The Next Four Years: What Now for Malaysia?

IDEAS Public Forum – 28th June 2019 – Connexion, 7 Jalan Kerinchi, Bangsar South, Kuala Lumpur

Mr Ali Salman, CEO of IDEAS

YB Dato’ Sri Hajah Nancy Shukri, MP for Batang Sadong

Ms Cynthia Gabriel, Executive Center, C4

Mr Laurence Todd, Director of Research, IDEAS

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen

Selamat pagi, Good Morning and Salam Malaysia Baru

Firstly, I want to thank IDEAS for giving me the honour of saying a few words at this public forum. IDEAS, from its establishment until now, has always encouraged open and constructive dialogue. Under Malaysia Baru, the room for constructive dialogue has expanded significantly and I look forward to more inputs to the new government from IDEAS and also possible areas of cooperation.

Secondly, allow me to extend my congratulations to Laurence and his team for their hard work in the preparation of the 2nd Projek Pantau Report Card including Faiz Zaidi and Aira Azhari, the lead researchers and not forgetting the research interns, Afifa Sahirin and Aiman Wan Alias. In the past, most people in Malaysia, including researchers, would not pay much attention to the manifesto promises of the winning coalition AFTER the general election, much less come up with a report to track the progress of the manifesto. This time, after GE14, I’m glad that IDEAS is committed to systematically track Pakatan Harapan’s GE14 manifesto on the bi-annual basis. As one of the authors of the PH Manifesto, I am glad that at least someone is paying attention. But at the same time, this also places more pressure on PH to deliver on our promises. This is one of the most tangible signs of how Malaysia has changed after GE14 – the fact that promises actually mean something and people expect them to be delivered.

Slightly over a year after GE14, this public forum is asking a very relevant question – What is the plan for Malaysia for the next four years? There are three areas of focus which the Pakatan Harapan should and will focus on to show that we can deliver our promises (or at least a majority of them) in the next 4 years. They are: (1) Continue to systematically deliver on PH’s GE14 Manifesto Promises (2) Identify and Implement new strategies to propel economic growth and create well-paying jobs and (3) Ensure the well-being of the B40.

Deliver on PH’s GE14 Manifesto Promises

The GE14 Manifesto is not to be confused with a Holy Book. I do not deny that we found it difficult to implement many of our promises when we formed the government last year because of various reasons. Some of it was budgetary including the discovery of many more off balance sheet items than initially thought. Others, such as putting the income contingent repayment level for PTPTN loans at RM4000 salary per month, was not feasible because of the cost implications which we were not able to estimate before because of the lack of access to accurate data. Others, such as our promise to return Sabah and Sarawak to the status accorded by the Malaysia Agreement 1963 or MA63 has encountered certain obstacles including pushback from the opposition.

Despite all these challenges and more, we are still committed to delivering the promises made in the GE14 manifesto – in full, ideally, but if not, at least in part.

I am encouraged by the finding in the 2nd report card that after about a year in office, slightly more than 30% of the promises in the manifesto have either been achieved or are on track.

One particular achievement which I want to highlight is the introduction of the RM100 public transportation pass in January of this year. I’m not sure how many of the audience here are beneficiaries of this policy but I’m quite sure that quite a number of IDEAS staff would have taken advantage of this pass especially given the location of your office in KL where parking is not readily available.

More recently, we have shown our commitment for the promise to reduce and eventually eliminate tolls by the announcement of the acquisition of 4 tolled roads owned by GAMUDA, namely KESAS, LDP, SPRINT and the SMART tunnel. Some have called this acquisition a bail out for the company in question. The Ministry of Finance (MoF) has already issued statements to explain this proposal. I just want to put it in simpler terms for the audience here today. Without this toll acquisition, the toll rates for the LDP would increase from RM2.10 to RM3.10. For SPRINT, it would be from RM2 to RM2.50 for the Damansara toll, RM2.50 to RM3.50 for the Kerinchi link and from RM3 to RM5 for the Penchala link. So, instead of allowing this toll hike or compensating the toll concessionaire in lieu of these toll hikes, the government is taking this money to acquire these tolls with the promise of off peak toll discounts and no increase in the toll rates. In addition, this will take away the temptation for the government to defer compensation for the toll concessionaire in exchange for extending the toll concession period!

Another promise which we will fulfil soon is to lower the voting age to 18 years as part of our promise to empower the younger generation.

I know that many in the audience will point out to some of the appointments as evidence of the lack of commitment to some of our promises. But I am confident that a proper process of check and balance in the appointment of the head for institutions such as the MACC can be implemented before GE15.

Identify New Strategies for Economic Growth

Here, I want to highlight three strategies.

Firstly, we must continue to attract more high quality FDI. I was encouraged by the 2018 MIDA investment report which showed that total approved FDI increased by 48% in 2018 from RM54.4b to RM80.5b and approved FDI in the manufacturing sector increased by 169% in 2018 from RM21.6b to RM58b. We’ll continue to work hard to further improve these figures in 2019. We must also be smart in attracting FDI that are coming to South East Asia as a result of the US-China trade and technology war. We must be selective in terms of what kind of investments should be attracted to different parts of Malaysia. We must also build on the efforts to make Malaysia an attractive location for regional and global business service centers. I think we have done quite well because of the efforts put in by agencies such as InvestKL and MIDA.

Secondly, we must ensure that initiatives to do with the 4th Industrial Revolution and the Digital Economy must penetrate to ALL sectors of the economy and all Ministries. The 4th IR is not just a MITI policy. MITI is overseeing the Industry 4.0 policy which involves the manufacturing sector. There are many other ministries and sectors which can benefit from the technological improvements as a result of the 4th IR. MOHR and MOE must be involved, for example, in terms of talent development. MOA should also be involved for the agriculture sector, for example, by considering how to employ IOT technologies in farming. Even the way government does its business must be 4th IR ready.

Thirdly, sustainability must be seen as a driver of NEW economic activity and not as economy restricting regulations. We have been encouraged by what’s been happening in the renewable energy sector under Minister Yeo Bee Yin at MESTECC in terms of pushing through new initiatives to promote the renewable energy (RE) sector, for example. This kind of thinking needs to penetrate into ALL levels of government. I am encouraged by the emphasis and priority given by our government for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). I also take note that almost all of the 17 SDGs are directly or indirectly related to issues of sustainability.

Some of these initiatives will be reflected in the upcoming 12th Malaysian Plan and the 4th Industrial Masterplan. We, of course, welcome inputs from people such as yourselves to refine and improve these policies.

Ensure the well-being of the B40

Various programs have already been introduced which target the B40 community in Malaysia. The MySalam program, for example, provides automatic health protection coverage for those enrolled in the Bantuan Sara Hidup (BSH) scheme should any of them be afflicted by one or more of the 36 critical illnesses identified. The Food Bank Malaysia (FBM) initiative, led by the Ministry of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs (KPDNHEP), has also been rolled out, which includes the Food Bank Siswa initiative targeted at university students from low-income families.

The National Cost of Living Council continues to monitor cost of living issues and is overseeing the BA100 initiative which aims to lower the retail cost of 100 basic necessities through the ANGKASA cooperative.

The special cabinet committee to examine existing monopolies and streamlining state owned enterprises is continuing its deliberations with the aim of reducing the power of these monopolies so that cost of certain goods can be lowered.

In some industries, such as the sugar industry, additional import permits for Sarawak have already been issued as part of the process to encourage greater competition and to reduce prices, especially for the benefit of the B40.

Feedback needed

Before I end, I want to ask the public for 3 things so that the PH government can improve our performance – firstly, continue to remind us of our promises; secondly, continue to monitor the effectiveness of our policies e.g. to what extent is MySalam benefitting the target group; thirdly, suggest new ideas on how we can improve our existing policies.

On my part, I will make sure that every PH MP gets a soft copy of this 2nd report card by IDEAS. For the Ministers and Deputies, their KPIs will be to deliver especially on areas where we have our shortcomings. For the backbenchers, their KPIs will be to keep the front bench accountable. Let me tell you that one of the main sources of check and balance comes from our backbenchers who are very vociferous in their criticism of certain government decisions, via internal channels.

Finally, I want to thank the team from IDEAS for your painstaking and hard work in evaluating each of the promises made by PH in our GE14 Manifesto and determining how much we have done and how much more needs to be done before these promises are fulfilled.

Thank you for inviting me.

My response to Dr Ramasamy is found here: