WE normally go for an overhaul when things are bleak. If you are overweight, you will need a diet plan. If you are diabetic, then it will take not only a diet but also an exercise regime to change your lifestyle.
The same is with the economy. We all saw what the government did in the 1990s to get Malaysia Inc moving after a crushing recession in the late 1980s. Any plan unveiled would be a reflection of the task at hand.
Grand plans of privatisation, infrastructure spending and two overarching plans - Vision 2020 and the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) - were announced.
The end of both those grandiose plans were last year and it’s debatable to claim it was a great success for either.
But what those plans aimed to achieve, which was to overhaul Malaysia, is a direction not many people disagreed with. The concepts were impressive and noble, even visionary now when you think about the idea of the MSC.
But the execution of both plans could have been better. If not for the Asian Financial Crisis that torpedoed the onset of both visions, maybe the outcome would have been different.
We now have another grand vision - MyDigital. The broad targets of achievements are laid out but the government must learn from the mistakes of the past to ensure this plan is a better success.
The basis of this plan highlights the urgent need for a new direction for the country and it also latches on to what is happening throughout the world.
The rise of digitisation and the work from home phenomena to cope with the pandemic are realisation that the advance and access towards digitisation is no longer a luxury but a right and a crucial tool for businesses and society to progress.
As we move about in our constrained ways, we see the remnants of the pandemic prior to the loosening of restrictions. Shuttered shops, comparatively empty streets and visible economic and social pain from what we know, needs urgent fixing.
The stock market, although booming with huge gains chalked from its bottom in March last year, is not a true barometre of what are the real conditions.
With unemployment projected to rise from the 4.8% rate in December and with the economy in a recession, the real economic pain is hard to mask from what the liquidity-fuelled capital markets are showing.
Malaysia needs a reset especially after the economic damage the Covid-19 pandemic has caused. With regional countries also embarking on their own post-pandemic plans, the race is literally on.
Now we have targets that are ambitious. There is nothing wrong with that. Aiming high is always the right formula.
The most important thing now is execution. What the government will need is the help of the private sector as gone are the days of the government knowing best.
Competition, deregulation and liberalisation are equally powerful facilitative tools that are essential in ensuring the success of any plan, which includes the MyDigital initiative.It is only through the loosening of control and the encouragement of competition will the impact of the plan be realised.
Competition is important for job creation, arguably the most important benchmark of the plan, and also for lowering of costs to the end consumer and speeding up implementation.
Affordability will be another area that needs to be tackled. As the pandemic has shown, many households have only one or worse no device to access the Internet. There is no point having sufficient infrastructure if people cannot afford devices to access those facilities.
Affordability will then extend to the monthly fees people will need to pay. Accessing the Internet is costly and there needs to be a way to make such charges affordable in view of not only the high cost but the crimp on wage inflation going forward.
We know that funding will be crucial in executing these plans. Grab, the Malaysian-born unicorn, was lost to Singapore because it could not get even sufficient meagre funding in the early days of its existence which Singapore was willing to do.
Without resources being committed expeditiously, then the plan would fail in reaching its bold targets. Money needs to be spent on infrastructure and there is no point for the Universal Service Provision fund, which has billions in reserve, to have so much in its kitty.
The billions in reserve in that fund is wasteful as that money should have been spent to improve infrastructure throughout the country years ago.
It is also about time that the big institutional funds like KWAP and the EPF start taking on calculated risks in supporting our home-grown ventures that do makes sense, ideally through a fund of funds method given the specific knowledge set needed at the onset.
It is hoped that this and the preceding plans that will be revealed will not be more sugary talking points but will translate to action and results more so than what previous plans promised but really did not
Jagdev Singh Sidhu is The Star’s business desk editor