The Economic Debate

Khoo Kay Peng

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has challenged PM Najib Razak to a debate on the economy. Anwar had proposed a 100-day reform which includes giving additional RM500 to teachers, abolishing all tolls and others. He claimed that it will cost the country ‘just’ RM19 billion.

Najib said that the Pakatan proposal will turn Malaysia into the next Greece. However, he is set to spend RM67 billion on various ETP projects this year. Among the projects include the RM43 billion new LRT lines and a RM5 billion 100-storey buildings. Will Malaysia make the Greece financial crisis look like a storm in a tea cup?

Of course a civilised, intellectual and constructive debate is always encouraged. Politicians need to learn how to debate effectively without needing to stroke racial or religious tensions. There are some serious economic issues in Malaysia which we hope the two leaders would not only focus on how much we need to spend or to build to develop the economy.

Anwar’s proposal is not convincing enough. While Najib has criticized the move to give additional allowance to teachers, he had done the same for Felda settlers and others. Abolishing tolls is another no brainer strategy.

It is obvious that the Malaysian economy is no longer on the regional and global investors’ radar. First, we are not part of a group of emerging economies which are touted to become hop spots of growth in the 21st century.

The Next Eleven (or N-11) are eleven countries—Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, South Korea, Turkey, and Vietnam—identified by Goldman Sachs investment bank as having a high potential of becoming the world’s largest economies in the 21st century along with the BRICs. The bank chose these states, all with promising outlooks for investment and future growth, on December 12, 2005.

Goldman Sachs used macroeconomic stability, political maturity, openness of trade and investment policies, and the quality of education as criteria. The N-11 paper is a follow-up to the bank’s 2003 paper on the four emerging “BRIC” economies, Brazil, Russia, India, and China.

BRICs economies has been growing rapidly since 2003 benefited from the attention and weight given by investment houses following the lead of Goldman Sachs.

Instead of wasting on rhetoric, both Pakatan and Barisan leaders should focus on issues such as:

1) Jobs creation – how to create more higher value and knowledge centric jobs
2) Income per capita – how to double Malaysia’s income per capita of USD8,100 so that we do not have to double the population to achieve growth in aggregate demand?
3) Lack of skills & quality of education – how to enhance the skills of Malaysian labour through a quality education system. The ministry of education should stop the fixation with the history subject and politicizing the issue of citizenship.
4) Public institutions – how to enhance the transparency, effectiveness and productivity of a politically impartial public institutions and civil service?
5) Nationhood – how to achieve a real nationhood with a holistic and responsible social engineering agenda? If the Barisan government and the likes of Perkasa continue to brand all non-Malays as migrants after 53 years of independence then there is very little hope for Malaysia to be included in any category of emerging economies.

The debate should also focus on issues related to innovation, competitiveness and productivity.

Without a taking a serious look at the economic issues, the Malaysian economy will suffer the same malaise like our political system. Both Pakatan and Barisan should accept positive and constructive criticism that there many useless, irresponsible, manipulative and insincere politicians within their ranks who are apt at using religion and race to achieve their political ends. The recent manipulation of constitutional monarchy in their political contestation is going to hurl this country backward.