By T.K. Tamby
The Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) launched in 2010 has a 10-year target to lift Malaysia’s gross national income (GNI) to US$523 billion (RM1.7 trillion) and increase per capita income to US$15,000 (RM49,000) to meet the World Bank’s threshold for high-income nation status.
However, it now looks likely that the country will achieve the much desired status two years earlier, by 2018, thanks to the efforts and commitment made by the Government to transform the economy.
Speaking at PEMANDU’s Global Malaysia Series, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Senator Dato’ Sri Idris Jala said the positive results of government initiatives under the ETP have produced a chain of encouraging outcomes such as a 17% growth in private investments in the last four years.
He added that Malaysia has also moved up to number six in the list of countries with the most conducive environment to grow business, overtaking the United Kingdom.
In 2013, GNI per capita grew 42.5% to USD10,060 compared to USD7,059 in 2009.
Dato’ Sri Idris, who is also PEMANDU’s Chief Executive Officer, was among the panellist for the Global Malaysia Series 6: “Are we there yet?”, which looks at the country’s global competency. Other panellists were World Bank’s Senior Economist for Malaysia Dr Frederico Gil Sander, and the Chief Executive Officer for General Electric Malaysia Stuart Dean.
Dean said that efforts made by the Government to keep its promises on transformation make Malaysia an ideal investment destination for companies like General Electric.
On the issue of household debts, which is reportedly at 86% of the GDP, Dato’ Sri Idris felt that there was little to worry about. This, he said, is because the debts were backed by total household assets, which stand at 321.6% of GDP. “We are concerned but there is nothing to be alarmed about, due to the quality of the assets.”
Quality of human assets vital
In agreeing with Dato’ Sri Idris, Sander said that so long as the household income is growing, household debts may not be a bad thing.
However, he pointed out that to become a high income nation, the quality of a country’s human assets is more important than household assets. He said that the development of this asset in Malaysia is being hampered by the lack of quality in the education system.
Referring to the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) survey where Malaysia was ranked 52nd overall out of 65 countries, Sander said the fact that rural students in Vietnam are performing better than Malaysian students is a cause for serious concern. It also indicates a serious weakness in the education system despite the sector receiving the largest amount funds from the Government.
“Malaysia has to begin now because it takes a generation to build human capital,” said Sander who also called for decentralisation of the education system to give schools more autonomy in making decisions based on their needs.
Malaysia acknowledges weaknesses in the education system, said Dato’ Sri Idris who referred to the National Education Blueprint 2013-2025 as part of an aggressive effort by the Government to identify issues and push for drastic improvement.
“Education is crucial for future talent development that will take our country beyond 2020,” he said, adding that among the issues being looked at is the quality of the teachers.
One of the steps taken to improve the quality of teachers is having all English teachers in the country undergo the Cambridge Placement test to evaluate their competency.
Nevertheless, there are exceptional institutions in the country such as the Penang Skills Development Centre, a tripartite effort between the Government, academia and the private sector, which has produced 180,000 highly employable graduates.
“This is what we call a pathfinder project; an innovative way to develop industry-relevant education and we are looking at expanding this concept,” said Dato’ Sri Idris.
He said to this date, government has been taking efforts to push GNI by exploring and making most of all the existing sectors. “Once this is achieved, we are looking at breaking new ground that will take us beyond 2020. The National Education Blueprint is the master plan to develop talents that will push the country beyond 2020,” he added.
Dato’ Sri Idris also urged local companies to look beyond our shores by developing new products and services that are capable of entering international markets beyond 2020.
The country’s strategy beyond 2020 is to strengthen its global position through innovative products and services. And if the government is successful in carrying out the ETP in its entirety, Malaysia will have little difficulty in forging ahead to chart new paths.