THE government has just announced a recovery plan to enable the Malaysian economy to regain its strength after weeks of restrictions on work following the introduction of the movement control order (MCO). The government will also launch next year the 12th Malaysia Plan (2021-2025), which will outline the medium and longer term policies for achieving our nation's development goals and provide the public sector expenditure programme to implement such policies.
In carrying out its development plans for economic and social progress, the government must place more focus on the human aspects of development to empower the people to face the challenges that lie ahead, such as a second round of the pandemic and the uncertainties arising from the geo-political tensions around the world.
We will have to increasingly rely on our own domestic strength to remain resilient against the adverse external developments. Hence, our development plans must place greater attention on improving the quality of the education and training system to create the internal capacity for growth and prosperity. They should equip school leavers and graduates with a stronger foundation to learn new skills.
Employers prefer to recruit job applicants who are trainable to raise their productivity and technical skills. New entrants to the labour market who are good in Maths, Science and English and who impress employers with their confident personality will find it easier to get the better paid jobs.
Those whose parents can afford to send their children for private tuition in Maths, Science, languages, music and art tend to have the advantage in having these superior qualities in them. There is a growing number of children who go to expensive private schools locally and abroad. These are the children of privileged families, political and corporate elites and the middle class.
This division of success in finding good jobs between income classes is not healthy for national unity. The national education system should therefore introduce reforms to provide the quality required in the employment market. Education should be free from racial, religious and communal politics to allow reforms to be successfully implemented so that all youths will have a level playing field in life.
In general, wage levels in Malaysia are low relative to its per capita GDP and standard of development. The main reason is the weak labour policies on employment and lack of controls on importing foreign workers. Irresponsible employers are taking advantage of undocumented workers, who out-number their legal counterparts, to suppress wage levels and ignore workers rights across all segments of the labour market. The culture of low wages spreads to all levels of employment, including executives. The result is that the share of wages in national income in Malaysia is low by international standards, thus indicating an imbalance in the distribution of the country’s wealth between owners of capital and the working class.
Depressed wage levels explain much of the hardships among households living in the major urban centres. In addition, urban households struggle with the higher cost of living in cities compared to the rest of the country.
As our planners work on policies for the recovery of the economy and its long-term growth, they would prioritise projects that have a high impact on generating employment and income opportunities. This is to be expected as GDP growth is essential to lift up income levels.
At the same time, our planning agencies should also strengthen the education and labour policies to make them more dynamic in providing our working population with better wages and a higher share of the national income.
With higher levels of skills, the talent pool will be enhanced and facilitate Malaysia’s efforts to attract more local and foreign investment into high technology and state-of-the-art industries, as the East Asian Tigers have done to restructure their economy and
become so advanced in their standards of living. They placed high priority on investing in their human resources to transform into high income countries within a short period of one generation.
TAN SRI MOHD SHERIFF MOHD KASSIM
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