SMEs want govt to hit high gear

PETALING JAYA: Delivery and implementation must be in high gear if the government wants to see stronger economic growth this year, say the small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

With SMEs making up the majority of businesses in Malaysia, they said the government’s resolve in transforming the economy should focus on helping the sector to go digital and adopt automation, embracing the low carbon economy.

SME Association of Malaysia president Ding Hong Sing said with all the announcement pertaining to new policies, plans and programmes to elevate the sector, delivery and implementation play a crucial role in 2024.

“Some of the announcements were made almost a year ago, the figures and the initiatives sounded great but we have not seen any details or implementations until now.

“All the departments and agencies must focus on implementing and delivering what the government has promised to do and plans to do next year,” he said in an interview yesterday.

Ding said government officials were often focused on law and legality and knew little about doing business.

“Their lack of exposure may lead to issues and hassles in business operations, causing losses when orders go to other countries.

“It is time for them to engage with the industry players and experts to hear them out before drafting any related policies or laws,” he suggested.

Reiterating that Malaysia can no longer “lose out further”, Ding cautioned that the economic outlook this year could be worse than last year if the government did not pull up its socks in its delivery and implementation.

He said there are many ways to increase the country’s output and lessen reliance on imports.

These include assisting the SMEs with technology adoption and marketing, encouraging agricultural graduates to utilise vacant land for farming as well as enhancing skill training and job matching among undergraduates, he said.

Following the recent Cabinet reshuffle, Ding is hopeful to see a refresh in the service attitude of the new team of leaders and the civil servants.

“No more empty talks, bureaucratic practices or politicking. It’s time to get down to work,” he said.

Small and Medium Enterprises Association of Malaysia national president Datuk William Ng concurred, saying 2024 would be a year of realisation.

“The government’s resolve in transforming the economy could mean a rare opportunity for the SMEs to break away from the ‘middle-income trap’ or remain in a ‘low margin, low productivity’ regime.

“If we are to become more productive and profitable, the focus must continue to be on automation and digitalisation, cut down on our reliance on workers and helping SMEs to adapt quickly to the low carbon economy,” he said.

Since it will be a steep learning curve for all during the transition period, he said the government must cushion any cost increment and refrain from passing the responsibility of managing the cost of living to the private sector.

“New policies that could increase the cost of doing business must not be introduced hastily and if necessary, in stages over several years,” he said.

Ng noted that 2024 would still be challenging given the continued conflict in Ukraine and Gaza, which has resulted in increased costs and subdued demand in 2023.

“What’s crucial is the Taiwanese presidential election and the potential of escalation of tension across the Taiwan Straits, as well the potential of heightened confrontation between the United States and China.

“We have benefited from the China Plus One strategy, but if the trade confrontation between the two giants grows, the disruption in trade and loss in confidence among consumers and businesses could negate whatever benefit we could reap in the new year,” he said.

Associated Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Malaysia’s treasurer Datuk Koong Lin Loong expressed hope for the government to continue focusing on attracting foreign direct investments (FDI) while encouraging domestic direct investments (DDI).

“Both FDI and DDI are important and our government must improve the ease of doing business, which has been said often but not dealt with.

“Consolidating the licences and permits processes is necessary to attract FDI,” he said.

Koong said a Taiwanese investor, who had bought land to relocate his electric and electronic (E&E) factory to Malaysia, told him that he had difficulties moving his machinery due to import duties and manufacturing licences.

“All these bureaucratic processes must be reduced.

“When FDI enters the country, micro SMEs can support them as a satellite industry.

“This will help develop a strong ecosystem, like Taiwan’s E&E industry, which is top in the world.”

In 2024, Koong called on all leaders to prioritise the economy over politics to help Malaysia compete with neighbouring countries like Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia.

“We have been neither here nor there, for example, losing out to Singapore in terms of technology advancement and to Indonesia and Cambodia for skilled labour.

“We need to make Malaysia the ‘Yes’ venue for investors.”

He said the government also needs to work on strengthening the ringgit to improve the economy and keep prices down.

“Many of our raw materials are imported. When ringgit depreciates, things become more expensive,” he said.

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