KUALA LUMPUR: The high-income economy status is something that is within reach for Malaysia.
But beyond all that, what is of fundamental importance is the distribution of income, the standards of living and the extent of prosperity that is shared among the people.
And this is where the World Bank felt the country has got its priorities right with the shared prosperity agenda being on the front burner of key policymakers.
The World Bank vice-president for East Asia and the Pacific Dr Victoria Kwakwa said while it is important to try and attain the high-income status, it is also important that a country does not lose sight on other things that are fundamentally important.
“If you just reach high income but you have high levels of inequality and a large share of your population can’t enjoy or haven’t been moved along with others, it’s hollow and there’s not much to celebrate.
“So if Malaysia misses the numerical target by a year or two, or even three but is making progress on these other things, looking at how education can be strengthened and equal access to quality education for all Malaysians, if you’re making progress on some of the difficult social issues, the safety nets and so on and how you’re using them in the most efficient way, I think those are equally important, ” she said.
The World Bank had previously said that Malaysia is expected to achieve its transition to a high-income economy by 2024.
Malaysia’s gross national income (GNI) per capita stood at US$10,590 as of 2018, just US$1,786 below the threshold level of US$12,376.
Kwakwa said Malaysia is not very far off from achieving the high-income status with a growth of over 4% annually even with a difficult global environment.
“I’m not too fixated on whether Malaysia is going to become a high-income nation or not. Certainly it will become one within a decade. Whether it’s five or six years, I wouldn’t worry too much about it.
“I would worry more about whether it is more than just the numerical. And when Malaysia gets there, it gets there ‘in style’ where most Malaysians are prosperous, there is a strong middle class, education is good, a government with a well functioning administration and strong institutions, ” she said.
Kwakwa spoke to StarBiz recently in conjunction with her visit to Malaysia for the signing of a mutual agreement with the Malaysian government to extend the work of the World Bank Group’s Global Hub in Kuala Lumpur for an additional five years from 2021 to 2025.
Meanwhile, on more macro level, Kwakwa said East Asia is at the cutting edge of tech-driven economy and it is something that has not been fully tapped in the region yet, even with the infrastructure that is largely available.
She added that countries have to put in the right regulatory frameworks that are conducive for the economy to fully emerge and also look at data and privacy issues, which are really complex.
“East Asia is good but not there yet. A lot more needs to be done and certainly it is possible to do more, ” she said.