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Monday, 23 April 2012

Malaysisia changes over the last 42 years; quanity yes, quality?

The ascend to the throne of our new King, 42 years after he was last installed, is a time to reflect on our achievements.

I WAS at the installation of our new King the other day. Twice as King, he has seen Malaysia change from what it was then and now. He also mentioned in his speech that he witnessed the efforts of the Prime Minister at that time, Tun Abdul Razak, the father of our current Prime Minister.

I sat in the audience, reflecting on some of the positives that have taken place in our country and took some notes on my Blackberry.

The key thought that ran through my mind was how much things have changed over the last 42 years. Here’s how much:

·We moved from a low-income, high-poverty country to a high-middle-income economy. Our next transformation is to become a high-income, developed country with quality of life for everyone.

·Our infrastructure has increased by leaps and bounds. Roads and highways have been built and traverse all parts of the country. We are putting in a mass rapid transit system in Kuala Lumpur to take us to the next level.

·We have modern retail outlets – supermarkets, hypermarkets, shopping complexes, malls and entertainment outlets and we are helping mom-and-pop stores to modernise too.

·We are moving towards greater freedom in all spheres with the repeal of the Internal Security Act, establishing clear rights for peaceful assembly and affirming the rights of online expression and social media liberties, amongst others. The Government has also made amendments to Printing Presses and Publications Act, while the Prime Minister is also talking about changes to the Sedition Act.

·Religious freedom has actually taken strides forward. There is now explicit statement of freedom to import (instead of implicitly before) and publish the Alkitab (the Bible). Indeed, since the 10 points resolution, many Alkitab have been imported and printed locally, without any difficulties with the authorities.

·We have moved to an extensive “social welfare” system e.g free primary and secondary schools, virtually free public health system, and one of the lowest consumer prices for fuel, LPG cooking gas, sugar, electricity, flour, gas, and so on with high subsidies from the Government.

·We have moved to greater focus on rural poor. Under the transformation initiatives, for low-income groups, three million lives were positively impacted in 2010 and 2011.

·We have put up an explicit and substantive roadmap to transform Malaysia further. We will build upon the great achievements we have made between the times of the rules of our current King and work towards our vision 2020 - to make our country a developed one with its people earning high incomes.

Considerable achievement

Just to show the extent our achievements over the last 42 years, I have constructed a table of some key indicators. You can see for yourself how much things have changed, even if you accounted for the fact that a ringgit went a much longer way then.

Our income as a nation – gross national income at the prevailing prices then - increased 64 times over the last 42 years, which is fantastic considering that the population growth over the same period was just 1.6 times.

It’s not surprising therefore that per capita income went up 25 times over the period, a considerable achievement even after taking into account inflation and the drop in value of money.

‘We are putting in a mass rapid transit system in Kuala Lumpur to take us to the next level.’
One of the most telling effects of this is that the incidence of poverty has been brought down from nearly half of the population to less than four for every 100 people in the country. That’s tremendous.

The number of schools increased but the impact here would have been understated because while additional schools were built, existing schools would have increased their enrolment considerably.

There was a massive explosion in universities. In 1970, the universities were all public and there were only three. The latest figures indicate that private universities now outnumber government ones almost two to one with 20 public universities and 39 private ones.

A similar situation was seen for hospitals with private hospitals increasing from 46 to 239 while government hospitals rose more moderately from less than 80 to 137.

Average life expectancy, assuming equal numbers of males and female, increased by 17% to 74.1 years, reflecting vast improvement in health levels, which is reinforced by the sharp over 80% drop in the infant mortality rate to seven per 1,000 live births.

World confidence in the Malaysian economy too increased over the 42-year period and this is well-supported by foreign direct investment flows in 2011 of an excellent RM33bil which was 150 times more than that in 1970.

Who would have believed 42 years ago, that Malaysia would make such major achievements in an extremely challenging environment of uncertainty posed by the 1969 racial riots and the drastic and controversial steps that the Government took then to redress racial imbalances and eliminate poverty?

But despite the scepticism and the lack of confidence then, we succeeded and succeeded well. Yes, we could have done better, but then we can always do better and anyone could have done better. What counted was that we met our major targets.

We find similar scepticism now to our efforts to make yet another great transformation, a giant stride to become a developed nation with its citizens earning high incomes and enjoying a better quality of life than ever before.

Promising figures

We aim to do this in a bit more than eight years in a rather challenging and competitive environment. And I dare say we know how to do it. We have it pretty much mapped out in quite some detail.

The initial figures are promising, despite all the nay-saying which continues to give me the transformation blues. But yes, we will rise above the blues as we did before and make this a better nation for each and everyone of us.

The results for 2010 and 2011 are great with most of our targets not just met but exceeded, often by a lot. See the comprehensive annual report on economic and government transformation in the Performance Management and Delivery Unit (Pemandu) website for details.

Rome wasn’t built overnight, likewise Malaysia too. We are blessed as a country. Whilst we know there are shortcomings, we also need to count our blessings even as we overcome the shortcomings and other obstacles.

And we shall overcome – of that I am very sure.

Transformation Blues - By Idris Jala