IMF asks Malaysia to take action

(AFP) WASHINGTON – THE IMF asked Malaysia on Friday to take ‘decisive’ action on reforms under a model program aimed at revamping a controversial four-decade-old affirmative action policy.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced in March a ‘New Economic Model’ or NEM, aimed at reforming elements of the policy favouring the country’s majority ethnic Malays in a bid to boost economic competitiveness. Details of the reform program, including its timing, have not been announced yet. The Washington-based International Monetary Fund said on Friday it was looking forward to the NEM’s rollout.

In a report after annual consultations between the IMF executive board and the Malaysian government, the fund acknowledged the ‘ambitious vision’ of Mr Najib’s administration for a far-reaching economic transformation over the longer term. The board directors ‘agreed that the comprehensive structural reform agenda, at the heart of the New Economic Model, holds out promise of faster and inclusive growth,’ the report said.

‘Directors looked forward to a decisive effort and sustained momentum in implementing this agenda,’ it said. They also called for an ‘effective communication strategy’ to forge ‘broad public support’ for these efforts. ‘Further gradual liberalisation of product and labour markets will help exploit policy complementarities, encourage private investment and harness the benefits of reform,’ the report said.

Mr Najib, who came to office last year, said the New Economic Model was designed to boost growth, create a high-quality workforce, and attract badly needed foreign investment. The model also aims to stem Malaysia’s ‘brain drain’ with measures to retain skilled professionals, and make markets more competitive by phasing out price controls and subsidies.

The affirmative action policy which hands Malays privileges in housing, education and business has been criticised as uncompetitive and improperly benefiting the elites. Under the planned changes to the policy, the government will seek to raise the income levels of all disadvantaged groups, rather than focusing solely on ethnic Malays, the dominant ethnic group in the South-east Asian nation.