcity of natural resources, Japan has to rely on its people to transform imported low-value raw materials into higher-value manufactured goods targeted at the world market.
“In this regard, human resources development and human resources management continue to play a crucial role in Japanese firms keeping their comparative advantage,” Lau said during an Institut Darul Ehsan discourse series session, titled “Japanese Management Culture: What can we learn?”
Lau, who is based in Japan, said the government has yet to fully understand Malaysia’s multicultural setting.
“Those ‘balik tongsan, balik Cina, balik India’ remarks … why are people still saying those things?
“It is because they don’t understand ‘us’ — the meaning of multicultures in the Malaysian context,” he told FMT.
Asked where he thought the government stood in terms of understanding the multicultural setting in the country, Lau said “the government is just at the main gate” and not inside yet.
“They (government) have been talking about a nation that is multicultural since 1957, but without getting past the main gate.
“You know it’s just like watching football, how you are commenting on how the player is performing. But, hey, you are not the player,” said Lau, who majored in International Cultural Studies.
Lau also made reference to Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s continuous calls to adopt the Look East Policy.
“Since the 1980s, Dr Mahathir has asked Malaysians to study the dedication of the Japanese workforce, their honesty and the commitment.
“Unfortunately, what is needed is just to learn from the past 60 years’ of mistakes.
“We did not go in deep enough to study why we cannot motivate 32 million Malaysians of various cultures to work harder.
“Why is Putrajaya spending US$1 million to send 10 civil servants to Harvard University for a two-week short course?
“This RM4 million can be pumped into comprehensive cultural studies here — whatever changes needed to improve the behaviour of the races.
“Divide this sum into 14 states. These are things we can do, but yet we have not done enough,” he said.
Lau also cited the example of “picking up trash” as part of a positive culture, adding this Japanese practice was cultivated at home.
“They (Japanese) pick up rubbish without people telling them. It’s a natural reflex. It’s embodied inside them.
“At the same time, it is also a genetic relationship. When your parents do it, you are inclined to do it too,” he said.
Asked if it was too late for Malaysians to cultivate similar habits, Lau said it was a long-term goal that the government needed to focus on achieving.
“Right now, after the May 9 general election, the government has only managed to ‘touch and go’ to get inside the main gate,” he said.
Talking about Western culture, which Lau described as a conflict-creating culture, he said it was time for Malaysians to “pull back” (on being dependent on Western cultures).
“The Western culture is always creating conflict. That is why they have laws to counter the conflicts created. We should detach from the British heritage, and get back on to our multicultural heritage.
“We already have British institutions. That is good enough. We don’t have to practise what they are doing,” he added.