Wednesday September 5, 2012
Focus on making Malaysians a happier lot
The Star Says
THE monthly gathering of the Prime Minister's Department may appear to be a perfunctory event to many.
Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has used such occasions to motivate his staff to serve the people better. It is also an opportunity for him to ensure that the delivery system is up to speed, whereby government policies are properly understood and carried out by the implementers.
At this Monday's gathering, for example, he urged the civil service to strive harder to maintain the momentum spurred by the Government through its economic transformation programmes.
He reminded them that the programmes have already yielded results, but told civil servants not to let the momentum slow down or hit a dead end.
And it was at this gathering that the Prime Minister made a suggestion that certainly resonated beyond his immediate audience at Dataran Putra.
The Government, he said, needs to work at not only increasing the people's earning capacity, but also on making sure they are happy.
The proposal to measure national development should be based on two yardsticks the first being the conventional method that looks at per capita income and the second being the happiness index of the people.
Various countries in recent years have tried to weave in the so-called happiness index into their national statistics as policy makers begin to understand that development cannot simply be about material progress.
Bhutan is universally touted as being the Happiest Nation on Earth based on the Gross Happiness Index that it developed that looked at many factors, including life satisfaction, mental health, safety and literacy. Back in 1972, the Bhutan king had declared that the people's happiness did not depend solely on money.
The United Nations in April this year released the World Happiness Report in which Malaysia emerged at No 51 out of the 156 countries surveyed. In South-East Asia, we were ranked No 2 behind Singapore.
Measuring happiness is a subjective matter depending on the issues that are deemed important to the individual, the community and the nation.
But there will be areas of convergence and Najib is spot-on when he mentioned that improvement in two areas traffic congestion and crime will probably have an impact on the happiness level of the people.
So, it would make sense for the Government to seriously address these issues.
At the very simple level, one can conclude that a citizen who does not have to sit through hours on a clogged highway while worrying about the safety of his family back home will probably be a happier and more productive citizen.
Najib has stressed that whatever model is developed to gauge national happiness, it will be unique to the country.
As individuals, we may differ on what makes us happy or sad.
But we are in accord that a happy nation is one that is peaceful and safe, with strong economic growth, and a commitment to social justice. And how we treat the weakest members of our society.
Our challenge now is to define, truly and fairly, what really will make Malaysians happy.