The 1999 Malaysian Industrial Development Authority (Mida) report, which was released yesterday, showed that foreign applications for investment in Malaysian manufacturing fell 28.4 per cent last year while the value of investments of these applications fell by 29.37 per cent.
There were 482 foreign applications valued at RM9.04 billion in 1999, down from 502 applications worth RM12.62 billion the previous year.
Investments for expansion and diversification fell to RM2.95 billion from RM6.20 billion in 1998.
Rafidah said the decline was also due to the fact that a number of multinational companies had made substantial investments for expansion and diversification during the 1997-1998 period.
She said: "Malaysia has particularly in the last few years been targeting quality investments... low value-added and labour-intensive industries are no longer promoted."
The United States stayed top foreign investor in 1999, accounting for RM2.539 billion, but this was 61 percent lower than the previous year. Japan was next at RM1.281 billion, up 15 percent from 1998, followed by Singapore, Pakistan and Switzerland.
Foreign investments were mainly in hi-tech, capital-intensive areas such as petroleum products, electronic and electrical products, paper, printing and publishing, non-metallic mineral and chemical products.
Last year, there were a total of 747 foreign and local applications worth RM14.029 billion, down 25.8 per cent from 1998 when there were 726 applications worth RM18.91 billion.
Total domestic investment dipped 20.7 per cent to RM4.99 billion.
These are sombre figures which show that the private sector has still to play its role as the engine of growth to revitalise economic activities to spearhead the nationís economic growth, warranting a review of the governmentís economic strategy.
Economic ministers of the Barisan Nasional government should come out of their South Pole-complex, as claiming that the 30 per cent drop in foreign investments last year was the result of the success of the governmentís new policy to focus on quality and capital-intensive industries. Rafidah did not explain how the total investments could drop if the government had been successful in promoting "capital-intensive" industries.
Rafidah, however, is not the only senior Cabinet minister suffering from the South Pole-complex, which has become very familiar to Malaysians after the farce of the purported Malaysian skydivers jump over the South Pole from an altitude of 6,400m on January 13 to mark the millennium which had never taken place.
When the falsity of the claim of the Malaysian skydivers jump over the South Pole was exposed, the Malaysian Millennium Jump 2000 claimed that they had nonetheless skydived at the Antartic at Patriot Hills at an altitude of 4,500m above the sea level on January 1 - "an even more difficult task than South Pole". Patriot Hills is the Chilean airport base about 1,800km from the South Pole.
Or as the expedition leader, Deputy Supt of Police Muhamad Fuad Abu Zarim put it: "The area is in the South Pole. For example, if we did not land at the Petronas Twin Towers but the Royal Selangor Club instead, we still parachuted over Kuala Lumpur, didnít we?"
Muhamad Fuad has a very creative mind and he would be in good company if he is recruited into the Cabinet!
An event slated as history-making for Malaysia has turned into an infamy for the country. Only on Sunday, ten days after the fraudulent South Pole jump, the Millennium Jump 2000 organising chairman Siva Kumar G. still maintained that the Malaysian team had made the jump over the South Pole on January 13, saying in a phone interview with Star reporter Jacqueline Ann Surin: "Malaysians should be proud of this achievement. There is no room for personal interest."
This is not a good start for the new Minister for Youth and Sports, Datuk Hishammuddin Tun Hussein who is wrestling not only with the politics of money and Stalinisation in UMNO, but the reality of the false jump over the South Pole. Malaysians would want to know whether the government had allocated RM160,000 for the South Pole jump farce and what action is being taken to get back every sen of it.
If the South Pole jump farce could make Malaysians aware that Rafidah and other Cabinet Ministers are suffering from a South Pole-complex, which is even more serious to the country than the South Pole jump farce, then Malaysia would have gained something from the Antartic escapade.
From the latest Mida figures, a new economic strategy should be devised to bring about a paradigm shift so that the Malaysian economy transforms from one based on production (P-economy) to an economy based on knowledge (K-economy).
Another South Pole-complex Cabinet Ministers suffer from is to believe that repressive laws and undemocratic crackdowns against the Opposition and dissent are not incompatible to such a paradigm shift.
In view of the critical importance of foreign investments not only to the Malaysian economy, but to bring about the paradigm shift from a P-economy to a K-economy, Malaysiaís foreign policy must be re-assessed to one of making as many friends as possible instead of making as many enemies as possible.
The government should also address the uncertainty created by capital controls imposed in September 1998.
A regional economist has said that even though capital controls might not affect manufacturing investors, "capital controls must have played a part in decision-making."
He said: "If a government is capable of implementing these rules, it affects the risk factor and creates uncertainty. I have spoken to some potential investors. They feel the policy uncertainty is still real."