Malaysia remains rich but also intolerant, says new study

By Melissa Chi, The Malaysian Insider

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 7 — Malaysia maintained its rank as the 43rd most prosperous nation, trailing behind Singapore at 16th but the latest index of overall wealth also ranked the country among the worst countries for personal freedom and democracy, while it also scored poorly for security and the educational levels of workers.

It was also found that Malaysians did not trust each other and generally did not welcome outsiders.

Overall, Malaysia was a more prosperous nation than its other Asean neighbours such as Thailand which came in at 45 out of 110 countries.

The London-based think-tank Legatum’s Prosperity Index assesses 110 countries based on performance in eight areas such as economy, personal freedom, health and social capital.

This year, Norway tops the list of 110 countries while Central African Republic came in last. Norway also topped the previous year’s list.

Malaysia’s economy is ranked at 17th, the strongest sub-sector, and the report said Malaysia’s economy performed well and there is a “high level of public confidence” in the financial sector.

Despite Malaysia’s positive ranking in the economy sub-sector, the country scored 35th in the governance sub-sector.

The report said that objective and subjective indicators give a mixed account of Malaysia’s governance.

“Malaysia places 72nd, globally, for the strength of its democracy. The bureaucracy is the 28th most efficient in the world; however, following a period of significant political unrest in 2008 the political system underwent substantial change,” the report said.

On entrepreneurship and opportunity, Malaysia ranked at 36th. The report said Malaysia’s ICT infrastructure encourages commercial activity.

“Although only 1 per cent of GDP is spent on R&D, Malaysia maintains a very high level of ICT exports, placing it third on this variable both globally and regionally,” the report said.

On the education and health indicator, Malaysia ranked 46th.

The report said the limited enrolment at high education levels means Malaysian workers are relatively poorly educated. The report also said that perhaps the low health expenditure per capita contributed to only “moderately good” indicators of public health, the report said.

However, Malaysia was let down by personal freedom — its worst-performing indicator — ranking only 96th in the sub-index.

The report said although Malaysians enjoy a fairly high level of civic choice, they do not welcome “outsiders”.

“In a 2010 survey, 77 per cent of respondents expressed satisfaction with their level of individual freedom, placing Malaysia in the top 50 countries of the index on this variable. However, this level of freedom does not create a tolerant society,” it said.

Malaysia is considered under the “weak” category in this sub-sector, along with Thailand, China, Indonesia, Cambodia, and Pakistan.

The safety and security as well as social capital categories also dragged down Malaysia’s overall ranking, with the country placing 53rd and 75th respectively.

The report said despite overall stability, Malaysia experiences some political pressures, and citizens feel unsafe.

“The average levels of internal displacement and communal conflict place Malaysia 53rd for demographic instability, which may result from border disputes, ownership or occupancy of land, access to transportation outlets, control of religious or historical sites, or proximity to environmental hazards,” it said.

The report also said Malaysians feel “unable to trust or rely on others”, indicating a lack of social cohesion.