Thursday, 28 September 2017

FREEDOM AND NATIONALISM - Malaysia on track towards well-grounded progress

If we were to analogize Malaysia's economic growth as a business entity, it has been a very successful venture. Since our independence, our natural resources and fertile soil gave us the seeds to progress.
While the high exports of resources such as rubber, tin, palm and crude oil made us global players for these commodities, we soon realised that high dependence on raw materials exports subjected us to the high risk of market fluctuation.
The total collapse of the global tin industry in the mid 1980s was an eye opener - and in order to keep business afloat we adapted quickly to manufacturing.
Fast forward to the turn of the century, we are at the next stage of progress - the all-important growth stage and advancing our preparation towards a fully liberalised global market.
For most countries on their way to emerge as a global economic player, the key is to move from an inward-looking economy and to become a player that can compete in new and bigger markets.
To grow further, we need to look at the fundamentals we have developed thus far. Just like any expanding business, we cannot rest solely on the leadership. It requires a nationwide belief and confidence that we can expand beyond our current capacities.
However, our progressive economic growth, as demonstrated by numerous international indicators, is not spared from speculation that breeds economic anxiety.
The examples of such growth are aplenty. The ASEAN Development Bank's (ADB) recent report placed Malaysia among the best growing economies in Asia.
We are now ranked among the top 25 most competitive nations in the world. PWC forecasts Malaysia to be the world's 24th biggest economic powerhouse by 2050.
Just like any growing economy, we have and will continue to have occasional setbacks. The more important question is: would we be able to address those setbacks, or will we take the easy way out?
When the price of crude oil fell in 2015, the implementation of Goods and Services Tax and rationalisation of subsidies by the government allowed us to sustain our momentum.
During that period of uncertainty, the natural consequences, which included cost of living and financial constraints for businesses did not deter our economy, rather the Malaysian economy strengthened further, despite speculation, rumours and negative vibes being played.
The next step is clear - to be part of the global economy, we must have an open market mind set, and the acumen to work with others.
Business should never be a zero-sum game, it should never be about one entity winning over the other. In order for us to compete, we must seek healthy competition, and we will never access world markets if we are reluctant to open our borders to the world.
Strategically, we should view new partnerships and ventures as opportunities, and not confining ourselves to our comfort zones.
Growth is exciting and challenges are overcome with calculated risk. Spread the belief that we are ready to penetrate the global markets.
"A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at him"
The writer is the chief executive officer of Malaysia Automotive Institute.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

DECISION-MAKING - Pre-conceived bias a deterrent to progress

There has been interesting progress in terms of Malaysia's development of late, particularly on the global front.
From reports of trade surplus to strengthening ties with the world's superpowers, we have been making headlines.
This momentum is not only a result of our progressive economic policies and political stability, but also due to the continuous support and participation of the lowest common denominators in our economy.
The government and the people transitioned into higher value economic activities through forward thinking strategies that allowed us to quickly adapt to the dynamics of global scenarios and trends.
This progressive approach, including the government and economic transformation programmes had earned us the recognition of respected global organisations such as the World Economic Forum and The Economist.
Who would have thought that a developing nation now ranked among the best in the world on several fronts.
We currently have one of the best healthcare systems in the world, and are recognised as one of the best places to invest and to start a business. We are ranked among the top 10 faster-growing economies in the world.
These achievements did not come through mere luck, as they are a testament to our strength as a nation.
The current administration has prepared us better for the liberalised economy. Of course, it is not always a smooth ride, as beautiful destinations are often discovered at the end of the roughest of roads.
Traditional borders and business dealings are rapidly fading away, giving way to a new digital ecosystem that transcend boundaries.
While this lowers barriers to entry for small businesses, it also forces liberalisation - the creative and innovative survive, and those that refuse to budge from protectionist mentalities become irrelevant.
Therefore, the open frontiers of global cyberspace necessitate an open mind to new ideas and bold, strategic approaches. The rapid change mentioned above also allows for emerging possibilities that were deemed impossible before.
This is why pre-conceived bias is a dangerous thing. It becomes a lot more dangerous when sources of information are unfiltered, making it easy to develop pre-conceived bias that tends to overpower credible reporting.
Recently, we have seen these bold approaches in the government's position on the socio-economic front.
Our wealth is now more diversified to include both foreign and domestic investment. We encourage international ventures through startegic alliances with global players, and we are taking a leading role to address humanitarian issues and security concerns in the region.
Nevertheless, these endeavours have not been spared from condemnation. While constructive criticism is most welcome, we must be careful of polemics that may cause the retardaation of progress in society, and leave our nation vulnerable to external threats.
To maintain and elevate our progress, Malaysians must be open minded and unbiases. We must look at the merits of any issue on a case by case basis, based on well-researched facts and sound rationale. There is always two sides of the story, there is always a bigger picture to consider.
For me, discussion and dialogue are an important components of quality decision-making. There are many platforms to do so, such as the Transformasi Nasional 2050 (TN50) dialogues, and the call for ideas for the annual budget.
It is therefore important that pre-conceived bias is removed, for meaningful dialogue to take place. Let the arguments be understood, analysed and avoid polarised positions.
Not all of us have the luxury to make decisions. To move forward, a decision still has to be made. There will be many opinions, and naturally it is imposible to satisfy everyone. However, decisions that have been made should be supported, despite our disagreements.
To do otherwise would simply be counter-productive.
Leadership has never been about absolute popularity, but making difficult decisions even though they may not be popular.
The writer is the chief executive officer of Malaysia Automotive Institute.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

FREEDOM AND NATIONALISM - Great nations are built on economy and humanity

This weekend, we close the year’s season in the celebration of freedom and nationalism. For me, it also serves as a reminder of how far we, as a nation, have progressed.
Although progress is often judged through economic indicators, capitalist ideals of personal wealth posession can in no way be a yardstick for true progress. It is difficult to fathom the social acceptance of being only rich by bank account, and bankrupt morally and principally.
From the economic standpoint, the last few years have been challenging. We felt the pinch of dropping oil prices, unfavourable currency exchange rates and rising costs of living.
We had to make some tough decisions that included tax restructuring and budget re-prioritisation for the sake of sustainability.
Apparently, social media and economic uncertainty is not a good mix. Tough times can bring the harshest of emotions and muddle meaningful discussions.
Positive indicators are often at high risk of being specialist knowledge, such as being ranked among the top 25 countries in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report, or The Economist’s ranking Malaysia as the 8th fastest growing economy for last year.
We have also been ranked within the top five countries in terms of healthcare, and best countries to invest or start a business in.
Economically, we have performed well on many accounts despite difficulties we have had to face. As humble as Malaysians are known to be, we should be proud of our resilience.
This column has always advocated fair judgement, and defining progress must be done holistically in order to be fair.
As mentioned above, great civilisations have the ability to advance forward while mitigating the risk of bankruptcy of our moral values, compassion and passion. Societies that have human compassion tend to have better wealth distribution, exemplified by a significant middle class.
Since independence and the formation of our nation, this has always been our guiding principle. We have developed this ecosystem of opportunity through the leveraging of our multi-cultural difference, and peacefully overcome disputes.
Our compassion and humane nature have resulted in a low poverty rate, compared with regional counterparts.
When one of the worst floods hit the state of Kelantan in 2015, Malaysia Automotive Institute (MAI), organised a flood relief drive with the automotive industry to alleviate the suffering of our countrymen in the northeast.
To our surprise, the support we received was very overwhelming, we received more than we ourselves could carry.
Recently, we have taken the next step towards regional leadership in humanitarian efforts.
I applaud the administration’s courage in leading humanitarian efforts in addressing the suffering of the Rohingya.
Along with Indonesia, we have agreed to provide temporary shelter to the migrants, to allow the international community to address such a complex humanitarian issue.
This Malaysia Day, let us realign our thoughts to what it means to be a great nation. We are not perfect, and we may have our own issues to work on.
However, as long as we are smart about our problems, and we have that human touch, I believe that would be the formula to not just economic greatness, but a sustainable economic resilience.
Let us be known not only as the nation of great wealth, but also great compassion.
The writer is the chief executive officer of Malaysia Automotive Institute.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

MALAYSIA DAY - Our differences are our unique strength

Many a time this column has addressed the challenges we face in progressing as a nation, from our post-colonial era to becoming one of the fastest growing economies in the world.
Just like any infant nation reeling from post-independence, we naturally had our differences that needed addressing. These included income disparity, natural resource distribution, political and governmental ideologies.
Admittedly, there was a time diversity was easy thing to manage. Most people, despite background, want to get on in life as comfortably as possible. We all want peace, economic mobility, health and happiness for our own sake and for our loved ones.
However, it is unfortunate that most of the time, petty differences get in the way and muddle our common goal. As a nation that was born our of a divide and conquer policy, it could have been much worse.
This is where Malaysians are the strongest. True strength lies not in its display, but in its restraint.
Getting to where we are today has, of course, been a struggle. We had to overcome our differences of language, culture and worldview, and naturally overcoming distrust, lack of communication and economic disparity.
Perhaps this struggle is not over, but I can attest we’re advancing.
In 2009, Prime Minister Najib Razak added a new chapter to our progress as a nation. The cabinet announced that 16th September will be a public holiday to allow Malaysians Day. It is an official recognition of the day that we, as Malaysians, truly became a nation.
Today, we are a nation that celebrates our differences. We recognise that it is these differences that make us a progressive nation.
As a Sarawakian who has lived in both Sarawak and the peninsula, I’ve learned to appreciate and witness innovation and creativity bred through our diversity. Homogeneity often breeds bubbles of homogenous, unchallenged thought.
When the people you work with come from diverse backgrounds and world views, they tend to challenge ideas you may have taken for granted. These difference of norms then require defense and dialogue, and the best of ideas are born from such discourse.
My point is simple – our history created a situation where our social engineering placed us in a position to be innovative. The next step now becomes obvious – we need use our unique position to take the nation to the global stage.
So, next time you see Malaysians arguing over their differences, facilitate mature discourse and do not discourage the celebration of those differences. You may witness the next great innovation – born out of diversity.
Fifty four years ago, in 1963, the federation known as Malaysia was officially formed.
It doesn't matter why we decided to form the federation, what matters is that as a nation, we have progressed together because of our collective efforts to move together as one.
The writer is the chief executive officer of Malaysia Automotive Institute.