Over the past 25 years of work exposure I have had in the area of public policy, I have noticed this stark reality: Malaysia has grand plans but our implementation is poor. Our drive to follow through is weak. We lack discipline once we have hatched our blueprints.
The four-step formula is simple. First, act on the strategic plan, monitor action, and report their results. Finally, after a determined period, re-visit the plan and re-align it if need be with the stated vision.
Malaysia usually gets stuck at the action stage. The plans will not implement themselves. We need dextrous administrators and technocrats, as micro-actions are critical before the larger objectives can be realised. We need teams of people tasked with the following functions: Understanding the root causes that impede the successful execution of national policies and focusing on systemically addressing them. The intent and perseverance to unclog the system must be there.
National leaders must acknowledge and appreciate the important role played by their executors – they are as important as the strategic plans, if not more so. Chances are if previous plans had been successfully implanted, we would certainly be better off today! Our institutions tend to be ineffective; the checks and balances embodied in our legal system don’t seem to function well. Good governance and accountability should be cardinal principles.
I dare say that almost all aspects of the country are limping because of this failure of effective implementation. We are in the middle of a pandemic, adherence to the SOP is weak and is often cited as a major reason in the press when the number of Covid-19 cases increases. Is that even an acceptable reason? Our law enforcers need to be strengthened, perhaps they need more resources – who is at fault here? Working conditions are too crowded, can business owners be taken to task or is there a way to help them and not penalise them? How can they earn and at the same time keep to the SOP are things the authorities need to go to the ground and find out.
I can quote a few organisations that do well: the Employees Provident Fund is a success story. It renders good service and is commendable. Dealings with some sections of the Immigration Department and Road Transport Department have also been a pleasant surprise. This goes to show that we have the ability to excel if we want to.
Coming back to Malaysia’s affinity for masterplans. We have had several in the past, most of them were excellent and the policy recommendations were not off the mark – but, unfortunately, they were not implemented well. Therein lies the failure. The missing link.
I have been studying the Shared Prosperity Vision 2030 (SPV) with much interest. Overall, the blueprint paints an accurate picture of the current state of the nation’s economy and social realities. While most of the recommendations are not new, the spirit of the document is very fresh, balanced and well-grounded. Most importantly, the recommendations seem to have been motivated by a strong sense of justice and a need for equitable development
Others have observed that the SPV lacks a new narrative and also speaks little about the green agenda. While all of that may be true, I cannot emphasise enough the subject of successful execution. We want outcomes and results. The blueprint should address implementation, which it does not. Again, I see a critical gap.
To illustrate: SPV 2030 clearly says that the government’s procurement strategy has failed. Government contracts meant to uplift poor bumiputra performance have not worked as well as intended. Leakage is one major reason. This is just one example demonstrating the poor execution of an important policy. In fact, the plan was badly sabotaged and left as such, for years.
Highlighting this failure in a blueprint and moving on as if everything is normal is hardly sufficient and reflects poor judgement by state actors. How do we prevent this type of failure from occurring again in the future? How can this serve as a lesson? Perhaps the civil service machinery is in dire need of a revamp? Until and unless this flaw is tackled head on, the SPV 2030 will be just an impressive blueprint with good explanations and resolutions but which can never produce the results envisaged by its authors.
Another case in point: the New Economic Model (NEM) launched in 1971 and which ended last year, was unable to successfully bridge income gaps between races and territories or address extreme disparities in the supply chains. The failure of NEM may be attributed mainly to no proper tracking of output, impact measurements and feedback loops.
Rebuilding our governing bodies and removing systemic failures are important steps to take before we create more roadmaps or plans. And to ignore our failures in the area of good governance and administration will not serve this nation. On the contrary, our refusal to change has cost us dearly.
International Islamic University (IIUM)
Note: The views expressed are entirely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of IIUM.