Attributing the positive development to the various reforms undertaken via the multi-year economic transformation programme (ETP), the Datuk Seri Idris Jala,(pic) CEO of Performance Management and Delivery Unit (Pemandu) points out that Malaysia’s GNI at US$10,570 (RM42,340) per capita last year is now only 15% away from the high-income-economy benchmark of US$12,475 per capita.
KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia is no longer stuck in the middle-income trap, as its gross national income (GNI) is now progressively growing towards the high-income benchmark as defined by the World Bank, says Datuk Seri Idris Jala.
Attributing the positive development to the various reforms undertaken via the multi-year economic transformation programme (ETP), the CEO of Performance Management and Delivery Unit (Pemandu) points out that Malaysia’s GNI at US$10,570 (RM42,340) per capita last year is now only 15% away from the high-income-economy benchmark of US$12,475 per capita.
This compared with a gap of 33% between Malaysia’s GNI of US$8,280 per capita in 2010 and the then high-income economy threshold of US$12,276 per capita.
“As a result of the things we have been doing since 2010 and up to now, we have become completely unstuck (from the middle-income trap), with the gap (in Malaysia’s per capita GNI against the high-income threshold) now narrowed down to just 15%, compared with 33% in 2010,” Idris, who has been leading Pemandu, which is an agency under the Prime Minister’s Department, since 2010, said.
“The gap was even wider before 2010, and we could never close the gap for many years, resulting in many economists and financial experts proclaiming that Malaysia is stuck in the middle-income trap, and would not be able to become a high-income nation by 2020 unless we become unstuck,” he said in his keynote address on the Public Private Partnerships panel discussion here yesterday.
The panel discussion, jointly organised by research and publishing company The Business Year and education services provider Brickfields Asia College, was themed “Innovation as Driver for Local Economic Empowerment”.
According to Idris, Malaysia had managed to transform its economy, as a result of implementing innovative strategies. He said the Government remained confident of closing the GNI per capita gap and achieving the high-income target by 2020.
Under the ETP, the target was to achieve a GNI per capita of US$15,000 by 2020.
Meanwhile, in addition to GNI growth, Idris said Malaysia was also making good progress in the fiscal-sustainability space, as evident in the narrowing of the Government’s budget deficit and the continued manageability of its debt level.
The reduction of Malaysia’s fiscal deficit to 3.2% of gross domestic product (GDP) last year from 6.6% of GDP in 2009, for instance, was an indication of a stronger and more sustainable financial position. The country’s fiscal-deficit-to-GDP ratio was expected to reduce further to 3.1% by the end of 2016.
The Government debt-to-GDP level, on the other hand, would remain below the self-imposed limit of 55%. It stood at 53% last year.
“We have reduced subsides and implemented the goods and services tax (among the various economic reforms) to achieve fiscal sustainability,” Idris said.
“We have also put in a lot of effort to stimulate private investment growth” he added, noting that private investment growth had outpaced public investment since the launch of the ETP.
Idris said while there were still challenges in implementing economic reforms, Pemandu would continue to monitor closely the progress made by various government ministries.
“We are tracking all the investment projects one by one ... we want to make sure that all these projects are being implemented just as we said they would,” Idris said.
On the moderate growth of the country’s economy and gradual pace of fiscal-deficit reduction, Idris said these were a result of deliberate policy to ensure that Malaysia did not grow at the expense of accumulating more debts, or had its budget deficit cut drastically at the expense of the country’s economic growth.
Through this balancing act, Idris said, Malaysia had managed to stay in the “safe zone” in terms of debt-to-GDP and fiscal deficit levels while maintaining a steady growth path. - Cecila Kok The Star
But in the same article, Danny Quah, professor of economics and international development at the London School of Economics, disagreed that Malaysia had moved past the middle-income trap.
Quah maintained his position on Saturday, at a panel discussion organised by Sunway University in Petaling Jaya.
He told the university’s students that Malaysia had been going after “low-hanging fruits” in policymaking, resulting in it being trapped in the middle-income status.
“We are now in a situation where we are in a good place, but we’ll not get past it to gain fully developed country status in Malaysia’s own mould,” he said.
Quah is of the view that Malaysia has become complacent about its achievements, and that the nation suffers from what economists call the “natural resource curse”.
The economist pointed out that only about one million out of the 30 million people in the country are paying income tax, noting that this small fiscal base would be unsustainable moving forward.
The problems are an unclear direction, lack of leadership commitment, high-level plans that are not practical, rigid implementation, a silo mentality and work approach, public demands and inputs not adequately obtained, poor accountability, and a lack of transparency and trust deficit.
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