Special Report: Three wishes for the nation

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The Edge asked business leaders to identify the most important measures that Datuk Seri Najib Razak should implement after assuming the prime minister’s post. Here are their responses.

Datuk Lee Yeow Chor, executive director, IOI Corp BhdThree immediate measures:1. Form a new Cabinet with people who have integrity, capability and exposure to business.  Choose people who are known for their management and technical skills, that is, technocrats rather than political figures.2. Rejuvenate the top management of government-linked companies (GLCs).    Personnel heading the GLCs who are found to be ineffective should be replaced as soon as possible. Likewise, effective managers should not be replaced just because other well-connected persons are eyeing their positions.3. A business-focused approach should be adopted in implementing the fiscal stimulus plans (FSPs).    Ancillary considerations such as social and racial distribution issues should be cast aside in implementing the FSPs.

Longer-term measures: 1. Restructure the country’s economy to be less reliant on the export of goods. Instead, make the services sector a larger component of the economy.2. Continue the reforms introduced by Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to strengthen key institutions like the judiciary, the police and anti-corruption commission and also improve the public sector delivery system.3. Progressively do away with the race-based policies and implementation in both the public and private sectors.

Tan Sri William Cheng, chairman & CEO, Lion Group;President of Associated Chinese Chambers of Commerce & Industry of Malaysia (ACCCIM)

Three immediate measures:1. Choose only people for the Cabinet who are decisive, capable and dedicated and who have integrity. Also for chief ministers and menteris besar. 2. Coordinate and work closely with all the state governments to revitalise the national economy.3. Help the badly affected manufacturing industry to reduce the cost of production, for example, by reducing electricity tariffs, natural gas and fuel oil prices as well as toll and port charges.

Longer-term measures:1. Review and change the policies which are obsolete and impractical.2. Create a conducive and business-friendly environment to attract more foreign and  local investment.3. Make use of our bountiful natural resources to develop industries like petrochemicals, pulp and paper, palm oil, rubber and their downstream manufacturing activities.

Tan Sri G Gnanalingam, executive chairman, West Ports Malaysia Sdn Bhd

Three immediate measures:1. The people’s needs come first and the government should be there for the people of Malaysia.  2. The population will ultimately drive the economy. A vibrant population that is active in terms of consumption and production should be the goal.3. It will boost our economy if we are both liberal and attractive and if the workforce is productive.

Longer-term measures:1. Develop entrepreneurs who have a sustainable business at home and abroad.2. Develop human capital to go with the best infrastructure and ample utilities. 3. Continue to improve the public delivery system so that we can compete effectively.

Datuk Seri Leong Hoy Kum, group managing director, group CEO,  Mah Sing Group Bhd

Three immediate measures:1. It is imperative to restore confidence in the market and for the man on the street to feel secure about his job. This will translate to actual spending, driving domestic demand. 2.     The two stimulus plans constitute a positive first step to help the rakyat and businesses. Ensuring the speedy implementation and disbursement of the funds would be the key and the knock-on effects will give both individuals and businesses a big boost.3.     Further stimulate the housing market as the industry can generate domestic demand. The real estate industry has a wide multiplier of 4.8 times and direct as well as indirect linkages with more than 140 industries. We second MDC’s proposal for a first homebuyer’s grant of RM10,000, waiver of stamp duty for primary market transactions and exemption of the low-cost housing provision for private-sector developers for at least two years.

Longer-term measures:1. Improve transport infrastructure, for example, by upgrading roads and bridges, constructing sky bridges and covered walkways and improving public transport, including LRT routes.2.     Besides attracting corporations to set up business in Malaysia, it is important to lure foreign expertise or overseas Malaysians to work here. Malaysia can be like Singapore in terms of being a hub for knowledge workers, where there can be knowledge and skill sets transfer to locals. Review the Malaysia My Second Home regulations so that these knowledge workers can benefit from the programme. 3. Brand Malaysia can be further publicised worldwide so that Malaysia will be known as the country of choice for good property investments. Malaysia has one of the most affordable living standards in the region and comprehensive infrastructure. Currently, incentives for foreign homebuyers are inclined towards residential properties. Extend the relaxation of rules to the foreign purchase of commercial properties to encourage more direct investments from overseas.

Datuk Fateh Iskandar Mohamed Mansor, managing director, Glomac Bhd

Three immediate measures:1.     Put more emphasis on the economy. Since March 8, 2008, not much attention has been given to the economy. Too much emphasis has been placed on politics. Go back to governing, especially in these trying times. The mini-budget requires steadfast implementation and more transparency in terms of who gets what. Most businessmen have no problems with the allocation to bumiputeras, but it must be done in a transparent manner. I believe people are not angry with the NEP, but don’t want it to be abused; it is supposed to upgrade those who need assistance whether they are bumiputera or non-bumiputera.    The politicking has to stop. The Malaysians have spoken — let the federal government do its job. Selangor, please do your job too. Go back to work. 2.  Look at the industries, like property, with spill­over effects. Share the wealth instead of concentrating on activities which benefit only a few individuals. This is important to raise the people’s confidence. Malaysians need the feel-good factor. 3. Raise the standard of living and quality of life. Put more effort into raising the standard of living of all Malaysians, including improving security. Industries have to move to a higher value base while services should get better. For example, while we aim to be an Islamic finance centre, Hong Kong and Singapore are catching up.Longer-term measures:1. Promote Malaysia. We’re underselling Malaysia. We’re not telling people that Malaysia is a great investment, education and financial destination. We are not doing enough to cultivate ourselves to be the best. 2. Revamp the economic model. To move to a higher industrial base, we need foreign direct investment, hence we must have easier rules. The 30% bumiputera quota is not relevant anymore, except for projects of national interest. If we want to attract high value investors, we should do away with bothersome rules and conditions. 3. Provide good education. To promote integration, have a one-school system where the national language is taught, but also allow the Chinese and Indians to learn their mother tongues. Also, improve the quality of teachers. We must not lose the edge we have over other countries in terms of our English proficiency. We have already lost two generations. Don’t experiment too much; it confuses people.  

Dom LaVigne, executive director, AMCHAM Malaysia

Immediate measures:1. Lower the corporate income tax rate in order to reduce the cost of doing business in Malaysia. The corporate tax is relatively high compared with Hong Kong and other East Asian countries. This will help to attract FDI.2. The government should boost the tourism industry. By doing so, the economy will be stimulated faster and more directly as tourism will boost consumption.

Longer-term measures:1. Develop the country’s human capital. Retrain retrenched workers to enhance their skills so that they can take up higher value-added jobs to cater for new, emerging industries, for example, solar energy.2. Liberalise the hiring of foreign professionals. Currently, companies have to bear additional costs to employ talents from overseas. There is a vacuum that needs to be filled because certain skills are not available in the country. Such highly skilled professionals can train the local workforce, so it is a form of human capital development. Foreign professionals who are resident here will help to boost spending. 3. We hope that there will be a FTA between the US and Malaysia. It will benefit both countries and will not just be a one-way relationship. It will open the gateway for Malaysian companies to tap the US market. Datuk Muhammad Azaham Wahab, executive chairman, Merge Housing BhdThree immediate measures:1. Take firm action to curb corruption.2. Reduce the crime rate.3. Improve the public delivery system.

Longer-term measures:1. Review the management of foreign labour.2. Treat every citizen equally.3. Overhaul the education system.4. Tackle extremism. A semiconductor manufacturer Three immediate measures:1. Keep the interest rate low so that the cost burden on manufacturers is lighter.2. Do not remove foreign workers because the vacancies left by foreigners are not taken up by locals. Locals are not keen on working on the factory floor. 3. Cutting red tape for licences and approvals will provide an important economic stimulus. Managing director of a boutique investment house  Immediate measures:1. Remove the 30% bumiputera requirement for companies seeking a listing on Bursa Malaysia. It is redundant because a series of rules have been put in place to circumvent the ruling. But because the rule is still in place, it is a setback, although in practice it is not used.2.     Open government contracts below RM500,000 to all companies whether they are bumiputera or non-bumiputera entities. Set aside 30% of the contracts for bumiputera contractors to compete amongst themselves only. The remaining 70% should be open to all contractors, including bumiputera contractors. The bumiputera contractors must have a separate programme, but it must be transparent for all to scrutinise the awarding of contracts.3.     Relax immediately the restriction on foreign experts to come and work here. Do not allow cheap foreign labour except for plantations. At the moment, only GLCs find it easy to bring in foreign experts, but non-GLCs have a tough time.   4.    Remove all licensing for businesses that have a turnover of less than RM250,000. This will promote the underground economy. In India and other populous countries, licensing has been relaxed and there is a thriving black economy which keeps the country going despite external developments.

Longer-term measures1.    Make all citizens feel that they are Malaysians.2.    Remove the quota system in the education sector. Revamp the intake of teachers in teacher training colleges and get experts to teach at these colleges. 3.    Appoint non-Malaysians to head GLCs.