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Making It Like Malaysia

Enterprise Issues

With Siaka Momoh

Rajkumar Kanagasingam is author of German memories of Asia . He reflects robustly on the success stories of Malaysia and Singapore . We have heard so much about these stories,  but we should never be tired of reading or listening to these stories – stories that are generally referred to as the success stories of Asian Tigers because these are stories we should leverage on.

This is why I have decided to share these stories with you today. Kanagasingam recounts how Mahathir Mohammad and Lee Kuan Yew leaders of Malaysia and Singapore transformed their countries from sleepy colonial outposts into Asia ‘s richest nations.

He argues Mahathir’s strategies are well reflected in his macro – economic strategies by adopting the open economic policies with the realization in mind that the world trend of globalization and liberalization is irreversible. For him, we are living in an era of globalization and liberalization, a deeply imbedded neo-classical economic thought and its applications everywhere in the globe. He recalls the current Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Hsien Loong once said far back in the late nineties, when he was the deputy Prime Minister, “It is better to embrace globalization and liberalization proactively, at our own pace, than face the prospect of one day being swept away by the floodwaters of competition.”

He says his realization of embracing the globalization and liberalization might have been inherited into him by the strategies of former Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew who in his long tenure, changed Singapore from a sleepy colonial outpost to a prosperous high-tech enclave and applied better open economic policies to make use of the globalization and liberalization in Singapore’s favour.

He notes now Singapore ’s per capita GNP is higher than that of its erstwhile colonizer, Great Britain , that it has the world’s busiest port and is the third-largest oil refiner and a major center for global manufacturing and service industries, that this move from poverty to plenty has taken place within one generation.

He recounts: “In 1965 Singapore ranked economically with Chile , Argentina and Mexico but today its per capita GNP is four or five times of theirs. Lee Kuan Yew managed this miraculous transformation in Singapore ’s economy while maintaining tight political control over the country. Malaysia and Singapore better managed their economies in Southeast Asia than any other countries in facing the new trends of globalization and liberalization.  Mahathir’s strategies have eventually made Malaysia into a Southeast Asian economic superpower with number of megastar Malaysian entrepreneurs.

“Tan Sri Ananthakrishnan, who owns the Twin Towers of Malaysia and several other conglomerates, is a role model for many Malaysian entrepreneurs who have given real meaning to the present day Malaysia by transforming Malaysia into one of the Asia ’s wealthiest nations. Tan Sri Anantha Krishnan, a Jaffna origin Malaysian who had a humble beginning as a smalltime bookmaker in Australia and later as a polished dealmaker with a degree from Harvard Business School , became a sophisticated oil trader with connections to many of the Asia’s political and petroleum industry elite with interests in oil and gas fields in the United States . Tan Sri Anandakrishnan later went further into orbit, with the successful launching of MEASAT – 1, the Malaysia ‘s maiden telecommunication satellite. Tan Sri Ananda krishnan’s success provides a compelling testimony to Mahathir’s economic policies and their successful implementations.”

Even with Mahathir out of power, Malaysia boasts a diversified and modern economy, which weathered the Asian financial crisis in1997-98 better than many of its peers.

How did Malaysia and Singapore achieve this feat?

Malaysia’s success has been by diversifying away from the export of palm oil and rubber to the assembly of electronics with the steady provision of political stability by the resolved ethnic divisions by Mahathir – a lesson for Nigeria , isn’t it?

Kanagasingam says Mahathir’s keen stewardship of the economy has spawned in various projects and the latest was the Multimedia Super Corridor – a “knowledge-based economy master plan” to upgrade the Malaysia ‘s electronics industry into a hi-tech application industry.

“The knowledge-based economy master plan which encourages the new trend of Business and Knowledge Process Outsourcing is a new dimension of Globalization,” he says.

Southeast Asia first experienced a new and different wave of globalization from Japan by the transferring  of their locations to more labour-intensive and resource-intensive Asian countries so that Japan could continue to form the international cooperation.

By this Japanese initiative of global-localization most of the Asian countries are generally favourable towards the globalization trend. The trend of globalization and liberalization is indisputably irreversible. Therefore, it is really a great challenge to developing countries.

Kanagasingam holds Singapore and Malaysia are successful in tackling the globalization and liberalization because they were well  prepared.

He explains:” These Southeast Asian tiger economies, all went through series of distinctive stages of economic transformation with certain common characteristics. Lee Kwan Yew and Mahathir Mohammad had clear long term visions and strong political leadership skills how to make use of the globalization in their countries’ favour.

“In Malaysia and Singapore there are strong and efficient technocrats who have the ability to chart the vision into planning with the capability to get things done in a much effective way. The value system which they have reinvented over a short span of time after the independence produced many successful women entrepreneurs in Malaysia and Singapore .”

 He says of the two countries: “They successfully defined the paths for the emergence of indigenous entrepreneurs by encouraging small and medium size enterprises; they overcome the problems of relatively shallow and weak entrepreneurial group in Malaysia and Singapore compared with well equipped and well experienced thick and abundant entrepreneurial group in developed countries; they altered their countries’ entrepreneurial strength for an equal match of the game if confronted each other directly and instantly; they looked after the private sector until they can stand alone to compete against international challenges to become themselves multi-nationals; they realized well in advance the strength and competence of the private sector which is the main market player in determining a country’s eventual competitiveness.”

Malaysia and Singapore , according to him, had constraints, but realized the importance of Government leadership in the very beginning itself, their governments identified and developed the countries’ long-term competitiveness.

Put this against the unseriousness with which we handle WTO assignments and reflect on it. What is important to our officials is estacode not discussions at WTO meets. We have the men and women that can do it. We have the technocrats that can do it. But we need the leadership. Government leadership.

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