AS always, and true to its spirit, Malaysia’s five-year plans and reviews always underscore the importance of long term economic growth and social development of the country. The recently announced mid-term review of the Eleventh Malaysia Development by the prime minister continues that fundamental ingredient.
It’s heartening to note that the current leadership has also emphasised on the importance of social inclusion, sustainable development, human capital, and the emphasis on good governance and transparency, and to rid of corruption.
To a large extent, corruption is largely due to poor governance, lack of accountability and transparency. Combining the three elements of promoting economic growth, social inclusion and good governance, accountability can be enhanced in both the public and private sectors.
The latter has acquired greater attention in order to promote a clean administration and a culture of competitive entrepreneurship.
It will also lead to reduction in leakages and corruption. It is a new business ecosystem under the new administration that all enterprises are strongly encouraged to adhere and follow.
I am surprised that the government has relegated the objective of strengthening economic growth as the sixth pillar after statements of strengthening governance.
Economic growth is important and is the sum total of value added in the economy during the current year and measured in constant prices.
What is pertinent is the quality of growth from the perspective of quality of life and standards of living and other social concerns such as environmental protection and social equity.
There is no point in having strong output increases (or economic growth) when the broader developmental concerns mentioned above are compromised. Let us, therefore, not be unduly perturbed by slight reductions in growth rates as long as we get it right on other long-term development scores such as low inflation, low unemployment and better income distribution.
I am happy that regional development has been also been emphasised in the current five-year plan with focus on Sabah and Sarawak.
Given the rhetoric during the last election, especially from Sarawak, it makes sense to pursue regional development to bring about greater equality and spatial inclusion in the next few years.
Such a move is also good and in line with greater spirit of federalism given the rising concerns questioning the pre-Malaysia understanding between Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah and Sarawak. The measure will open up new growth centres for future development while strengthening the vitality of local and regional economies.
We do not want the benefits of economic growth to concentrate mainly in the Klang Valley, Penang and Johor Baru regions, which would contribute to inequality in the country, an issue that is persistent in the country.
The greater attention given to Sabah and Sarawak is more than justified given the many handicaps they are facing and constrained with.
The only consideration for the two states to think through is to go easy on in-migration of skilled workforce from the peninsula.
The Mid Term Review (MTR) is right in identifying human capital as a separate pillar to energise the economic transformation and create new future opportunities in the context of digital economy which is creating a new economic landscape.
Terminologies around the digital economy, such as Industrialisation 4.0, artificial intelligence, and Internet of things (IoT) must be buzzwords along the corridor of agencies such as the Malaysian Investment Development Authority, International Trade and Industry Ministry, the Malaysian Productivity Corporation (MPC) as well as in the Ministry of Economic Affairs.
The MTR may have identified the new targets and strategies but in the final analysis, these can be realised and delivered effectively by civil servants, organisations, and support from the target beneficiaries, namely the private sector and the general population.
The civil and public service as a whole can help and advice the government on the effective service delivery mechanism that is important in achieving the set objectives and targets.
This perspective is important and critical and need to be appreciated, lest the overall objectives may not lead to optimal results.
The civil service, in particular agencies such as Malaysian Administrative and Manpower Planning Unit (MAMPU), Institut Tadbiran Awam Negara (INTAN), and MPC may wish to reflect on this.
Sulaiman Mahbob is chairman of the Malaysian Institute of Economic Research