Waking up to NEM
Lazy Sunday afternoons. A heavy and sleepy atmosphere permeates the air and time ticks slowly by, lulling the senses to sleepiness. Having worked hard the previous week, we feel lethargic and fatigued.
This is where we are as a nation.
Since the formation of our country in 1963, we have grown from a third world nation reliant upon agriculture and mining to a country with a balanced and diverse economy.
Surely, we should be proud of our achievements. Our country is truly unique, a melting pot of cultures giving birth to a distinctly unique Malaysian identity. Our people and culture is warm, tolerant and understanding.
Our moderate and secular government has introduced policies and initiatives aimed primarily at improving the living standards for all Malaysians of all races. Foreign investment poured in, and our economy grew at an unprecedented rate and times were good.
The 1997 Asian financial crisis however, has slowed our momentum. Our government has tried valiantly to resuscitate the economy and financial markets with its monetary and macroeconomic policies. Fortunately, we weathered the storm and survived.
Thirteen years on, we are still feeling the effects of the downturn. We limp along, grasping vainly for the elusive prize – the explosive growth we enjoyed in the 1980s. As foreign investment and market opportunities dwindle, our failures fuel our sense of frustration.
Recognising this, our Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak recently announced a new economic initiative termed the New Economic Model (NEM), based on eight Strategic Reform Initiatives.
The key target of the NEM is to grow Malaysia’s economic standards and move our country from a high middle income country into a high income nation.
There are many, though not insurmountable challenges lurking ahead.
In 2008, Deloitte’s Public Leadership Institute in collaboration with The Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard Kennedy School hosted a series of dialogues entitled ‘Government reform’s next wave:Redesigning government to meet the challenges of the 21st century’ with a well-balanced mix of Beltway opinion leaders, senior US government and business executives and subject matter experts.
In the dialogue, the following general barriers to effective government reform were identified:
1. Executive barriers
2. Legislative barriers
3. Implementation barriers
How to define a major national goal like the NEM? If the definition is too loose, too broad or not clear enough, the initiative will fail.
How do you ensure the government’s unwavering leadership and political will? Will the Prime Minister dedicate all his energies to this initiative?
The current political system is organised by government agencies and ministries. How do you gain the flexibility to move money and people from one department to another as needed, or to fund collaborative efforts that might involve people drawn from many departments?
How do you focus the Dewan Rakyat, Dewan Negara and the various political factions on driving major national goals forward? Is it possible to get the buy-in from Pakatan Rakyat on the NEM?
The NEM will also be ineffective if the implementation is not consistent and harmonised. How do you coordinate collaboration among different government agencies and ministries? How do you ensure effective communications of governmental policies to the disparate agencies?
To ensure success each government reform initiative would be broken down into three broad steps:
1. Define the goal
2. Win broad support
3. Create a governance structure
Define the goal
Similar to all things in life, the goal for a government reform initiative should be defined narrowly enough to keep the initiative focused. The goals have to be inclusive, concise and clear - to bring all the necessary stakeholders including the public on board.
Based on the survey conducted during the dialogue (Figure 1), it is of utmost importance for strong leadership to be present to drive the initiative. The Prime Minister should be seen to be the champion of the NEM. If he is not perceived to be genuinely committed to the goal outlined, the effect will trickle down and undermine the initiative.
Figure 1: Important success factors for a government initiative
Win broad support
A reform initiative would require a major education and public relations campaign to make stakeholders understand why the effort is important and how it’s being conducted. As part of the educational effort, advocates would paint a vivid picture of what success would look like.
Is it also important to obtain the buy-in from the opposition party? In order for this to happen, the NEM has to be transparent, fair and equitable.
Create a governance structure
An effective way to ensuring effective implementation of government initiatives is to create and support a collaborative governance structure that enables a diverse network of public, private and non-profit partners to work together in a horizontal fashion.
Work teams from various governmental departments and agencies with specific skill sets can be created. The work teams should be empowered to collaborate and be able to solicit ideas from a diverse group of people outside the work team.
At the end of the day, we need to realise that our country and economic situations are simply the results of our own actions. How we work, how we treat one another, how we communicate, how we adapt to the shifting environment will determine whether our collective dreams and visions will come into fruition or not.
Our Malaysian attitudes and mindsets also require a paradigm shift. It is ingrained in our collective psyche that the Malaysian government owes us a living. For too long, our government has given us all that we wanted and asked for, be it scholarships, business loans or participation in government projects. We have grown so accustomed to the fact that the government is always there and will take care of us.
We need to shed this debilitating malaise. We need to know and believe that what we achieve in this life is due to our own efforts. Hard work, endeavour, coupled with innovation and creativity will bring success.
However, that being said, it remains a fact that there are still some in our society who are marginalised and forgotten. They struggle to climb out of the mire of extreme poverty. We cannot forget them. The NEM should be drawn to be socially inclusive, with policies that benefit both rich and poor alike.
We need to wake up. The lazy Sunday afternoon is drawing to a close, and Monday is around the corner. And real challenges are beckoning.
The writer, Anthony Tai is a senior manager with Deloitte Malaysia’s enterprise risk services practice.