June 24, 2014
Malaysia’s Top Economist and Mr. Transformer speaks
I missed this one dated June 20, 2014, posted in Malaysiakini because Dr. Kamsiah and I were away in Taipei. Reading it, I thought the authorities in Taiwan should have appointed Dato Seri Idris Jala as their chief propagandist. So here it is:
Senator Dato’ Seri Idris Jala is a Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department and CEO of Malaysia’s Performance Management and Delivery Unit (PEMANDU), an organization tasked with ensuring Malaysia meets the goals set forth under the National Transformation Programme (NTP).
He spoke with The Prospect Group about the Economic Transformation Programme’s (ETP) goals for 2014, which includes Gross National Income (GNI), investment, and job creation, and ensuring Malaysia’s economy is resilient in the face of global uncertainty.
Q: What are the ETP’s main focal points for 2014?
Our focal point for 2014 is to make sure we implement. We have to implement what we promised under the ETP as well as the GTP. The public wants results and the way in which we have to fulfill those results is to execute the initiatives within the 12 National Key Economic Areas (NKEAs) that will achieve big results fast.
Q: What are your 2020 GNI, investment, and job creation goals?
By the year 2020, we would like to have become a high-income economy that fulfills the GNI targets of $15,000 per capita. That is our long-term goal. To do that will require a lot of investment; something like $444bn is needed to propel the Malaysian economy to grow. We also need to create 3.3m jobs; you have to create a lot more high-paying jobs so that the citizens can benefit. So those are the three true-North targets: gross national income per capita, private investments that will drive it, and jobs that are created. The good news today is that, from when we first began, in four years, we have been able to grow our total GNI per capita by 50%. We are at the halfway mark today. So we are very pleased with the progress made on the GNI target. With regard to job creation, we are supposed to create 3.3m jobs, and we have created 1.3m jobs in the four-year period. So that is really very good.
We have met more than 60% of the investment targets, signifying we are well on the way to achieving this as well. My view today is that we would like this coming year to continue in the same way as we have experienced over the last three years. That means that everything is on the right trajectory. If things continue the way that they are, we will fulfill our targets before 2020.
Q: In terms of time frame and the trajectory you are on today, when do you anticipate these goals will be achieved?
I think we should reach our targets by the year 2018. But, as you know, the world is not linear. If you look back over the last four years, it has been a good run for us, but we are subject to what happens in the global economy. We have to build in a lot more resilience within the Malaysian economy to face any global crisis or any global slowdown to ensure we can weather storms that happen between now and the year 2020. It has been a very good run for the last four years.
Adaptation is a very important requirement moving forward for Malaysia. So what we want to do in Malaysia moving forward is to ensure we build enough resilience in our economy.Let me begin by saying we must implement proper fiscal reforms. Public debt in our case should not exceed 55% of our GDP. Now there are many countries that have gone to 80%, 90%, 100%, and even 190% public debt to GDP. So if you make sure that you grow the economy and make sure the government debt is below the 55% threshold, we believe that is the way to go. You cannot and should not over leverage, so we are really focusing on that.The second thing about being resilient as an economy and being able to face any un-foretold difficulties with the global economy is to make sure we do not have a fiscal deficit that exceeds 6%. We have been steadily reducing our fiscal deficit. When we first started, our fiscal deficit was 6.6%. We have since cut that down to 5.8%, and then to 4.8%, and last year we reached 3.9%.
The other aspect of making sure we can adapt is obviously to make sure we have the right competent talent. A competent talent pool means that whatever structural changes take place in the economy, people are able to be mobile and will do what is needed to produce products and services that can compete in the world outside.
The other is that we made changes in the way the civil service operates. We have become a lot more efficient and the good news today is that we have been able to improve the ease of doing business. It is very easy to do business in Malaysia. The World Bank assessed Malaysia in 2009 at number 23. We then moved to number 18, and then to 12, and last year, for the first time, we moved to number 6 overall in the world in terms of the ease of doing business. So if it is easy for investors to put money and investment in Malaysia, and at the same time the government is fiscally prudent and we bring in all the fiscal reforms, and we have a talent pool in the country, then we can adapt very quickly to changes that are happening.
Q: How does this philosophy play into the ideology that Malaysia should move away from being a primary resource based economy and into a higher value added service based economy?
If you look at the history of Malaysia, we were an agrarian economy during independence in 1957 and then we moved into a more commodities play. So what we are now doing is making sure that our manufacturing arm grows a lot bigger and we have started doing that. In fact, when it gets down to palm oil, we are now telling the industry it is fine and good for us to do a lot more primary products and selling that as crude, but it is much more important for us to start producing downstream products such as oleo chemicals and we gave a lot of incentives to allow this to happen as evidenced by the establishment of more refineries. That is happening as we speak today, the downstream component has to come in. At the same time, between now and 2020, we wanted to see that we increase the services sector of the GDP to become more than 60% and we have been growing that rapidly. You can see today that tourism is big for us, financial services are big, the health sector as a part of the economy is also growing, and the education sector. So all of these all together, they will become, by the year 2020, at least 60% of our GDP. So I think for the first time doing this, we will have to diversify the economy so that we do not rely entirely on the commodities play, but we get into the downstream part of the same sectors and at the same time we grow the services sector. I think if you add the two together, the Malaysian economy becomes more resilient.