Malaysia must lead the way in science-based policy
In Malaysia, we indulge in capitalism and lean towards a progressive society. Yet, when asked, no one really knows what that means.
One person could say that a progressive Malaysia is one that eventually allows its citizens to do anything they please.
Others may see progressiveness as simply an economic indicator, while social indicators should remain central conservative. It doesn’t allow us to align the government with private sector visions moving forward.
Progressiveness for the private sector may mean less government regulations. At the same time, it may mean for the government a strengthening of institutions to ensure the private sector does not abuse its various monopolies in many local industries.
Because of this, when we find that a company has failed at supplying water or a company has polluted a river, we don’t unite to really hammer down their inability to follow the Malaysian ideal of serving the people.
It is crucial that the government promote the ideal that, for the private sector, serving and prioritising the people’s will mean better growth. For me, progressiveness is where the private sector understands that further investment in the public good will spell long-term business sustainability.
Investing in employees’ wellbeing spells better productivity for the company. Introducing higher pay means people have more to spend on the market. Introducing more flexible hours allows people to spend more time with their family, improve household equality and even innovate.
For the government, progressiveness should mean we accept that certain modus operandi need to be changed to keep up with the times. Show investors and the world that Malaysia doesn’t follow along, that we base our policy decisions on proven science.
Regulations on e-commerce need to be comprehensive, yet loose enough for innovation. Regulations need to be less about providing jobs and more about providing skills and training for the many unemployed youth. And we need to sell the idea that serving this necessity will prove beneficial for them in the long run.
Beyond this, it must be made clear that Malaysia’s market is open for big companies and entrepreneurs who not only want to serve their investors, but also the public. This means heavy investment in research and development, heavy focus on sustainable practices that can be used as examples for companies and lots of effort on identifying the evidence that works to promote innovation and not just create jobs that are easily replaceable by machines.
Malaysia must lead the way in science-based policy. This will set us apart from other countries. It is the key ingredient if we intend to compete with economic hubs like Hong Kong or Singapore. Investors and big companies can be more comfortable investing in R&D because we refrain from making populist decisions.
In return, companies must begin looking at Malaysia as more than just a cheap labour market, but as a hub for R&D. Emulate South Korea where even multinational companies must adhere to rules on reporting the number of locals they hire, upskill and more. Multinational companies in Malaysia are ready to face this.
We’ve shown that we understand the next industrial revolution; the need for a sustainable energy ecosystem, a sharing economy in goods and trade as well as in electricity. All that is needed now are further examples for science-based policy thinking. Provide an assurance that even in policy ideas around education, we are relying on science-backed policy.
For example, our current education system was built to accommodate early 20th century assembly-line factories. Simply teaching our kids “how” and “what” to do isn’t going to help them with job security in the long run.
Today, even doctors and lawyers are in danger of being replaced by smarter technology and artificial intelligence. So Malaysia needs to be an innovator and shift our education system towards one that teaches and emphasises “why”.
Every spark of innovation stems from the question “why”. If international and multinational institutions recognise our sincere efforts for change, then we can begin to secure the necessary big investments, which are signs of their confidence in our new direction.
A mindset shift is crucial if not necessary for Malaysia’s future growth — we must depend on innovation, science and challenging the status quo.
The writer is chairman of Malaysia Debt Ventures Bhd