Norma, who is also Malaysian Economic Association president, said Malaysia had a similar journey when it launched the New Economic Policy (NEP) in 1970 to fight rural poverty through agricultural development.
“The Federal Land Development Authority (Felda) resettled the rural poor by giving each smallholder four hectares of land to grow cash crops. The Felda officers lived with these communities. They had their offices there.
“Similarly there was the Rubber Industry Smallholders Develop-ment Authority (Risda) and the Federal Land Consolidation and Rehabilitation Authority (Felcra), which gave rise to the plantation industry,” she said.
There was also the Muda Irrigation Project, which provided water for 105,825.295ha of padi fields in Kedah and Perlis.
“The likes of Felda, Risda and Felcra brought about urbanisation in Malaysia which happened rapidly in the 1970s and 1980s as it developed townships with houses, schools, hospitals and rural health services,” said Norma.
Under the NEP, the government also invested heavily in education.
“According to a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco), the 9% average economic growth experienced from 1987 to 1997 was due to the country’s heavy investment in education in the 1970s and 1980s,” she said.
Norma added that the government must focus on social protection as the poor were not covered when they face vulnerable stages in life such as unemployment, illness and old age.
She also pointed out that the country has remained in the upper middle-income bracket since the 1990s. To become a high-income nation, it will need to engage in more high value-added activities.
“If you look at our manufacturing sector, many are still doing assembly.
“We need to reach a stage where we can innovate, conduct research and development and invent things so that our people can be paid more,” she said.