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Speak truth to power

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

Acceptance remarks on being conferred an honorary doctorate in economics and social development by Inti International University, Nilai, on 25 February 2023

Assalamualaikum, may peace be on all, sadly, something we can no longer take for granted.

Thank you, Tun Dr Mahathir, for honouring us with your presence, and kindly conferring the honorary degree on one once deemed ‘public enemy #1’.

Let me especially thank Emeritus Professor Ir Dr Zawawi Ismail, chair of the Board of Governors of Inti International University, Vice Chancellor Dr Joseph Lee and the Inti Management Team. I am also grateful to those here to honour others receiving their own awards this morning.

Allow me to reflect briefly on what many of us believe was your finest moment, Tun, as leader of the nation. When you articulated Vision 2020, you reiterated Tun Razak’s 1971 promise of a united Malaysian nation, with its roots in Dr Burhanuddin Al-Helmy’s 1947 Perlembagaan Rakyat.

Your forward-looking vision recognized the role of ilm’, knowledge, science and technology for humanity’s progress, and its implications for industry and agricultural modernization, for building a developed nation.

Sadly, this was subverted by financialization, culminating in the 1997-98 Asian regional financial crises, with their echoes as far away as in Russia, Mexico and Brazil.

This ended a decade of the fastest ever growth of the national economy, and your partnership with the current prime minister. Malaysia has yet to recover from that sad episode, with frictions sustained by personal animus.

Since then, very heavy government and government-guaranteed borrowings have made the nation more vulnerable than ever. Some prime ministers have defrauded the nation on an unprecedented scale, putting the nation at great risk, and generations to come in debt.

We are now on a metaphorical Titanic, approaching dangerous icebergs. Surely, our responsibility now must be to unite the nation to face these inherited threats from within, and especially dangers from without.

Led by the US Fed, central banks are unnecessarily raising interest rates, rapidly ending post-pandemic recovery, and hopes of progress, justice and sustainability.

Meanwhile, irresponsible big power military provocations are now leading the world dangerously close to nuclear apocalypse. Some of our neighbours have even abandoned ASEAN’s commitment to preserve this region as a non-aligned ‘zone of peace, freedom and neutrality’.

Inti International University must continue to live up to its name, emphasizing the core universal values sustaining the advance of human civilization preparing us for such challenges.

Let me thank all for your attention to this patriotic plea for just peace, appealing to the lord of the universe, rabb-al-alamin, to save the nation and the planet. May peace, justice and good sense save us from the irresponsible, whatever their guises. In all humility, I thank you.

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