With regards to the 9th Malaysia Plan, we should remind ourselves of the important lessons we had learnt in recent times and the grim reminders of dangers that could be lurking our way in the future.
This calls for sufficient contingencies and risk management principles to be factored into our 9th Malaysia Plan to ensure that we would be able to handle them effectively. Perhaps in order to be precise we should just enumerate the lessons as follows:
1. The most important case study on the challenges and responses to the onslaught of globalisation and the market economy in recent times had been provided by the former USSR and China. Suffice to say here that the former USSR disintegrated whilst China adapted and victoriously survives.
2. Malaysia went against popular wisdom by adopting the capital controls in overcoming the 1997 Asian economic crisis and we had been able to come out of it with our pride intact very much to the chagrin of our distracters.
3. The Sept 11 carnage threw the US into a state of paranoia .The subsequent Iraq war proved that the US would not hesitate to resort to unilateralism on a 'pre-emptive basis'. Also its decision to subsidise its steel industry and the agriculture sector which is against WTO regulations
And the failure of the US to rectify the Kyoto protocol on the protection of the environment. All suggest that 'might is always right.
4. China and India emerged as among the fastest growing economies in the world with GDP growth of almost 7% and 9.4% respectively in 2004. Both had become threats and opportunities for countries in the region depending on how they positioned themselves. India has been predicted to be able to take over China in 10 to 15 years time as an engine of global economic growth.
5. The world had become even smaller with outbreaks of various diseases (such as bird flu) becoming global concerns that could adversely affect global trade and tourism.
6. Both terrorism and geo-political events have become major factors that could affect international trade.
7. Climatic swings such as the el-Nino effect, earthquakes and the recent tsunami could now have global implications.
Taking into account these lessons above, below I list several issues and challenges formulators of the 9th Malaysia Plan will have to tackle.
1. Malaysia's population will reach 28 million by 2010. About three million will be above the retirement age of 55 by then but at least one million of them would still be employable. Those entering the employment market would be weighted towards females especially at the graduate and professional levels .
The average age that women would be getting married would increase to about 28 years. The average birth rate could fall well below 2 percent whilst the number of those above 55 years would continue to grow progressively.
Malaysia would be suffering from the declining population syndrome too soon and this would work against its best interest in the future.
2. A master Information and Communication Technology Plan needs to be drawn up as it is an important enabling tool which will impact our human resources utilisation profoundly.
3) Nation building agendas such as the building of a unified Malaysian race is crucial for our future survival. Thank God we have been able to develop shared icons and semblance of shared national pride as Malaysians in last decade.
This however, is not enough to enable us to harness the best out of all Malaysians. Whilst the hardcore poor need to continue to be assisted in various ways, the rest need to compete based purely on their own merits regardless of race.
In this context at least 20 percent of places in public institutions of higher learning need to be allocated to students from poor families of all races and appropriate financial assistance need to be provided to them.
4. The government must accept that foreign labour are here to stay, particularly in the ICT, bio-technology, agriculture, construction and household sectors. A lasting solution must be found on how to source and manage them on an extended basis.
5. The government needs to reduce its operating expenditure by at least one-third by 2010.This has to be done in order to improve productivity and also to free our human capital for more value adding activities.
6. A new 'Green Book' (Buku Hijau) agriculture master plan needs to be drawn-up immediately. This sector is important in enabling us to diversify our sources of national revenue; otherwise we would be too dependent on manufacturing and services sectors.
It also serves as a social safety net for the lower income group in terms of providing them with alternative employment during periods of economic crisis.
7. The tourism industry, a major foreign exchange earner, is very vulnerable as it is not fully under the control of the ministry of tourism. The so-called tourism infrastructure is under the jurisdiction of local authorities. This is the weakest link in the whole of the value chain.
An urgent exercise need to be undertaken to find out how the ministry can have a better handle of this industry with the view of improving the development and maintenance of these infrastructures, such as coastal and hill resorts and all other facilities and places of interest to tourists.
8. Malaysia can never compete on price alone, we can only compete on quality and perceived value. To be able to do this successfully, we needs to develop strong brand equity and be able to deliver high quality, superior designs and winning product packages.
9. Immediate solutions must be found as to how the strategic investment arm of the Malaysian government could immediately divest its RM17 billion bucket of unfortunate low-grade investments gathered during its 'preserving value' exercise following the recent economic crisis.
If this is indeed the case, how effective then could it be in executing its strategic missions of building value to the nation through its intended foray overseas? Khazanah's five-year plan for 2006/2010 should be scooped into the 9th Malaysia Plan.
Alternatively it should make its broad five-year strategic plan known to the public.
10. The tremendous underachievement in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) over the last 10 years almost goes without serious mention. This must be addressed vigorously. It is understood that we have been very selective of late as we only welcome those that are relevant to our national priority and strategy.
However, are we doing enough to attract those that we need and why are we losing out to countries like Thailand?
11. Finally the budget for the 9th Malaysia Plan is only RM150 billion as compared to RM170 billion for the 8th Malaysia Plan. And now there are 28 ministries to share this budget, as compared to 24 ministries for the 8th Malaysia Plan.
This would mean that the budget need to be very focused while at the same time be wholesomely balanced in ensuring that national revenue is sufficiently diversified to weather any systemic storm which has been happening quite often these days.
It is also our hope that the prime minister would ensure that his monitoring and control systems are effective enough to curb any abuse by his own ministers and their officers as has happened in the past.