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Don’t place cart before the horse: Prioritise domestic economic drivers ahead of foreign investors

Malaysia may not join the ranks of the developed West or the rising, powerful economies of the East. But we can become resilient, self-sufficient and happier as a people

Rising food prices; Focus on the issues that matter - ANIL NETTO

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Over 30 top Qatari executives met Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim last week as he briefed them on Malaysia’s investment climate.

Indeed, the country seems to be continually chasing the ‘big guns’ for foreign investment.

Amid global uncertainties like the wars in Gaza and Ukraine and growing tension in the South China Sea, the Malaysian push to attract foreign investment may not be the real panacea for the country.

We need to debate a key question. Are we sacrificing the development of our own domestic capabilities in the quest for more foreign investment?

At the height of the globalisation drive in the 1980s and late 1990s, Malaysia prospered through mega-investors who set up huge factories here. 

The semiconductor industry, for example, allowed the Barisan Nasional government to appear ‘attractive’ as hundreds of thousands of school leavers found employment. 

But economic downturns caused multinational companies to close, lay off workers, downsize and reduce costs. These slumps hit the local workforce. Our unemployment figures rose, causing much suffering and stress. Yet, this was never considered a liability. 

Nowadays, unpredictable geopolitical uncertainties can cause major disruptions in supply chain networks, even affecting shipping.

How can we be sure that focusing on drawing foreign investment won’t harm the local workforce in difficult times?

Other more enlightened countries place greater emphasis on securing domestic supplies and demand. A few nations even curb their exports (like the rice and onions freeze) to prepare for future supply chain breakdowns. 

Malaysia is a resource-rich nation. Our previous history of focusing on agriculture, smallholders and small and medium industries stood us well in the past. 

READ MORE:  Oil palm firm should reverse 'zero-cattle' policy

However, the ‘think big’ thrusts with promises of becoming a rising “Asian tiger” led to neglect of home-grown endeavours.

The lure of massive profits, quick rewards and the politicians’ need to appear successful before elections drove them to pursue foreign investments.

When we prioritise foreign investors over the domestic economy and local talents, we put the nation in a vulnerable position. What happens if foreign companies pull out under emerging challenges?

Many in Malaysia have been sold on the idea of ‘profit-making’ and profiteering at all costs. They are addicted to it. 

We overlook the rampant corruption in the country – from individuals taking bribes or accepting gifts to billionaires siphoned off funds to offshore tax havens. These are the signs of the excessive profiteering we have cultivated. 

The government and its well-paid policymakers need to revisit our national economic blueprint. 

Do Malaysia’s leaders need to push for all kinds of foreign investment amid geopolitical uncertainties just to be perceived as ‘successful’?

Or should they seriously nurture the local economy, including its food and agriculture sectors and its small and medium industries?

The country needs to grow more rice and other food crops. It needs to safeguard local fishermen. It needs to educate and train its young people to be knowledgeable in arts, crafts and technical areas. The people must become more self-reliant and self-sufficient. 

The country must also reform and strengthen local agencies and infrastructure systems to make them more fail-proof. It should support domestic initiatives and capacity to strengthen the economy for the future.

READ MORE:  Oil palm firm should reverse 'zero-cattle' policy

Malaysia may not join the ranks of the developed West or the rising, powerful economies of the East. But we can become resilient, self-sufficient and happier as a people. 

Cottage industries have proven to be the last bastions of hope during times of war or economic uncertainty – especially for smaller nations. 

Let’s also not forget the lessons learnt from the stalled Vision 2020. 

So all eyes are on Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim. If his “Madani” (civil and compassionate) script is to have a huge, positive impact, the drivers of the domestic economy must be prioritised.

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

AGENDA RAKYAT - Lima perkara utama
  1. Tegakkan maruah serta kualiti kehidupan rakyat
  2. Galakkan pembangunan saksama, lestari serta tangani krisis alam sekitar
  3. Raikan kerencaman dan keterangkuman
  4. Selamatkan demokrasi dan angkatkan keluhuran undang-undang
  5. Lawan rasuah dan kronisme
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