Malaysian minister says invest in youth

Malaysian minister says invest in youth

Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, Malaysia's youth and sports minister, stresses the importance of including young people in the decision-making process to foster stronger democratic values and positive political change. (Photo by Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)
Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, Malaysia's youth and sports minister, stresses the importance of including young people in the decision-making process to foster stronger democratic values and positive political change. (Photo by Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)

To empower inclusive institutions in Asia for the next five years it is important to invest in young people so they are well educated and can get at least an entry-level job, while also recognising their potential for early promotion, said Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, Malaysia's youth and sports minister and the youngest cabinet minister in Asia.

"Just because they are young does not mean they are immature and inexperienced or that their capability should be trivialised," he told attendees at Wednesday's Bangkok Post international forum.

"I believe that in the next 20 years, countries which recognise the potential of young people, elevate them and open doors for opportunities, they will be the ones who will succeed the most."

There is much more work to be done in this regard, he said, citing Forbes' list of the world's top 100 companies. It shows that many of the firms on the list have chairmen or CEOs aged 45 or younger, but the same trend is not pronounced in Asia, he added.

"In Asean and Asia today, for us to identify a board member who is younger than 40 is almost impossible," Mr Syed Saddiq said. "This is true despite the fact that there are talented people who have succeeded and can bring a unique added value to the respective country."

He said it is vital to raise the level of political participation among young people and the private sector could play a key role.

Mr Syed Saddiq and Malaysia's ruling party, Pakatan Harapan, are now campaigning for more youth representatives at all levels of government. The minimum age for a village chief was recently lowered from 40 to 21.

Inclusive institutions are "often defined by the private sector, by the corporate world in which equity, wealth and power lies therein", he said, adding that Malaysia would incentivise private firms to employ at least one youth representative on their board.

In order to "future-proof Asean", suitable environments must be created to build, train and prepare the leaders of tomorrow, starting today, the youth minister said.

"If we are able to do that, the challenges our respective countries will confront will be challenges we can break down together," he said.

"This is because not only will we have experienced leadership, but at the same time, we will have youth leaders who are ready to take over, and [leaders] who have been trained today to make sure whatever storm we face in the future will be storms we can power through together."

Mr Syed Saddiq, who lost his job as a lecturer for speaking up against corruption during the administration of former prime minister Najib Razak, said young people will provide the energy to power democratic development.

They played a big role in the recent political developments in Malaysia, he added.

"It was young people who queued up early in the morning to cast their ballot [in the May 9 poll that saw Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad re-elected in his early 90s]," he said.

"It was young people who posted comments on social media to show they are part of that change, and the ones who turned to Facebook when mainstream media was largely monopolised."

In politically sensitive environments, it is generally more prudent to engage young people in debate and the decision-making process rather than trying to "suppress and trivialise" them, he said.

"Acknowledge the role that young people play," he said. "You will not only escape the backlash ... [but] can channel their energy" for nation building.


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