Report: 5th Annual Malaysian Student Leaders Summit (MSLS 2011)

by Thomas Lim

By 8.00am on Saturday (30 July 2011), the ever-growing expanse of eager students slowly shaped into lines snaking along the reception area of Hilton KL Sentral all the way to the lifts. The general sense of purpose was both reassuring and unnerving, as their expectations translated into added pressure for the 5th Annual Malaysian Student Leaders Summit (MSLS 2011) to be more than a summit and most definitely, better than any previous summits. There was a final count of 800 participants, which factored in to the pattern of a steady increase in turnout for the summit since its conception in 2007.

As the ambitious upcoming talent of Malaysia found their seats, the Guest of Honour, Her Royal Highness Raja Zarith Sofia was ushered promptly to royally officiate the ceremony. In other words, the ceremony was kicked off to a great start: the Human Capital Development Session which saw intense and heartfelt discussion as Joyce Tagal, Johan Mahmood Merican and Datin Badrunnisa Yasin Khan shared their real experiences to highlight the changing stakes of developing human capital and the key issues involved.

The Corporate Plenary Session followed. Held by Dato’ Sri Mohammed Shazalli Ramly, the plenary was certainly one of the highlights of Day One. As he invited the audience to join him in stretching and shaking off what fatigue of the early morning, ‘Shaz’ entertained and enthralled for an hour while embedding a key message for the youths of tomorrow: “Find your yoghurt!”. He also went on to talk about the global need for behaviour innovation as opposed to technology innovation of yesterday.

Lunch was a sumptous affair and there was no time to waste as participants got ready for the Malaysian Constitution Session. Many offshoot topics were debated by our distinguished panel of speakers; Tan Sri Datuk Seri Panglima Pandikar Amin Mulia, Datuk Dr Shad Saleem and Edmund Bon. However it was clear the main issue up for deliberation was whether the Constitution should be changed in light of several protests, and whether it could be changed. It was enriching to hear the fervour for change voiced by the youths echo with the hardened experience of the previous generation, with hope expressed for the best of Malaysia on both sides.

These ideas of change were all brought forward to the first of the group discussions where participants got to discuss their ideas on the 6 sessions with each other in their specific groups. Group leaders acted as moderators as fresh ideas were raised and debated upon. It was an amazing opportunity for youths to listen to one another and broaden their perspectives, further enriching their knowledge and creativity.

After that, YB Senator Datuk Seri Idris Jala took the stage to explain the winds of change that are sweeping over Malaysia, propelled by the government. From the seeds of change that are the various transformation programmes to the growth in several key areas as the results, Datuk Seri outlined the many facets of the governmental programmes currently in place. He also took the chance to point out that these initiatives require the input and support of the general public if they are to succeed, appealing to the youths in the hall to be the “drivers and enablers” of tomorrow. In the next session, he was joined by YB Tony Pua, Rafizi Ramli and Datuk Ti Lian Ker to debate further on public policies.

Amidst friendly banter, all the speakers agreed on the complications surrounding how policies are developed and implemented. A key issue touched upon was the Opposition’s appreciation for the success of the current transformational programmes. Rafizi Ramli even went so far as to hint that should the Opposition take office, they would appoint ministers based on merit instead of their political alliances. All in all, the first day came to a successful close, leaving everyone looking forward to more on Sunday.

The second day of MSLS 2011, Sunday (31 July 2011), unfolded with a convivial session: ‘Everyday Heroes in Civil Society’ as Dato’ Saifuddin Abdullah, Dr Hartini Zainuddin, Datin Halimah Mohd Said and Wong Su-Ann explore the responsibilities and capabilities of civil society in today’s Malaysia. Conversely, they also discussed the limitations of civil society, with a great emphasis on how “traditional” walls are being broken down by technology and social media but the need for more acknowledgment by the government.

The momentum built up with the Malaysian economy session as Senator Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop, Dr Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Mohammed Rashdan Yusof debated Malaysia’s drive to become a high-income nation. Dr Jomo’s very detailed and insightful statistics paired with Senator Nor Mohamed Yakcop’s acumen and Mohammed Rashdan’s intuition made for a impactful session as the income divide, poverty line and role of fiscal policy were raised for contention.

The summit was adjourned for lunch before the eagerly anticipated Politics Session kicked off. This year, our illustrious panel of speakers included YB Khairy Jamaluddin, YB Nurul Izzah Anwar, Dr Bridget Welsh and Professor Dr Shamsul Amri Baharuddin. Expectations and forecasts were made into the issues and reforms the future 13th General Elections were going to revolve around. A healthy debate developed where new issues, never before discussed with the public, were touched upon, ranging from voting to the BERSIH rally to the divide between politics and the public to campaigning procedures and current initiatives by both the ruling party and the Opposition. This debate built up to an intense crescendo as the speakers clashed on some controversial issues.

As the stage and audience cooled down, this memorable summit was slowly but surely drawing to a close. The President of the United Kingdom and Eire Council of Malaysian Students (UKEC), Farquar Haqqani delivered his closing speech, thanking the various individuals and institutions that made MSLS 2011 possible while highlighting his hope that the Summit will deliver on its purpose and theme, “Piecing Together the Malaysian Puzzle”.

The Honourable Dato’ Sri Mohd Najib bin Tun Abdul Razak then graced the stage for his closing address. YAB Dato’ Sri tied all the pieces of the 6 MSLS sessions together effortlessly, highlighting the key principles of Malaysia and also, the steps we must take together to build on them. The Prime Minister also promised to stand for voting and electoral reform, and integration, furthering the 1Malaysia concept. It was a bittersweet ending as the Summit was brought to a close by the emcees. The two days of focused sessions and passionate discussions left everyone with something to take back and to ponder upon, while trying to piece their Malaysian puzzle together.