Why did we go lower in the world competitiveness ranking?


  • Business
  • Thursday, 10 Sep 2009

A FEW years back, an editor from a large Indian newspaper told me that the news from a country that is carried around the world shows what the world thinks of that country.

He was making a point to illustrate how the world was taking India a little more seriously.

Prior to India’s economic boom, he said newspapers from the Western world carried mainly human interest stories from India, the more degrading the better the chance of it seeing print.

If a man had cut off his tongue, then that will be the news from India.

But as India’s economy, society and influence grew, the news the world was reading about India consequently changed.

Countries started carrying news articles about India’s economic prospects, political influence and potential, all of which builds on the perception of India.

And perception of what the world thinks of a country can be a powerful force in the world of business and investment.

That was most recently displayed in Malaysia’s ranking in the World Competitiveness Report.

Our ranking slipped three notches to 24 and that was largely a result of the perception among executives surveyed that Malaysia is worse off than a year ago, in particular the area of institutional framework, which is influenced heavily by the Government.

Whether that is real is debatable but again perception influences decisions.

And if the news the world is reading moulds the perception of a country, what must the world be thinking after reading or watching news from Malaysia over the past one month?

First, there was news that Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno would receive six lashes of the cane for drinking beer.

Then the world was treated to news that Selangor, the most industrialised and arguably most forward state in the country, was considering a ban on the sale of alcohol.

And finally, we have the emotionally charged cow-head protest over the relocation of a Hindu temple in Shah Alam.

Such news from a moderate and multiracial country would have been surprising to many around the globe, especially to the country’s largest investors.

It could be even more surprising to them considering the news from Malaysia over a decade ago used to be more about its economic prowess and growing political influence.

After all, in a growing and competitive world, perception can influence the flow of money and investments.

And if people, after reading such news, start to form opinions that could negatively influence the perception they have on Malaysia, then such news could have implications on investments into the country.

That is something the country must avoid as it will have consequences on job and wealth creation.

Amidst all the negativity, the one sliver of good news, however, has come from a David vs Goliath case involving McCurry vs McDonald’s.

The eight-year court battle over the right to use the “Mc” prefix has seen the small one-shop curry house in Jalan Ipoh emerge victor against a global franchise giant.

News of the Federal Court’s verdict was flashed all around the world, and in most cases elicited a smile across the faces of many.

It’s the type of reaction Malaysia could do more with.

·Jagdev Singh Sidhu is a deputy news editor at The Star. He thinks we should be concerned about what people think about us.

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