Can Tun M’s prescription remedy Malaysia’s modern day economic ills?

WITH physician-turned-politician Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad seemingly having diagnosed Malaysia’s economic maladies, is there hope that the Malaysian economy could have been resuscitated should the two-time former premier’s prescriptions be taken in the right doses?

In an exclusive interview with Business Today, Dr Mahathir says it is time for Malaysian companies in selected industries to initiate trail-blazing efforts to venture overseas while setting the stage to become world players.

The global landscape has changed with China and India coming into the economic foray, the scramble for foreign direct investment (FDI) has intensified and many countries that were once favourites for investors have lost their glitter.

Malaysia, too, has lost its allure and attraction as a favourite investment destination. While it was sufficient for the government to provide political stability, good infrastructure, and a relatively cheap and educated workforce in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, this has changed since then.

New markets

The tectonic shifts in the economic landscapes such as digitalisation, the knowledge economy, and neighbouring countries moving up the value chain have made attracting FDI more cumbersome.

With many newly independent countries freeing themselves from the shackles of the colonial domain, the economic trajectory for these countries was to depend on foreign investors for technology and skill, but it is time for Malaysia to “grow big and look for new markets,” says Dr Mahathir.

Indeed, analysts have chimed in to say that many Malaysian companies such as rubber glove makers have become world-class industry players who are capable to dominate the world stage.

A powerful advocate of emulating best work practices of Japan and South Korea, Dr Mahathir again reiterates his stand on Malaysian companies to look east and taking a leaf from both countries in their onward corporate journey.

Many Japanese companies rose from the debris of world war two and became global players by surpassing many western companies.

From a humble beginning, Sony has become a multinational conglomerate that is renowned as one of the world’s largest manufacturers of consumer and professional electronic products, the largest video game console company and the largest video game publisher.

In 1955 the transistor radio TR-55 went on sale, entered the US stock exchange and expanded into Europe, Australia, and went all over the world.

Another Japanese multinational, Panasonic Corporation started as a lightbulb socket manufacturer. To reflect the firm’s status as a formidable global player in the electronics industry, the company changed its name from Matsushita Electric Industrial Co in 2008.

Dr Mahathir hopes Sony and Paasonic would serve as examples for Malaysian companies to emulate and “go big and serve the world markets”.

Big holdings

Dr Mahathir also offers his counsel with regard to calls by economists that it is time for Malaysia to pay attention to agriculture considering the sector’s vast potential and that it is still at a subsidence level.

They add that while in developed countries farmers and fishermen were the affluent segments of the population; it was not so in Malaysia where there is the need to address structural problems.

To this, the remedy, according to Dr Mahathir, is that there are too many smallholdings that are inefficient – and that no attempts were made to address this – and that mixed farming are not employed to mitigate this.

Looking at successes in Malaysia, these smallholdings must be amalgamated into big estates as evidenced by the big estates that were managed by the British who grew rubber and oil palm.

His thinking is, “If they are all farms, holdings are merged with 10,000 to 20,000 acres of the lands, all the small-holdings can be merged into big holdings such as cooperatives and estates and grow the fruits and vegetables of the right crops, it will enrich them.“

While the many initiatives that Dr Mahathir planned for the country were in the offing, the Government came to an abrupt end and the much-needed transformation did not take place,

Mahathir adds that “there were groups that wanted to build a Muslim government, adding that just as the Pakatan Harapan Government was to start its agricultural initiative, “they pulled the carpet right under our feet”.

By : Cheah Chor Sooi – FOCUS MALAYSIA

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