Taking stock of the past, forging ahead in a new Malaysia

Ong Kian Ming

THIS is the first Penang Institute in Kuala Lumpur column since Pakatan Harapan was voted into power on the historic night of May 9.

At the time of writing, the hard work of “Rebuilding our nation and fulfilling our hopes”, as per the theme of the PH manifesto, has already begun.

But before we leap forward into the future, it seems fitting to take stock of our past track record.

I am proud of the work that Penang Institute in Kuala Lumpur has accomplished since its inauguration in 2014, under the leadership of Lim Guan Eng, former Penang chief minister and current finance minister. Despite having a small team (a total of four researchers now, excluding myself), we were able to publish studies on topics which were not being given due academic and research attention.

For example, we tried to give a more holistic outlook on the problem of homelessness in our cities after the then-minister for federal territories, Tengku Adnan, tried to prevent civil society groups and other volunteer groups from distributing food to marginalised communities living on the streets of Kuala Lumpur. We also provided an in-depth look at the effectiveness of the then-newly launched Sunway Bus Rapid Transit line.

While many were criticising the various policies associated with the National Higher Education Fund Corporation, better known as PTPTN, we decided to examine its financial position and policies. The end result was a comprehensive report which gave details of various recommendations on how to improve and ensure the financial sustainability of PTPTN.

Similarly, we tried to obtain a fuller picture of the various services provided by KTMB and the financial challenges it faces moving forward, especially in light of the many complaints directed at its KTM Komuter service in the Klang Valley.

I am especially proud of the groundbreaking work done by two of our researchers, Lim Chee Han, in trying to understand the source of the long waiting periods for housemanship applicants, and Lim Su Lin, in providing very timely recommendations on how to improve the provision of mental health services in Malaysia.

Our administrative manager, Esther Sinirisan Chong, who hails from Sabah, has also delved into researching food security issues in Malaysia, an area which the United Nations has recognised as a key sustainable development goal. She has started a study on healthy food choices at the local level in collaboration with the United Nations University – International Institute of Global Health and the University of Cardiff.

Darshan Joshi, who joined Penang Institute in Kuala Lumpur this year, and whose passion is in the area of Renewable Energy and Sustainability, has already authored an evaluation of the Sustainable Energy Development Authority.

Many Penang Institute in Kuala Lumpur fellows have left our ranks to further their studies, but not before leaving their mark. Jonathan Yong, who was a former Teach for Malaysia fellow, authored a report quantifying the phenomenon of “missing boys” in the higher education landscape in Malaysia before departing to pursue a Masters in Sociology at the London School of Economics under the Chevening scholarship.

Hwa Yue-Yi, who is currently pursuing her PhD at the department of education at the University of Cambridge, authored a comprehensive study on the effectiveness of Higher Order Thinking Skills development in Malaysian schools.

Dr Lyana Khairuddin used her expertise and experience as an academic at Universiti Malaya to author a report on the cost of living with HIV in Malaysia. She is now pursuing her Masters in Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford.

I am thankful to the many interns who have passed through Penang Institute in Kuala Lumpur’s doors and who, hopefully, have been enriched by their experience here. Lim Ping Jun, who published a report looking at the job creation record under the Economic Transformation Programme from 2011 to 2015, saw her work being given due recognition in Bank Negara Malaysia’s 2016 Annual Report (the reference was in relation to a section of the report dealing with youth unemployment).

Another former intern, Ibrahim Rabaia, a Palestinian recipient of a Khazanah scholarship and a former PhD candidate at the Universiti Malaya, prepared a paper on building a viable economy in Gaza and the West Bank.

Others who have contributed to published research include Jonathan Fong, Dickson Ng, Chew Khai Yen, Jurleo Jurit, Atticus Poon, and Sophia Jamal. Still others who have contributed to yet-to-be-published research (for which I take full responsibility) include Nachatira Thuraichamy, Muhamad Faiz Bin Rozlan, Kaveendra Vasuthevan, Lee Zi Sheng, Samantha Ong, Jonathan Dason, and Leanne Fernandez.

Not all of our research was accomplished using in-house resources. We worked with two experienced academics, Geoffrey Williams and Paul Lim, to critically examine the private higher education landscape in Malaysia, which resulted in two studies being published, one on the financial sustainability of the larger private higher education institutions and another on whether these institutions are providing adequate “value” to their students post-graduation.

I am hopeful that some of the recommendations in our research will be channelled to and hopefully adopted by various ministries in the new PH government. I am now, more than ever, convinced of the vital need for in-depth and insightful public policy research that can be understood by those with access to the levers of power in government.

Many policy promises in the PH manifesto need to be fleshed out. I hope that Penang Institute in Kuala Lumpur can play a role in shaping the national policies of the new government, and especially in niche areas which continue to be overlooked. – June 5, 2018.

* Ong Kian Ming is the Member of Parliament for Bangi and is also the general manager of Penang Institute in Kuala Lumpur. He holds a PhD in political science from Duke University, an MPhil in Economics from the University of Cambridge and a BSc in economics from the London School of Economics.

* Dr Ong Kian Ming is the Member of Parliament for Serdang, Selangor and is also the General Manager of Penang Institute in Kuala Lumpur. He holds a PhD in Political Science from Duke University, an MPhil in Economics from the University of Cambridge and a BSc in Economics from the London School of Economics.

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight. Article may be edited for brevity and clarity.

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