The Malay Dilemma Revisited (Updated and Revised Version)–A Strongly Recommended Read


May 23, 2017

The Malay Dilemma Revisited (Updated and Revised Version)–A Strongly Recommended Read

Few countries today have culturally or ethnically homogenous populations, the consequence of colonization, globalization, and mass migrations. Thus, the Malaysian dilemma of socioeconomic and other inequities paralleling racial and cultural divisions has global relevance as it also burdens many nations.

Malaysia’s basic instrument in ameliorating these horizontal (between groups) inequities has been its New Economic Policy (NEP). Its core mechanism being preferential socio-economic and other initiatives favoring indigenous Malays and other non-immigrant minorities, as well as massive state interventions in the marketplace. In place since 1970 in the aftermath of the deadly 1969 race riots, NEP has been continuously “strengthened,” meaning, ever increasing resources expended and preferences being imposed with greater assertiveness.

Malaysia succeeded to some degree in reducing her earlier inequities and in the process created a sizeable Malay middle class. There was however, a steep price. Apart from the marketplace distortions and consequent drag on the economy, those earlier horizontal inequities are now replaced by the more destabilizing vertical variety. NEP also bred a rentier- economy mindset among Malays and other recipient communities. Those preferences now impair rather than enhance the recipents’ (in particular Malay) competitiveness, the universal law of unintended consequences being operative.

Initiated by Prime Minister Razak in 1970, his successor, Mahathir, raised NEP to a much more aggressive level, only to have that initiative today corrupted and degraded by, ironically, Tun Razak’s son, current Prime Minister Najib. By July 2016, the US Department of Justice alleges that “Malaysian Official 1” (aka Najib) illicitly siphoned over US$3.5 Billion from a government-linked corporation, 1MDB. Corruption on such a gargantuan scale was the predictable and inevitable consequence of Malaysia’s New Economic Policy and state interventions in the marketplace.

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The book chronicles Mahathir’s and Najib’s perversion of a once noble endeavor. Najib now adds another volatile mix. Desperate to hang on to power, he adds religious fanaticism to his already corrosive corruption and destructive incomptence. He now cavorts with extremist Islamists, threatening and undermining the nation’s still fragile race dynamics. Malaysia is today still burdened and blighted by Najib’s inept, corrupt, and chauvinistic leadership, with no end in sight. This would inevitably undermone the current fragile but still peaceful racial equilibrium in the country.

Instead of arbitrarily-picked numbers and targets, Malaysia should focus on strengthening Malay competitiveness through enhancing our human and social capitals. Modernizing the education system to emphasize the sciences, mathematics, English fluency, and technical training would address the first. Curtailing royal institutions and other vestiges of feudalism, as well as the regressive form of religion as propagated by the state, would develop the second. It is difficult to wean Malays off the special privilege narcotic when the sultans are frolicking at the top of the heap.

Beyond chronicling the failures of both the Najib and Mahathir Administrations, the author offers these alternative strategies for enhancing Malay competitiveness. Apart from improving the quality of our human and social capital through modern education and responsive institutions, the author advocates removing or at least toning down the stifling influence of official religion.–Dr. M. Bakri Musa

Hishamuddin’s steps to power: Loyalty pays off


April 17, 2017

COMMENT:

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I have been very critical of Prime Minister Najib Razak on many issues, corruption and governance among them; more often than not, I have been brutally so. Frankly speaking, his record has been dismal since taking over from Tun Abdullah Badawi in 2009 (with thanks to the machinations of his political mentor, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad). Najib’s popularity is now at an all time low.

However, Najib’s decision to give Defence Minister Hishamuddin Tun Hussein Onn a special role in his administration is, in my view, a very strategic, politically astute and timely one. Every leader needs an aide he can trust, not someone who has ambitions of his own to be the 7th Prime Minister of Malaysia.

Hopefully, together and with the help of the charismatic  UMNO Youth leader Khairy Jamaluddin, Najib and Hishamuddin can forge a strong alliance to face Malaysian voters in GE-14 on a Malaysia-centric political and socio-economic agenda rather than a Malay nationalist-Islamist one, with a view to bringing Malaysians together again.

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Najib, Hishamuddin and Khairy –a Formidable Combination for UMNO

Hishamuddin to Najib is what Tun Hussein was to Tun Abdul Razak with one fundamental difference. Tun Hussein was a reluctant politician who had the premiership thrust upon him. Our 3rd. Prime Minister was also a man of integrity, a lawyer of excellent aristocratic pedigree and a loyal son of Dato’ Onn Jaafar, who was UMNO’s founder President.

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Hishamuddin,  on the other hand, is a thorough bred UMNO politician who rose through the ranks at a measured pace. One needs to look at his resume to note that he has held key Cabinet positions. He performed  well and served the Prime Minister and UMNO loyally. Finally, his hard work and dedication to his responsibilities have earned him the right to take on this new job. But it is difficult to say that the premiership is his for the taking.

The incumbent Deputy Prime Minister, Dr. Zahid Hamidi is a formidable rival with strong support among the UMNO grassroots and Malay nationalists of the extreme right. But at least Hishamuddin is an alternative who represents the moderate face of UMNO, which will be more acceptable to voters and UMNO’s Barisan Nasional partners (MCA, MIC and Gerakan) than the plebian Zahid. I did not mention PAS because I think this Hadi Awang-led Islamic party is headed towards political extinction after GE-14. –Din Merican

Hishammuddin’s steps to power

 by Scott Ng
 
The new Minister with Special functions occupies an unusual but maybe pivotal role.
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Hishamuddin as Malaysia’s Defence Minister in Singapore

 

The appointment of Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein to the position of minister with special functions is one of the more curious political moves in recent memory. The buzz is that Prime Minister Najib Razak needs his first cousin as his right hand man. So one must wonder what must be running through the head of current DPM Zahid Hamidi, especially so close to a general election.

Zahid’s ambition has been noted by several quarters, with some critics believing that he veers too far to the right for the comfort of the public. Nonetheless, the DPM is a valuable asset to the Najib administration, but Hishammuddin’s sudden ascent has thrown the succession plan into disarray.

Hishammuddin certainly has a much better reputation with moderates than Zahid, and perhaps can be seen as something of a peace offering to those spooked by the new religious fundamentalist and ethno-nationalist approach of UMNO.

Unlike his cousin’s other lieutenants, Hishammuddin has kept a low public profile. While he is not looked to for an opinion like Khairy Jamaluddin is whenever a crisis erupts, he is seen as a quiet problem solver, brokering important defence deals in the Middle East and working with China on defence interests.

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Overall, he is seen as better spoken and more temperate a candidate for leader than Zahid, but memories may be long when it comes to perceptions of a politician’s character. People still remember his belligerence as UNMO Youth Chief. He brandished a keris during his speech at the UMNO General Assembly of 2005. He might have to do a little work to shake off that memory if he is truly positioned to take over as Deputy Prime Minister.

Nonetheless, Hishammuddin’s presence may yet prove to be appealing to the more cosmopolitan of the right wing and an acceptable compromise for the moderates and the left. Such an appeal is something that BN probably feels it needs in facing GE14.

However, the appointment does not signal a complete shift to the middle ground. GE14 is shaping up to be defined as a Malay vs Malay fight. If one thing is certain, it is that all parties will fight over the hallowed motherland vote and the insults will fly thick.

Hishammuddin may yet walk out of this the biggest winner, but only if he is the contrarian of his party and maintains the professional image he has groomed for himself over the past decade or so.

There are some who theorise that Hishammuddin’s appointment signals the beginning of a transition, that our Prime Minister is preparing to step down. If that is true, then all eyes will be watching how he behaves during the coming election campaign period.

At this point, Malaysians simply want a win, and if that win comes in the form of an heir apparent with all his clothes on, it will be a positive start.

Scott Ng is an FMT columnist.

Numbers and Shifting Assets –Old Game by Sime Darby


April 13, 2017

A QUESTION OF BUSINESS | Numbers and Shifting Assets –Old Game by Sime Darby

by P. Gunasegeram@www.malaysiakini.com

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Sime Darby Restructuring benefits Investment Bankers, but not its shareholders. Let the evidence of its past merger and demerger exercises confirm this view.–Din Merican

It will be more accurate to say that plantation-based conglomerate Sime Darby Bhd’s proposed demerger of its businesses will not create value by itself but only if benefits of the intended demerger, coming nine years after its massive merger, is realised by proper execution.

The billion-ringgit question this time around is whether the proposed demerger will create value for the group when it seemed not to have the last time around when it was merged with other major companies.

Recall that this conglomerate, majority owned by Permodalan Nasional Bhd or PNB, the operators of the national unit trust scheme, merged mainly with Guthrie and Golden Hope – both under the PNB stable too – to become the largest plantation operator in the world in 2008.

Initially at that time, the expensive merger, costing some RM500 million in fees alone, was greeted by an enthusiastic market and galloping prices of palm oil which saw Sime Darby become the most valuable company on the local market for a while.

Eight listed entities were involved in the merger, proposed end-November 2006. They were Sime Darby Berhad, Sime Engineering Services Berhad, Sime UEP Properties Berhad, Golden Hope Plantations Berhad, Mentakab Rubber Company (Malaya) Berhad, Kumpulan Guthrie Berhad, Guthrie Ropel Berhad and Highlands & Lowlands Berhad.

The early reception by the market for the merger was enthusiastic. The share price almost doubled to RM13.30 by January 11, 2008 after the completion of the merger, from RM6.75 when the deal was announced end-November 2006.

But Sime Darby would never hit that level again. Barely two years later, its energy and utilities division chalked up heavy losses of over RM2 billion, entering into areas it had no knowledge off. Its then-CEO faced charges in court but was subsequently cleared.

Paradoxically, the energy and utilities division was a minnow but was able to get contracts because of Sime Darby’s size – it turns out that size in this case was not used to get viable contracts but enter into risky ones.

Despite a new CEO, Mohd Bakke Salleh, who sold the errant division in 2011, Sime Darby’s share price has been lacklustre and languished at around the RM7-8 level until excitement over the demerger emerged last November. The share trades around RM9.30 now.

Still Sime Darby is big, representing PNB’s largest investment in the stock market after Malayan Banking and is regularly among the top five most valuable companies listed on the Kuala Lumpur stock market, with a value of over RM60 billion. And it’s the only conglomerate in the top 10.

However, although known as a conglomerate, it continues to be heavily plantation based with over half of profit coming from that sector. Its fortunes are therefore intimately tied with the price of palm oil, its main plantation produce.

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Bakke said at a press conference end-November last year that the plantations unit may be demerged and listed separately next year, followed by its property division. That had sparked some interest in Sime Darby shares again.

In January, Bakke confirmed in a statement that Sime Darby will create “pure play” listed entities for its plantation and property divisions. Others, including its BMW distributorship, port operations and trading, will remain under the existing listed entity.

Meantime, PNB group chairperson, former Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Abdul Wahid Omar, said last month that excitement over the restructuring of Sime Darby amongst others have led to a RM20 billion increase in the value of PNB’s six main listed entities.

True value creation

However, such an increase in market value arising from perception can be very short-lived as illustrated in the previous share price movements of Sime Darby. Short-term market sentiment should never be mistaken for true value creation which is creating value in the production process by improving productivity.

At the end of the day, that is the only way to create value – by improving productivity. Is a merger or demerger going to create value by itself? No, never.

It can if a merger results in economies of scale or where there are overlapping functions in which case staff can be laid off. That effectively means less people doing more work – an increase in productivity. But even so, the truly enlightened company will think of redeploying staff into other areas instead of laying off, although that’s the quickest way.

But most mergers destroy value – studies at the time of Sime Darby’s merger in 2008 showed that 85 percent destroyed value. It’s not hard to see why – sometimes mergers take years before their values can be realised and valuable time is wasted. Meantime, productivity suffers.

In a demerger, it is possible that the increased focus and concentration on the core business can result in higher productivity but there has to be a focus on that by competent management.

On balance, demergers may have better chances of creating value than mergers but the most important factor is who is managing the change. If the same people are doing the same things in the same old, expect neither mergers nor demergers to create value.


P GUNASEGARAM says value cannot be created by simply rearranging the same assets differently – someone has to work the assets more efficiently. E-mail: t.p.guna@gmail.com.

Kampong Chhnang Province
Related image
Kampong Chhnang is one of the central provinces of Cambodia. Neighboring provinces are Kampong Thom, Kampong Cham, Kandal, Kampong Speu and Pursat. The capital city of Kampong Chhnang Province is Kampong Chhnang. Wikipedia
Area: 5,521 km²
Population: 472,616 (2011)
Area rank: Ranked 14th

NOTE: I am on an assignment to Kompong Chhnang from April 13-15 and will not be blogging during this period. I will also not be on Facebook either. Take care.–Din Merican

Listen to Dr.Farish Noor–Public Intellectual and Academic @The Nanyang Technological University, Singapore


April 12, 2017

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Listen to Dr.Farish Noor–Public Intellectual and Academic @The Nanyang Technological University, Singapore:

http://www.malaysiakini.com

PROTON: The National Albatross


March 30, 2017

PROTON: How long more can Malaysian Taxpayers bear the Burden of this National Albatross

by P. Gunasegaram@www.malaysiakini.com

Proton is a clear case of how a wrong policy – producing our own national car – can cost the consumer hundreds of billions of ringgit over the decades of its implementation. Enough has been wasted with the government already giving out some RM15 billion in grants and the latest loan. If Proton can’t find a foreign partner, it is best to let it simply go under.–P. Gunasegaram

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Mahathir masih belum terima realiti bahawa Projek PROTON idaman beliau itu gagal

PROTON, both car and company, have been a problem from day one. It should have been resolved three decades ago but has been allowed to snowball to epic proportions. Even the current search for a foreign strategic partner (FSP) appears bogged down.

That’s because till today, in the midst of negotiations to find a FSP, there is an ingrained reluctance to surrender control to bring in the technological expertise, business acumen and international standing to turn Proton around. If this transigence does not evaporate, then Proton will not have a deal.

That prolongs the suffering of Malaysians who since 1985, when the first Proton Saga rolled off the plant in Shah Alam, are paying much higher prices for cars, sometimes two or three times the price in other countries, because of protective barriers. According to my calculations, this could have amounted to as high as RM360 billion that car buyers have sacrificed in duties to the government and subsidies to manufacturers.

I have used estimated sales of some 12 million vehicles between 1985 and 2016 of which some four million vehicles sold were Protons. I have estimated, conservatively, that the average price per vehicle was RM30,000 higher because of protective barriers. Multiply this by 12 million vehicles for RM360 billion. You may disagree with the exact figure but there can be little doubt that the order of magnitude is in the hundreds of billions of ringgit.

If it was purely a question of business, Proton would have been sorted out a long time ago. But like many things in this country, it became an issue of national and even Malay pride, local capability and capacity, and one man’s plain old-fashioned stubbornness in the face of overwhelming evidence that it could not work.

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Najib is afraid to shut down PROTON

Proton, then controlled by sovereign fund Khazanah Nasional Bhd, was about to sign a deal with Germany’s Volkswagen in 2007 when the deal was jettisoned days before the signing by intense lobbying to then Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. Among the lobbyists were said to be then International Trade and Industry Minister Rafidah Aziz and those associated with former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, whose “brainchild” Proton is.

Then as now, Proton’s problems are well-known — lack of technical knowhow to produce reliable vehicles cheaply and insufficient production to benefit from economies of scale and develop new, viable models – two factors which feed off each other to make things progressively worse.

The only thing which helped to produce profit in the past were high tariff barriers and rebadged vehicles from manufacturers such as Mitsubishi in the early years and Honda in the later years with little more than assembly involved.

What has Proton to offer? Mainly two things. One, excess production capacity which means there is little lead time to production. Two, access to the 10-member 623-million-people Asean market whose member nations have largely dismantled discriminatory tax barriers for cars among themselves – except for Malaysia which imposes a thinly disguised discriminatory excise duty based on “local” content.

The solution is simple and straightforward. Give a competent foreign partner majority stake and control of the manufacturing operations at a reasonable price. Try and maintain control of domestic sales and marketing. That is as much as one can hope for – the operation is losing money by the bucketloads and the outlook is ominous to say the least.

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 The Clear Winner is Produa, thanks to Daihatsu Technology combined with savvy sales and marketing owned by local interests

Failed Proton’s arch rival Perodua, also a national car project, is succeeding. Why? Perodua has access to technology from Daihatsu which in turn is owned by Toyota – its cars are therefore much more reliable than Proton’s. Not many people know this but Perodua’s manufacturing is majority foreign-owned while sales and marketing is majority owned by local interests.

But even now, when it has its back against the wall and some RM1.5 billion in support loans from the federal government to keep it going meantime, Proton is balking.

Geely pulls out

According to an article in the South China Morning Post, China’s successful home-grown auto manufacturer Geely Automobile Holdings has withdrawn from a bid to acquire a controlling stake. It quoted Geely’s President An Conghui.

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Geely Chairman  Billionaire Li Shufu

An did not elaborate on the reasons for the decision, but Li Shufu, its chairperson, had previously indicated the Malaysian firm had been “uncertain” about what it wanted from an overseas partner, in an interview with Bloomberg earlier this month, the report said.

Why the uncertainty?

However, listed DRB-Hicom, Proton’s shareholder and eventually majority owned by prominent businessman Syed Mokhtar AlBukhary, denied Friday that Geely has pulled out. Proton has reportedly lost RM2.5 billion since DRB-Hicom took it over in 2012.

That takeover represents a series of musical chairs when different companies were left holding the parcel as this article I wrote for The Star in 2012 explains. It passed from the government’s Heavy Industries Corp of Malaysia or Hicom to Diversified Resources Bhd or DRB, later renamed DRB-Hicom, to national oil corporation Petronas when DRB-Hicom was rescued and then to Khazanah Nasional which sold it back to DRB-Hicom, now controlled by Syed Mokhtar. DRB founder, Yahya Ahmad who was well-regarded by Mahathir – was killed in a helicopter crash in 1997 before Proton was sold to Petronas.

Geely, the owner of the Swedish Volvo brand, was considered the favourite to acquire a controlling stake in Proton although Europe’s second-largest carmaker Groupe PSA, which owns the Citroen, Peugeot, and DS brands was still in the running.

If indeed Geely has pulled out, and it seems rather likely it has, that will leave Groupe PSA as the sole contender for Proton, giving Proton very little room to bargain.

There is no choice but for Proton to get an FSP. That should have been done 10 years ago. As time passes on, there is less and less reason for companies to set up manufacturing here. They can simply go to Thailand which is already a manufacturing hub. Or Indonesia.

Once Proton is taken over, then all that’s left to do is to set a timetable to dismantle the high tariffs for cars and put everyone on a level-playing field. And finally enable Malaysians to benefit from reasonable car prices. Presumably, with the FSP, Proton will have no more need for protection because it will have scale and technological expertise, becoming a regional manufacturer for the FSP.

Proton is a clear case of how a wrong policy – producing our own national car – can cost the consumer hundreds of billions of ringgit over the decades of its implementation. Enough has been wasted with the government already giving out some RM15 billion in grants and the latest loan. If Proton can’t find a foreign partner, it is best to let it simply go under.

Over the decades, Malaysians have paid hundreds of billions more ringgit for cars. Our calculations indicate RM360 billion. How much more do we have to pay before this long, sorry, sad saga is finally brought to an end?


P GUNASEGARAM says: “The government never pays the price of protecting local industry, the consumer always does.” E-mail: t.p.guna@gmail.com.

Idris Jala strums the Permandu Blues– Delusional Transformasi


March 13, 2017

Idris Jala strums the Permandu Blues– Delusional Transformasi

by Idris Jala@www.thestar.com.my

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Idris Jala: Strumming the Permandu Blues

WE started Pemandu in 2009 with two clear objectives: to drive Malaysia’s transformation into a high-income nation by 2020, and to work ourselves out of this job. I have always said that Pemandu will be successful when we become redundant, that is, when the civil service is prepared to take up the mantle to lead Malaysia’s transformation.

We were also clear that the handover of Pemandu’s work on the National Transformation Programme (NTP) can only be initiated when it is “sticky”, meaning there is strong potential for the civil service to independently implement the NTP’s initiatives.

Permandu-led NTP at what cost to Taxpayers?

In 2016, as the NTP reached almost seven years of implementation and continued to yield tangible results, it became apparent that the time had come for Pemandu to transition our work on the NTP to the civil service. On Jan 23 2017, the Prime Minister’s Office announced the commencement of this transition over a two-year period.

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The Transformasi Hang Over:Najib Razak–Racism and Hududism

We have scheduled this transition into three categories. The first involves work which will be handed over immediately to the civil service without any need for transition. This was completed on 1 March 2017.

Under the second category, some of the NTP work will be transferred to the civil service on a gradual basis. This requires a two-year transition period during which Pemandu will continue to support the civil service in the NTP activities, until the civil service has built sufficient capacity to enable full handover in the third year.

Over this period, Pemandu will commit 45 of its employees to work with the civil service in 2017. This will reduce to 30 in 2018, until no further support is required from Pemandu in 2019.

The third category involves work which still requires NTP coordination even after work has been transferred to the civil service. Pemandu will hand over these coordination activities to the Economic Planning Unit’s Civil Service Delivery Unit.

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Malaysia–Paradise Found or Lost?

The key to succeeding in this exercise is to ensure an orderly transition. As set forth by change management expert William Bridges, there are three stages of transition, namely Ending/Letting Go; the Neutral Zone; and the New Beginning.

In the past seven years, we have worked closely with the civil service to ensure adoption of the new processes introduced to ensure consistent delivery of the NTP initiatives. This has seen the civil service gradually applying these new processes across their operations.

We are confident of their continued ability and commitment to do so. In short, all our work thus far has been leading up to this point.However, in tandem with this gradual shift, there remains a segment of the civil service which has yet to adopt any of the new ways of working.Therefore, within the civil service now exists two methods of delivery – the old way of working and the new.

According to Bridges’ transition model, the civil service is in the Neutral Zone, which, if allowed to continue, results in the organisation becoming choked. Therefore, it is critical to our transition timeline that by February 2019, the civil service must make way for new beginnings to ensure we achieve our high-income aspirations by 2020.

Let me come to why we felt it was time to begin this transition. Since the start of the NTP, we have been committed to our True North: the high-income GNI per capita threshold as set by the World Bank, jobs and investment.

According to latest available data from the World Bank, Malaysia’s GNI per capita as at 2015 was US$10,570, just 15% short of the current high-income threshold of US$12,475.

This is compared to our GNI per capita of just US$8,280 in 2010, with a gap of 33% from the-then high-income threshold of US$12,276. Additionally, we have catalysed a 2.2 times growth in the CAGR of private investment, which previously recorded a CAGR of 5.5% in 2006-2010. Between 2011-2015, private investment recorded a CAGR of 12.1%.

This data shows that we are more than halfway to high-income status and on track to achieve our goals by 2020.

We have also assessed the ministries’ competencies in taking over the reins of the NTP, with the programme’s total KPIs recording an average score of more than 100% every year.More importantly, through the NTP, we have helped to raise the incomes of everyday Malaysians in an inclusive way, such as through the completion of 5,286 km of rural roads benefiting 3.5 million people.

We have also connected 144,025 rural houses to reliable electricity, lighting up the lives of 720,125 people, provided 1.68 million living in 334,593 rural houses with access to clean water and built and restored 79,137 houses benefiting 412,360 people.

With just three years left to our deadline, considering the pace of progress we have seen over the past seven years, I am confident of the civil service’s capability to deliver the national transformation.

In this transition, this will mark my final Transformation Unplugged entry. Pemandu as an organisation will also embark on a new journey as a global consultancy firm focusing on government transformation and business turnaround.

On behalf of the team, I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to everyone whom we have worked closely with in the past seven years. I would also like to thank the folks who have been following my column. I must commend the Prime Minister and civil servants for their commitment and cooperation in delivering the NTP to date. I look forward to work together with them to embrace this New Beginning in the coming two years.

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In the meantime, I hope to see you at the Global Transformation Forum 2017 on March 22-23. The Government of Malaysia is playing host again, bringing the best minds in transformation from all over the world to inspire Malaysians. The transformation mindset you will experience will bring clarity and inspire real behavioural change in driving your own transformation.