Malaysia slipping four places in latest World Competitiveness Year  2001 reflection of country’s unreadiness to face the challenges of globalisation, liberalization and ICT

Speech 1
- DAP Forum on “Malaysian Economic Crisis  - OPP3 & 8th Malaysian Plan”
Lim Kit Siang

(Kuala Lumpur, Wednesday): In his Foreword to the Seventh Malaysia Plan in May 1996, the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad said the Seventh Plan was designed to bring Malaysia to the threshold of the twenty-first century, not only stronger economically but also more united as a nation, “fully prepared economically, socially and psychologically to take on the challenges of the new century and head firmly and confidently towards 2020 and the years beyond.”

How does the Seventh Malaysia Plan pass muster on these  objectives marked out by Mahathir himself.  The answers are not very cheerful.

Firstly, have we got a more united nation?

Although  the  Prime Minister admitted  that the government was caught unawares by the levels of urban  poverty that led to the worst ethnic clashes in the country in 32 years in the squatter colonies off Old Klang Road, Petaling Jaya, the government refusal to commission a public inquiry into the causes and find solutions to prevent the recurrence of other Taman Medan timebombs is further proof of its denial syndrome wanting to  sweep grave  socio-economic and nation-building problems  under the carpet.   The Petaling Jaya ethnic clashes in fact  represented  the quadruple failures in nation-building, development planning, law enforcement and mass communications.

After twenty years of  the New Economic Policy 1971-1990 with national unity as the overriding objective and ten years of the National Development Policy 1991-2000 as the first phase of the nation’s journey towards Vision 2020 and Bangsa Malaysia, Malaysians should be more Malaysian-minded and centred - but the opposite  seems to be the case. The Prime Minister  is leading a national campaign for “Malay unity” instead of “Malaysian unity while  the New Straits Times today reported of  the conclusion of the Malay Agenda and National Unity Conference which unanimously decided to make "the voice of the Malays powerful again” - which must make Malaysians wonder whether we are in the 21st century or whether we have somehow been thrown back by the time machine to the  forties and fifties.

Secondly,  are we stronger economically and ready to face the challenges of globalisation, liberalization and information and communications technology (ICT)?

The Swiss-based business school International Institute for Management Development has just released its annual survey of global competitiveness, the World Competitiveness Yearbook (WCY) 2001  and Malaysia did not fare well at all, falling four places from 25th last year to the 29th spot.

In a way, Malaysia’s deteriorating rankings in the annual WCR in the past five years can be taken as an international benchmark of the unreadiness of the Malaysian economy to face the challenges of globalisation, liberalisation and information and communications technology (ICT) and a report card on the Seventh Malaysia Plan:

1996 - 23
1997 - 17
1998 - 20
1999 - 27
2000 - 25
2001 - 29

The Asian Wall Street Journal reported that in  his worldwide release of the WCY scoreboard  yesterday, the Director of the IMD World Competitiveness Project, Professor Stephane Garelli said that factors holding down Malaysia’s competitiveness were  “concerns”  about the government’s economic policies and the imprisonment of former Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim as well as worries over the eventual change in government leadership.  Malaysia’s government efficiency ranking has fallen from 5th to 26th over the last five years.

That Malaysia faces a grave confidence problem is only denied by the Prime Minister and the Barisan Nasional government although this is  further borne out in  a comparative study of the recent performances of the regional stock markets.

In the past month, Malaysia had  three big boosts or "adrenaline jabs"  to its economy with the RM3 billion economic stimulus package on March 27, the Third Outline Perspective Plan on April 3 and on Monday (April 23) the Eighth Malaysia Plan involving RM253 billion public sector development allocation  for the next five years comprising RM110 billion Federal government, RM34 billion State Governments, Local Authorities and Statutory Bodies and RM109 billion NFPEs (Non-Financial PublicEnterprises).

The Malaysian economy however had been quite listless as illustrated by the Kuala Lumpur stock exchange, which had been going south and had not benefited at all from the three "adrenalin" shots as compared to the other  regional markets, whether Singapore, Bangkok, Seoul, Hong Kong or Tokyo which did not have the advantage of such three boosts.

The Kuala Lumpur stock exchange had been the worst performer in the Asian league of leading stock markets despite three economic "adrenaline" jabs in a month, as shown by the following indices on March 23 (the previous trading day before the announcement of the RM3 billion economic stimulus package) and April 23 (the day the Eighth Malaysia Plan was presented in Parliament):

         Tokyo      Seoul     HK        Bangkok  Singapore     KL

23.3.01  13214.54   537.97   12583.36   290.25   1715.31       669.27

23.4.01  13715.60   560.94   13311.50   290.54   1684.90       573.37

Change   +501.06    +22.97   +728.14    +0.29    -30.41        -95.9

%change  +3.79%     +4.27%   +5.79%     +0.1%    -1.77%        -14.33%

This helps to explain why the Eighth Malaysia Plan (EMP)  was a non-event and a "yawn".  Mahathir's presentation  of the EMP in Parliament on Monday was completed upstaged and obscured by Tun Daim Zainuddin’s  mysterious “leave” and highly distracting parliamentary appearance, causing the Prime Minister to make the very revealing remark “I don't know why he came since he is on a holiday, but he seems to want to listen to my speech” which  only compounded the mystery, as it  became  clear that the Prime Minister is hardly in communication or even  on speaking terms with his Finance Minister.

*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman