January 1, 2014
Ramon: Need for Structural Change and Reform
by Liew Jia Teng
Tan Sri (Dr.) Ramon Navaratnam
Structural changes and reforms are necessary for the sustainable growth of Malaysia’s economy, but a reshuffle of the Cabinet in 2014 is even more important to stop the country from stumbling and falling, said Asian Strategy & Leadership Institute director and the Centre for Public Policy Studies chairman Tan Sri (Dr.) Ramon V. Navaratnam (pix above).
“We are already stumbling as we are not doing as good as we should, given the fact that Malaysia is a blessed land with plenty of resources and we had a good head start after the Merdeka Day. Neighbouring countries are moving at a faster pace. The world is running, and we are just walking,” he told SunBiz in an interview recently.
Ramon, who has held several key positions in government including the posts of deputy secretary general of the Treasury and the secretary general of the Transport Ministry throughout his 30-year tenure before retiring in 1989, attributes the current state of affairs to “selfish, self-centred and greedy” politicians who encourage cronyism and money politics.
“The time has come, now that the General Election 2013, UMNO election and its General assembly are over. This year, I hope the Prime Minister (Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak) will be able to move strongly and bravely with greater determination to fight corruption and bring back national unity so that we get our economy back on track and grow at a faster pace,” said Ramon.
He opined that Najib must reshuffle the Cabinet this year, with the aim of going for leaders with quality and integrity to serve the country inclusively, and not exclusively.
“They need not be politicians, but they need to have political appreciation, and we need more technocrats,” he added.Ramon urged the government to also introduce more structural reforms, by adopting the the New Economic Model (NEM) and phasing out the New Economic Policy (NEP).
“We have been pushing the NEP too far, it was not meant to be that way. (Instead), it was meant to promote growth and income distribution. But we seem to be adapting policy and principles of what I call “raceconomics”.
“I was one of the officials drafting and dealing with the NEP when I was in the Treasury. We never envisaged it would go this way. There has been a distortion and departure from the basic thinking of the former Prime Minister (Tun Abdul Razak Hussein),” he said.
For example, Ramon said, while the recently announced series of subsidy rationalisation is bound to lead to a higher inflation rate, most people never ask, “Why is there inflation and how can we counter the inflation?”
He believes that prices can be stabilised if there are more products available in the market, meaning that the country will have to do away with policies that restrict supply. To counter inflation, Ramon said, the level of competition needs to be increased, while cronyism and corruption need to be eradicated.
“Less competition, less quality, less production, less discipline, more corruption and wastage cause the price increase. These factors must be controlled, this is why I said there is a need for structural reform,” he reiterated.
“If somebody is good, give them the licence. Don’t give it to your friend. The world does not owe us a living. We must give them not only the fish, but also the rod,” he added.
Ramon said the announcement of the Bumiputra Economic Empowerment Plan (BEEP) which grants bumiputras access to over RM30 billion in funding and contracts, is one such example. He added that BEEP should have been fairly applied to all Malaysian entrepreneurs, with perhaps a preference to bumiputras, making it a more acceptable and productive policy.
“They should not make it exclusive (for bumiputras). The policy should have been inclusive. As long as it is reflective of ‘raceconomics’, it appears divisive and debilitating. We should practise what we preach, as there is too much gap growing between rhetoric and reality,” he said.
This is not say, however, that Ramon believes in sidelining the majority Malays. He acknowledges that Malaysia’s growth very much depends on the enlightenment of the Malays. Only the Malays, he said, as the majority race, can put the record straight and provide leadership that is fair to all.
“If there is no fair play and inclusiveness in the country, then what can the minorities do? They will feel a sense of hopelessness and lack of belonging. I hope people will realise the mistake and recognise that they are cutting off their nose to spite the face,” he said.
Ramon highlighted the need to upgrade education standards to root out corruption in the country. “It takes time (to start from education), but we should do it now. One should follow principles of religion and must be trained and educated at home as well as at school.
“More importantly, we should fear it (corruption). Why doesn’t a poor man rob a bank? Because he is afraid that he might be caught, besides knowing that it is a bad thing,” he said.