THE government is to be congratulated for establishing the new Economic Action Council that will give a better sense of direction and priorities for the nation to overcome the short-term economic challenges, such as rising cost of living, cost of doing business, restoring investor confidence and promoting sustainable economic recovery.
The Council should move with a sense of urgency. Its composition is balanced with a cross-section of representation, including from the orang asli community and consumer associations, which is praiseworthy as it does not just represent business interests. The presence of distinguished economists is also reassuring.
But I propose that the EAC also develops a longer term National Economic Strategy. To move forward, we need to identify the key mega trends that will impact on the nation in the next five to 10 years and then develop a comprehensive and holistic national strategy to address them.
I have identified here 10 strategic shifts or mega trends that need to be addressed.
1. On the international scene, we see a shift from geo-politics to geo-economics, requiring nations to adopt a geo-strategic response. This can be seen from Brexit and the US-China trade war. Geo-economics, including the control over economic assets such as oil and gas, will have a greater impact on international diplomacy. Increasingly, we will see economic and trade diplomacy becoming more important than political diplomacy to maintain global peace, stability and prosperity. We need to be able to step up to this level to analyse and strategise our response to geo-economic and geo-strategic challenges.
2. We also see a shift in the global centre of gravity from West to East with the rise of China and re-emergence of Japan as well as the growth of India and Korea. We need to identify a strategy to succeed in enlarging our presence in these markets and create new opportunities for our entrepreneurs and SMEs in China and Japan.
3. The world is also witnessing a rapid technological shift towards digital disruption and the Fourth Industrial Revolution with growing interest and applications in artificial intelligence, robotics and the Internet of Things. Big Data can be a strategic competitive advantage. The impact of drones and driverless vehicles will make a big impact on society. What is our national strategy to deal with these new technological advances? Hopefully, the EAC will also develop a strategic game plan to deal with these challenges and opportunities.
4. We also see an eco-sustainability shift with growing concern over climate change. This will drive demand for green technology and clean energy. We have a dynamic Energy, Technology, Science, Climate Change and Environment Minister. More must respond to support this ministry and its institutions. We need to embrace clean energy faster and more comprehensively.
5. Demographic shift will lead to an ageing society and a hollowing out of the demographic middle where we will have more aged elderly and younger cohorts below 30 but fewer of the middle-aged. It has been estimated that 20% of our population will be above 60 by 2040. Hence, we need new strategies and action plans to deal with the changing demographics.
6. Consumer shift will see the rise of e-commerce as we move from bricks to clicks. The rise of online business and e-commerce will not only impact on retail business but also on traditional banking, education and healthcare with the risk of fintech (financial technology), online learning and distance education, and telemedicine (pic). We need to embrace and adapt to these trends.
7. Globally, we also see a political shift from liberalism to the emergence of the right. The rightward shift led to the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States and is also partly the cause of Brexit. Is this era the end of liberalism? What can we do to bring people back to the centre? This trend has also led to a consolidation of the Malay right-wing with the strengthening ties between Umno and PAS. While the immediate focus of the EAC is economic, it also needs a strategy to deal with this phenomenon as it will impact on race relations and religious harmony, which are so essential for peace and stability to facilitate business and economic growth.
8. A shift in wealth and income has caused growing inequalities. The income gap between the highest earning population and the bottom 20% has grown. The income gap and inequalities can destabilise peace and stability. New thinking and new strategies need to be adopted to overcome the growing inequalities in our society.
9. Urbanisation shift arising from continued rural-urban migration will also cause urban poverty to rise. Urban poverty is a challenge that must be urgently tackled. The urban poor is a microcosm of Malaysian society as it comprises all ethnic groups. The rising cost of living affecting the urban poor needs to be prioritised.
10. A freedom shift is very evident after the 14th General Election with Malaysians feeling more free. This is good as it will lead to stronger support and protection of human rights such as freedom of speech, freedom of expression and freedom of association.
I believe the above 10 strategic shifts and key challenges are important priorities the government and the people must work on together.
We should have new policies to address these challenges. In formulating new policies, it is important to focus on the 4Cs – consistency, clarity, certainty and coherence.
The new Malaysia also needs the 3Is – integrity, inclusiveness and innovation. Old problems need new innovative solutions and new problems also need new ideas to resolve.
We should work together to address the above key challenges. We need to come together as a nation seeking national reconciliation and unity.
With a common purpose, we can move forward with renewed determination to build a new Malaysia that is sustainable and not a flash in the pan.
As the government has already established the EAC, I propose that it should also consider establishing a National Strategy Commission to plan future scenarios for the nation as well as effective strategies to overcome them.
A National Strategy Initiative should also be established to carry out in-depth Futures Studies for the country.
TAN SRI MICHAEL YEOH OON KHENG
Kingsley Strategic Institute