Monday, March 5, 2012

Malaysians, work hard to succeed !

Hard work, long hours and a focused approach ensure the country and rakyat succeed

I AM an amateur musician and I play the guitar and I sing. I like all types of music but one that tugs at my heartstrings is the blues.

We all know what the blues are: simple, direct, strongly expressive music with a steady beat and rhythm, leaving plenty of space for singing and solo instruments. Letting it all hang loose, so to speak.

But to me singing the blues means eventually rising above the blues, even if you have to pour out all your problems and wail for a while. That's what this column is about.

I am fortunate to be involved in and driving one of the most exciting projects around. What can be more meaningful than raising incomes and the quality of life for all Malaysians, irrespective of race, creed or religion?

But as hopeful as I am that we can do this, I am not so naive that I do not know that there are many problems and obstacles to overcome before this dream becomes reality.

So I will sing the transformation blues here: I will air the problems, the big ones, which face us in our programme to transform us into a high-income nation. And then we will say what we are doing to overcome them.

Idris: ‘I like all types of music but one that tugs at my heartstrings is the blues.’ 
A big part of this is putting right misinformation. We will need your help as Malaysians to understand what we are trying to do and to tell us what it is that we are not doing right and what we should be doing instead. The e-mail contact is in the logo above.

We promise to read every response and if appropriate respond to some here. We ask only three things: that you are fair, reasonable and realistic.

Concept of income

The first thing I would like to explain is the concept of income, which is key to the entire concept of transforming into a high-income country. At what level of income do we become developed and achieve high income? How do we do it? How do we measure this? And can we achieve it?

A lot has been said about how we measure income and the level of income in 2020, and how we have not taken the right things into account. It's been said that we have used the wrong measures. We have not.

Intentionally, we have used globally accepted definitions and methodologies, i.e. the World Bank approach and benchmarks. Without getting too technical, we used the current definition for high-income countries in nominal terms and then using projected inflation rates, derived what it would be in US dollars in 2020.

Hence, the figure of around US$15,000 per person was arrived at RM48,000 based on a projected exchange rate of RM3.20 to the US dollar. The current rate is close to RM3 which means that if this rate prevails, the target will be lower at RM45,000. In 2009, our income, using prevailing exchange rates, was US$6,700 per capita. Yes, we have a long way to go but we are well on the way.

From here, we project the population at 2020 and multiply that by the income per capita to obtain the total income of the nation in 2020, in nominal terms.

Working backwards, we then estimate the growth rate needed to get there, again in nominal terms.

Then we take out the projected inflation rate from this figure to arrive at the real rate of income increase that we need for the nation as a whole to achieve high-income status which is on average around 6% annually, assuming all other factors hold equal.

“Real” here means the income is adjusted for inflation and reflects the actual rise in income even after taking into account price increases. The real gross national income or GNI is just the real gross domestic product plus net income from abroad.

Our methods are rigorous and our results were reviewed in January 2012 by an international accounting firm and a globally renowned panel of experts.

The latter also shared outside-in feedback and global best practices. We have no interest in deceiving anybody on how we are performing.

That is how we set the target.

Getting there

The next thing is getting there. Basically, we identify all the major projects on hand and estimate their contribution to economic and, ultimately, income growth. We don't pretend that these are accurate but they are the best estimates we can get. No country in the world can accurately measure and predict with precision its economic growth.

These estimates are also targets. If we can meet them year-to-year, we are on our way. If we run short we have to do more, and if we are doing very well we can lift up our hands to the heavens and give our thanks to God. It's a moving, dynamic target and it changes all the time.

Yes, there are risks to the achievements we have set out for ourselves. What worthwhile endeavour comes without risks? The world economic growth can remain low for longer than expected. We are not completely insulated from the world. The private sector may not invest as much as it should.

But what we are doing at the Performance Management and Delivery Unit is to get the Government to facilitate all efforts to increase incomes, no matter by whom. And we will monitor to see if we are on track and recommend the appropriate changes to put us back on track, as and when necessary.

According to Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop, Minister in the Prime Minister's Department: “At the end of last year, annual per capita income in Malaysia rose to more than RM29,000 (US$9,400).”

At current prices, this is 12% growth compared with RM26,174 (US$7,985) in 2010 and RM23,850 (US$6,677) in 2009. This is a big improvement compared with only RM1,070 (US$347) in 1970.

In April, the Government will release a full report on the performance of Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) in 2011.

Our income growth in the last two years shows that we can achieve the targets that we have set for Malaysia as a nation. If the projects under the ETP and others come through, we will do it.

We may also see others setting up their own projects to take advantage of opportunities, and that would definitely be a bonus.

This shows that we have made good progress as a country. Under the leadership of our Prime Minister, we are on our way to transforming Malaysia to become a high income economy. Hard work, long hours and a focused approach are being put into ensuring that Malaysia and Malaysians succeed locally and globally.
Any Malaysian can join us on this journey. Simply by working harder and smarter you can contribute to increasing your employer's revenues and growing yourself, hopefully.

That way, all of us Malaysians can move forward together to achieving our goal of becoming a higher income nation and creating a better life for all of us. That's what transformation is about.

Together, we can do it.

Datuk Seri Idris Jala is Minister in the Prime Minister's Department and CEO of Pemandu. Feedback and comments are most welcome. 

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