PETALING JAYA, Sept 15 — Malaysia must shift its focus to developing the nation’s “knowledge economy” to foster the entrepreneurial spirit needed to overcome the country’s inequalities, said a Hong Kong-based think-tank.
In an opinion piece for the South China Morning Post, Distinguished Fellow of Fung Global Institute Tan Sri Andrew Sheng said this was because the New Economic Policy was ineffective in cultivating the crucial quality.
Although lauding Malaysia as among the first nations to try and address communal income imbalances with the NEP, he said the technically-defunct scheme was effective in creating an elite class but not healthy competition.
“The dilemma is that entrepreneurship cannot be nurtured politically, because cronyism overwhelms entrepreneurship. And without entrepreneurship at all levels to generate inclusive income and wealth, inequality will persist,” Sheng wrote.
Ahead of the 55th anniversary of Malaysia Day tomorrow, Sheng said it was crucial that the country begin moving beyond race-based politics, which he said engendered a zero-sum mentality that hampered nation building.
Rather than trying to elevate the country’s diverse ethnicities individually, he said it was imperative to address the quality of education as a whole in Malaysia because it also has the ability to shape and unify the identity of the nation.
“The more specialised we become by profession, creed or religion, the more we break up into pockets that do not talk to each other, even when we use the same language,” he said.
Education and upskilling both provided the seeds of entrepreneurship that he said was essential if the nation is to address the existing wealth and income inequality.
Sheng said the government must seek to instill competitive knowledge in the people with its education policies, adding that these must go beyond “the colour of students’ shoes.”
Among Education Minister Maszlee Malik’s more prominent decisions so far is a switch from white to black shoes for national school students.
Inculcating a spirit of entrepreneurship will also strengthen the country’s mettle to withstand the challenges that will arrive with increasing globalisation, he added.
“Success through entrepreneurship comes first from failures. Thus, the willingness to accept failure and yet protect the needy is not just an economic issue, but also a moral and political imperative.”
Sheng acknowledged, however, that the challenge was not unique to Malaysia, saying it was a trend affecting other countries with the advent of stronger world trade.
“In 2018, Malaysia voted for change. Thus, the nation would be stronger if the government does less and the communities do more for their own futures.
“How the nation will celebrate its 60th birthday depends much on how [Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad] steers Malaysia to set his legacy straight. That is the true Malaysian dilemma,” he said.