Use VMY 2007 to groom our competitiveness

The former prime minister introduced Vision 2020 for Malaysia to be a developed nation. He envisioned that Malaysians would then be emboldened to compete with the world.

In fact, with WTO full implementation in a year or two, Malaysians must brace themselves for fierce competition not only in education, but also in banking, trade and services. The question we should pose now is whether Malaysians will be willing and capable in challenging the onslaught of competition from any part of the world in any field which we are involved in.

First, education. Are our universities able to ranked within the top 10 in the world? As it is, our premier university is far below par when measured against the international standard. When will our Universiti Malaya, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Universiti Sains Malaysia and Universiti Putra Malaysia, to name a few, be able to compete with the rest of the world?

To compete with others at the international level, we should also set high standards in the very admission of students for undergraduate studies. To match the international standard, our universities should also set an international benchmark for admission such as the Cambridge A-levels.

Another point to note is that foreign students who sit for the Cambridge A-levels should be encouraged to apply for admission to our local universities. This will open our doors to foreigners and will also to add a foreign 'flavour' to our universities' environment. This will also show the world that we are not afraid of competition from any quarter; and that we have quality students in our universities.

Is the Higher Education Ministry prepared to take up this challenge? Or it is cowed by foreign talent and afraid to show up our weak points ?

Besides education, there are other areas of competition. Banking is one. Are we ready to face world competition in banking? Are our local banks well-equipped to face foreign challenges? We cannot afford to protect our local banks for long.

Then we have brokerage firms. To open up our market, we should be prepared to 'fight' with foreign brokers for clientele. This is where efficiency and speedy delivery will enhance our competitiveness.

Then we come to foreign investment. Investors do not have all the time in the world and if red tape is too much of a hassle, they will go elsewhere to invest. We must not dream that Malaysia is the only market. India, China and even Vietnam, apart from Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan, are also trying to woo investors.

So where red tape is concerned, our political leaders must come down hard on those lazy or indifferent civil servants. At the end of the day, if we desire our country and our people to prosper; those who recalcitrant and an irritant must be removed or side-lined.

Then we have made this year as Visit Malaysia Year. It is not enough to announce to the world to come to Malaysia. We must do everything possible to make tourists feel welcome to this country. Certain things must be done and the immigration officers, cab drivers, bus drivers, LRT operators, hoteliers, restaurant owners, religious department officers, customs officers, airport staff and the public all have a role to play.

We must not try to fleece tourists or make life difficult for them. Courtesy and smiles will make the visit a pleasure and they will be ambassadors for the country. On the other hand, if they are harassed by religious department officers, cheated by cab, shopkeepers and restaurant owners then it will be their first and last visit to the country. Once we have lost them, we have lost them forever.