THIS month, Malaysia will be launching the 11th Malaysia Plan, which will serve as a platform to transition from a developing nation to a developed nation in 2020.
To reach Vision 2020, a set of important and deep reforms are needed to ensure the country not only achieves the target level of Gross Domestic Product or income per capita, but also that the growth process and the resultant development gains are inclusive, resilient and sustainable.
As we look ahead to 2020, it is imperative to reflect, as the Government is presently doing, upon past successes and the unattained milestones and remaining challenges. It is also imperative to acknowledge new challenges – par for the course in a dynamic world – and make the best decisions for the future.
The challenges include: the growing concern over relative and multidimensional poverty, especially in the states of Sabah and Sarawak; the persistent and increasing inequality of wealth and assets on the back of wage stagnation; the lack of a proportional middle-class growth, despite steady and rapid economic changes; persistent gender gaps in terms of pay, employment, and participation in decision-making; and the continuing need to address the complexities of affirmative action and vehicles for securing inclusion, social cohesion and harmony in a multiracial and multicultural society.
For this, Malaysia would need a new game plan.
Therefore, the Malaysia Human Development Report (MHDR) 2013: Redesigning An Inclusive Future, launched by UNDP in November last year, was to provide an assessment of Malaysia’s growth and policy choices in order to contribute to the development dialogue in the country before 2020.
The report is anchored in the idea that while economic prosperity may help people lead freer and more fulfilling lives, other non-income factors such as education, health and living standards play a vital role to influence the quality of people’s freedoms as well as the opportunities to realise their potential as human beings.
As Malaysia focuses on game changers and defining a transformative agenda that will lead to the realisation of its Vision 2020, it is our hope that this MHDR would have contributed to the present collective re-architecting of a future where growth and high income alone are insufficient.
The report is an invitation to revisit and rethink together the remaining and emerging challenges that the country needs to confront. It calls for institutional and policy reforms deemed crucial to mainstream inclusion and sustainability in the next phase of development, and gives specific, implementable recommendations and advice as to what such reforms could look like.
Traditional one-size-fits-all, top-down strategies need to increasingly give way to gradual experimentation in bottom-up, decentralised growth and development policies.
While Malaysia has played well in the first half of its development “match”, it now, through the 11th Malaysia Plan, needs to allow for a bold and ambitious set of second-generation policies that will guide Malaysia in not just winning the second half, but also in triumphing in the overall league, improving and sustaining human progress as it reduces vulnerabilities and strengthens resilience.
Among these key next steps is the reorientation of Malaysia’s economy towards expanding the middle class.
Middle class expansion, whether measured by income, occupational status or educational achievement, is in itself an indicator that upward social mobility is taking place, where those at the bottom are graduating into, and thus swelling, the ranks of the middle class.
A sustained expansion of the middle requires a comprehensive social protection strategy to reduce risks and vulnerabilities, and, importantly, to safeguard from destruction due to shocks, citizens’ capabilities for upward mobility that take years to build and nurture.
All these imply an underlying socio-economic process that requires redesigning of employment, wage and asset strategies; changes in production and consumption structure; and legislation and policies that foster inclusivity and protection, in order to attain inclusive growth. Balanced solutions that aim to include the Malaysian society in its entirety should therefore be the priority.
Malaysia’s national aspirations are echoed by the five transformative shifts that have been put forward to frame the development landscape in the post-Millennium Development Goals world: (1) leave no one behind; (2) put sustainable development at the core; (3) transform economies for jobs and inclusive growth; (4) build peace and effective, open and accountable institutions for all; and (5) forge a new global partnership – one that is based on a new spirit of solidarity, co-operation, mutual accountability, a common understanding of our shared humanity, and centred on people.
Malaysia’s future – its ability, through the 11th Plan, to redesign an inclusive and sustainable future, to craft innovative solutions in addressing new challenges while keeping its fingers on the pulse of old, legacy issues – would serve as an invaluable model to the global community, both in developed and developing countries worldwide.
> Michelle Gyles-McDonnough is United Nations Resident Coordinator for Malaysia and United Nations Development Programme Resident Representative for Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei.