A vision-hungry nation
- A year on, one of the biggest criticisms levelled against the PH government is the lack of a compelling economic vision. An April 2019 survey of 250 Malaysian businesses by Ipsos Business Consulting cited uncertainty over government policies and direction as a major concern. Ex-Minister of Finance 2 Johari Abdul Ghani articulated the issue accurately, pointing out the lack of a central economic narrative from the Government.
- Admittedly, as a nation we appear to like long-term policy statements and sweeping themes for economic growth and societal progress. The New Economic Policy ran for two decades from 1971 to 1990, followed by the 30-year Vision 2020 (1991-2020). Shorter term checkpoints were provided by the 5-year Malaysia Plans (Rancangan Malaysia), a long time in today’s pace of change.
- On the part of our past leaders and policymakers, this inclination to the long-term perhaps indicates the assumption of continuing rule. Vision-making in countries with higher government turnover usually lasts only as long as the President’s term; for a stark example, see the progressive dismantling of President Obama’s policy legacies by President Trump’s Administration.
- Given Malaysia’s break from one-party rule, perhaps shorter-term visions will also be the case for us. In the meantime, on the first-year anniversary of their historic GE win, the PH government appeared to answer critics by announcing a new economic model entitled ‘Shared Prosperity 2030’.
- Departing from the decades-long sweep of Vision 2020, the model is scoped to last ‘only’ another 11 years into the future. Given the uncertainty of our politics, not to mention the pace of change in the world, this is perhaps not a bad thing for our vision-hungry nation.
But does it satisfy?
- Departing from the past economic model, which was said to be mainly about mega projects*, Shared Prosperity 2030 states its overarching premise as achieving a decent standard of living for all Malaysians regardless of income class, race and geographic location.
*Speaking of mega projects…
The term ‘mega projects’ has been a criticism against Government economic management going back to the 1990s. For another reminder of the importance of political memory: a critique of Tun Mahathir’s economic legacy by Professor Jomo Kwame Sundram back in 2003.
- The new model, as reported by the media, consists of these 7 pillars:
- better structuring of and improving the nation’s business and industry ecosystems such as via adoption of Industrial Revolution 4.0
- application of digital economy, and adding more high-skilled jobs
- exploring new growth sectors, and turning Malaysia from a consumer nation to one that produced more international standard products
- reforming human capital, to improve labour market and wages
- strengthening social well-being through needs-based policies
- inclusive territorial development
- improving society capital, combined with strong social support mechanisms
- So far, so…well-trodden. Go through the last few Rancangan Malaysia and you will see virtually the same things couched in different phrasing.
- To some extent, the emphasis on themes like sharing prosperity and having a decent standard of living is understandable. After 3 bruising by-election losses, there may be a desire within PH to take back the narrative and be seen to respond to grouses.
- Unfortunately for Shared Prosperity 2030 however, two things: (i) in these polarised times, grouses will not be placated by general pronouncements of ‘shared prosperity’ particularly amongst the Malay ground, and (ii) there is still no central economic narrative that can rally and energise the country.
What do we want to be?
- The latter point is our main criticism: Where is the Vision in Shared Prosperity 2030? After the developed nation status of V2020, what do we want to be?
Where is the Vision in Shared Prosperity 2030? After the developed nation status of V2020, what do we want to be?
- Ex-PM Najib Tun Razak attempted to supply the next Vision via the campaign ‘Transformasi Nasional 2050’ (TN50), with the aim of having Malaysia become a top 20 nation by 2050. There were clearly some problems regarding scope here – top 20 in what exactly? – but in discussing the notion, it at least became a conversation with ambition.
- (Not unfettered ambition however, as our room to maneuver is now much more limited. The Malaysian population is ageing. The pace of technological disruption is accelerating (content behind paywall). The climate is changing, with potentially catastrophic consequences.)
- We never got to narrow down what we wanted to be ‘top 20’ in because GE14 happened and TN50 became an untouchable relic of the previous Administration, along with 1Malaysia and other ‘brands’ (Negaraku, anyone?).
- It is a bit of a shame, though. In the rush to tar everything related to the previous Administration, some interesting ideas from the TN50 conversation were summarily erased. One idea in particular could make us think about our economic narrative in a new and more meaningful way.
A meaningful, ambitious Vision
- What if, instead of aiming to be on the top of some global developmental league table, we as a country aim to be a nation that rises to the challenges and needs of our era? What if we aimed to become a country that solved some of the problems of our times?
- From such discussions in various youth engagement forums came the notion of moonshot goals as an approach towards national vision-setting. The term ‘moonshot’ memorialises US President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 announcement to put a man on the moon by the end of that decade. At the time of his announcement, no one knew how it was going to be done. Yet, the USA’s first manned voyage to the moon was achieved within eight years of the announced goal.
- Similarly, the idea was for Malaysia to set several ambitious tasks – goals we may not know how to pull off yet but could progressively figure out, in the process creating new industries and new jobs. And instead of the usual obsession with tallest, biggest, fastest, these moonshot goals for Malaysia should be about solving complex but vital issues.
- What sort of moonshot goals? Being a carbon-neutral country by 2050. Being food sufficient and replenishing our fishing stocks by 2030. Less than 10% incidence of lifestyle diseases like diabetes and obesity by 2050. No one living in poverty by 2030, based on an updated and widely accepted definition of ‘poverty’. These were just some of the moonshot goals proposed by people in their teens, 20s and 30s – people who will inherit this country in the coming decades, and who need a worthwhile Vision to see them through.
- These moonshot goals bring us back to the question of what we want to be as a nation. What comes after ‘developed nation status’? Given the turbulence of our times, we humbly propose this: a resilient nation. A nation prepared and structured to handle any extremes that come our way.
- What are your moonshot goals for Malaysia?
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