The government has announced a recovery plan to enable the Malaysian economy to regain its strength after weeks of restrictions following the introduction of the movement control order in March, 2020. Further, in 2021, the government will launch the 12th Malaysia Plan (2021-2025) that will outline the medium- and longer-term policies for achieving Malaysia’s development goals and provide the public sector expenditure programme to implement the policies.
In carrying out its development plans for economic and social progress, the government must make greater efforts to focus on the human aspects of development so as to empower the people in facing the challenges that lie ahead, such as a second wave of Covid-19 infections and the uncertainties arising from geopolitical tensions around the world. Our country will have to increasingly rely more on its own domestic strengths to remain resilient against adverse external developments.
Our development plans must give greater attention towards improving the quality in the education and training system to create an internal capacity for growth and prosperity. It 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 at maths, science and English and who impress employers with their confident personality will find it easier to get the better paid jobs.
Those who come from private schools or whose parents can afford to send their children for private tuition in maths, science, languages, music and art tend to have an advantage in having these superior qualities in them. They are mostly the children of the privileged families, the political and corporate elites and upper middle-class families. This division of success in finding good jobs between income classes is not healthy for national unity. The national education system should introduce reforms to enable it to provide the quality required in the employment market. And education should be free from racial, religious and communal politics so as to give the reforms the space 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 are the weak labour policies on employment and the lack of controls in importing foreign workers. With so many undocumented workers outnumbering legal migrant workers, irresponsible employers can take advantage of their desperate situation to suppress wage levels and ignore workers’ rights across all segments of the labour market. The culture of low wages then spreads to all levels of employment, including the executive level. 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 major urban centres. In addition, urban households struggle with the higher costs of living in cities compared with the rest of the country.
As our planners work on policies for the long-term growth of the economy, they will give priority to 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 all income levels. At the same time, our planning agencies should also strengthen education and labour policies to make them into the dynamics in providing our working population with the benefits of better wages and a higher share of the national income.
Higher levels of skills will increase the talent pool and facilitate Malaysia’s efforts to attract more local and foreign investment in 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 place 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
Did you find this article insightful?
100% readers found this article insightful