Apr 25, 2009
A lot has been said about 1Malaysia. My views on that are very clear. I hope one day there will be 1Asean.
So I won't dwell on it. What I would like to focus on are the reforms implemented in the commercial sector by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak's administration.
The removal of NEP requirements for 27 service sub-sectors represents a great start. I hope the rest of it will also wound down in time. But I hope more importantly, that the entire domestic economy is reformed.
My wish is that Datuk Seri Najib does a Margaret Thatcher. At present, there is too much vested interest, conflict and red tape that kill creativity, discourage innovation and provide little incentive for entrepreneurs to start and grow businesses. Before all of you jump on me and point to AirAsia's success, yes, we have survived and thrived, but AirAsia could be so, so much bigger and successful if we didn't have to deal with all these issues.
What are they?
1) Government-owned firms should be divested by the state. The government should facilitate the operations of businesses, not run them. I'm not saying GLC's should be sold to individuals like in the past but the public should own them. So instead of Khazanah owning 70 percent of several supposedly private entities, let the public own them. These companies should be put in charge and empowered, not led by civil servants. No matter how highly qualified, civil servants tend to have a singular mind-set which is that of regulators. When they are in charge of GLC's, they are likely to be conflicted in dealings with private firms such as AirAsia. Can Khazanah be really objective on issues regarding AirAsia when it owns MAS and Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad?
2) If GLC's are 70 percent owned by the public and overseen by professional boards of directors, it is much more likely that the senior management, including the CEO will consist of qualified and experienced professionals --- people seasoned in the private sector and who will come into the job knowing that they can't rely on government intervention and protectionism. This can only help nurture the building of stronger and better brands.
3) Monopolies stifle and strangle innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship. They should be broken up. Look at our airports, almost all under the control of MAB. We have 40-odd airports. Have they been effectively developed? Are they contributing as much to the national and local economies as they should? AirAsia has been stubborn and fought all this every inch of the way, but it has taken a toll on us as well. As for the country, how many good businesses have we lost? How many great entrepreneurs have just given up, tied up in knots by the tangles of red tape and the regulator-mentality of GLC's determined to protect their own turf rather than consider the broader national interest?
4) Private industries coupled with efficient marketing-driven GLC's will get us out of this rut. And then we can have firms that can go out there and be the best in Asean and then in Asia.
Good luck to our new prime minister. He has started off well but as the Beatles once said, it's a "long and winding road." He is right to focus on the economy. Attracting foreign investment is great but he would do equally well, if not better, to remove the shackles that prevent local talent from soaring. It is a Malaysian (note Malaysian) who will grow and drive this country. There is so much talent among our people. Liberate it.