How long can we sustain the ETP?

The Economic Transformation Programme has scored well, but the question remains — is it sustainable and for how long?

The Report Card of the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) has scored highly and due credit has to be given for this impressive achievement.

The good ETP Report has surpassed earlier expectations on all six National Key Result Areas. The previous concerns and doubts on whether the Transformation targets would be attained, have been found to been unjustified.

Past cynicism over what was thought to be grand ambitions have proven to be wrong for now, but there are still some public doubts! So why does the question as to whether the ETP can be sustained still persist in some quarters?

Although the facts show good outcomes, that progress has actually been made to counter crime, fight corruption, combat inflation, raise investments, improve rural basic infrastructure and urban transport, the concern is that some of these improvements may be just transient and do not constitute substantive and structural changes that are needed for longer term benefits for the economy.

What then are the structural issues that can sustain economic transformation? With regards to crime, has enough been done to resolve the underlying basic causes of crime like unemployment, drug abuse, the inadequate social cohesion, and the widening income disparities?

As to raising of academic standards, what has been done to increase the use of English to teach Maths and Science? By denying our children the greater use of English, are we not depriving them of access to more knowledge and advancement opportunities and more productive jobs and social advancement?

Corruption is still deep and pervasive. Despite some measures taken to combat graft, like having more publicity campaigns and the establishment of special courts to deal with corruption, are we doing enough to fight grand corruption where more of the Big Fish are caught? We have succeeded in reducing petty corruption but is that enough? Will the Transparency International Index improve, as a result of MACC’s many soft initiatives?

Are the economic structural weaknesses being overcome sufficiently by the ETP in order to ensure economic Strength and Sustainability in the long term?

The Budget deficit is still large. Government spending has increased through all these subsidies, and hand outs. No new strong tax changes that can raise more revenue from, for example the proposed long standing Value Added Tax, have been introduced. At least we could make a some small start to raise more revenue instead of depending unduly on Petroleum taxes and dividends.

The National debt has been growing at a fast pace. Although it may be considered manageable as of now, can we take some action to slow down its rapid rise?

At this stage its unfair to compare us to Greece and several deficit and debt plagued European economies, but they also at one time started to incur serious deficits and did not take adequate preventive and preemptive action early enough to avoid this financial disaster that they now face.

The Government and Economic Transformation Programmes talk about raising our national productivity and competitiveness, but how much have we done to raise our quality of education?

Employers complain of poor quality graduates not only from our school system but from our public Universities. Although the minimum wage and rising civil service salaries will help the low income groups and rightly so, can we expect efficiency to increase correspondingly, if their academic capacities and technical skills remain low?

Why are we still so dependent on low skilled foreign immigrant labour? We keep pushing for higher Foreign Investment, but how about the outflow in domestic private investment and the Brain Drain,both of which will have adverse effects on future investment and private capital formation in Malaysia?

Financial and especially human capital will also not be retained or attracted by the growing racial religious intolerance and the divisive utterances of some leaders.

Extremist remarks have to be universally addressed. Some individuals must not be encouraged to think that they can make irresponsible, even seditious statement and get away with it.

The world and Malaysians are watching the current situation unfold and will decide accordingly whether their longer interests are in Malaysia or elsewhere.

All these considerations can affect our Government and Economic Transformation Programmes.

Although it is well said that what we need is Evolution, not Revolution in our Transformation process, it is important that the momentum of transformation is speeded up, otherwise we will lose out in the globalised world of rapid changes.

While we applaud the success of the ETP, we should be equally concerned with the sustainability of this welcome success and the momentum of change.

The pace of transformation must be stepped up and become more structural and it must not slow down after the Elections which will come sometime soon.

Our Economic Transformation policies should not aim for short term gains at the expense of long term structural losses.

Some of the structural issues outlined above and many more have to also be simultaneously addressed with more professionalism and not political expediency.

Then there will be even more confidence and support for the success so far of the Report card on our ETP.

Article published in The Malay Mail.

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