Friday, October 22, 2010

1MDB and IDR in the landscape of GTP, NKRA and ETP

I love History. I love it because there is much wisdom in having a context and perspective of how we arrived at where we are. Without knowing History, we will be forever groping in the dark. Not knowing which direction to take. Let's see how this post pans out.

Economics of development

In terms of the economics of development, the role of government is to decide how resources are to be allocated. There has to be a presumption that the resources must be allocated equally. There must also be a corollary rule that equal allocation be subject to merits.

"Merits" in the economic sense must mean the positive impact that such an allocation has on economic development and growth for the whole country.

This positive catalytic effect is termed the "multiplier effect".

Having put out the boring contextual matters let us dive into the issues at hand.

In the 1960s and 1970s, our economic planners were exemplary in identifying foreign investment to generate economic development. We had limited financial resources. We needed foreign money in the form of direct investment.

This meant getting foreign investors to set up shop here.

The name of the game at the time was industrialisation. We had a literate workforce. Wage levels were affordable to foreign investors.

Our economic planners made sure there was ample and reliable utilities in the form of roads, electricity and water supply.

Geography of development

But, beyond this generalisation, I wish to emphasise that our economic planners had to face up to the reality that the foreign direct investments (FDI) being manufacturing-based, needed access to a good supply of workers.

The logical location was Petaling Jaya first. PJ met the criteria. Next was Shah Alam, the logical extension since the direction of growth was towards Port Klang where the manufactured goods could be cost-effectively exported.

In the 1980s, Penang got into the game. The economics and locational principles remained the same.

From industrialisation to knowledge and services-based activities

Fast forwarding into the millennium, we witness the shift in emphasis from industrialisation to knowledge and services-based activities.

The reasons are obvious. Over time, the wages have risen. Industrial activity needs cost-effective wages since the skills of the work is limited and repetitive. Easy to train freshies. Experience is not a factor. That is why industrial FDIs have relocated elsewhere.

This situation is where our country is at. This is what people call the "middle income trap". We have become too expensive for industrial processing. But, we may not be skilled enough to get into creative work that pays well.

Finally, we get to 1MDB, IDR, GTP, NKRA and ETP

You may now ask what the relevance of such a long preamble on 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), Iskandar Development Region (IDR), Government Transformation Programme (GTP), National Key Results Area (NKRA) and Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) is?

Well, first, I need to say that this post is my way of expiating reasonably sceptical analyses done previously on these self-same matters.

I have felt strongly since Najib's tenure as Prime Minister began that the government has recognised the urgency of the "middle income trap" situation.

I have also felt very troubled that this urgent economic situation has been clouded by the ripple-effect of over-politicisation and power plays.

The message that the rakyat sent on March 8, 2008 was that change is needed. What the nature of the needed change was is something that we can debate until the cows come home.

Economics trumps politics

The takeaway from March 8, 2008 that I am recommending for your consideration is that the rakyat sensed the urgency of dwindling economic opportunities.

I am aware that many of you will not agree with this narrow interpretation. But, if you adopt the Abraham Maslow heirarchy of priorities, I will resoundingly say that economic welfare trumps any other issue in terms of priority. If you are not convinced, I suggest that you read about Mikhail Gorbachev and the perestroika saga.

So, what we have here today, is a set of nebulous principles in the form of GTP, NKRA and ETP.

If we were to take a helicopter to rise above the thicket of nebulous words in the GTP, NKRA and ETP, we may be able to get a better idea of the socio-economic landscape that confronts Malaysia.


We are at a crucial economic crossroad.

Yes, the GTP, NKRA and ETP are imperfect roadmaps. But, I don't have a better roadmap than this. So, yes, I have been prepared all along to buy-in. Of course, my buy-in is done with eyes wide open. That's the whole point of the exercise of buying-in, anyway. As citizens, taxpayers and stakeholders we must not be indolent. We have to be a part of the thought process.

And, what of IDR?

IDR makes geographic sense, I suppose. It's proximity to Singapore means that the chances of its key investment criteria succeeding is that much higher. The key areas of the IDR are:

6 categories of service-based sectors:
  • Creative
  • Education
  • Financial advisory and consulting
  • Healthcare
  • Logistics
  • Tourism
And, of course, the attractive features are:

  • Exemption from the Foreign Investment Committee (FIC) rules
  • Flexibilities under the foreign exchange administration rules as follows:
    • Make and receive payments in foreign currency with residents;
    • Borrow any amount of foreign currency from licensed onshore and non-residents;
    • Invest any amount in foreign currency assets onshore and offshore; and
    • Retain export proceeds offshore.
  • Unrestricted employment of foreign knowledge workers
  • Eligibility for tax incentives
The tax incentives are:
  • Exemption from corporate income tax for a period of 10 years in respect of statutory income derived from qualifying activity carried out within the approved node for customers situated within the approved node and outside Malaysia or wholly for customers outside Malaysia. Such activities must commence on or before 31 December 2015; and
  • Exemption from compliance with the withholding tax provisions on payment of royalty and services fee to non-residents for a period of 10 years from commencement of operations.
And, what of 1MDB?

Well, from my previous postings you will, no doubt, have gotten an idea of my concern about the debt edifice of 1MDB.

Be that as it may, I do wish for the Sungei Besi Airport redevelopment and KL Financial District projects to be successful.

Here comes the reason for my long preamble.

In a sense, the 1MDB projects can be seen as the present day equivalent of the industrial parks of past decades. Where industrial parks were meant to house and cluster manufacturing concerns, the 1MDB projects are intended to house services-based concerns. This is consistent with the ETP goals, I suppose.

And, I am making a strong assumption that to ensure the financial viability of the 1MDB projects, there will be IDR-like incentives in the pipeline. And, like IDR, the incentives will be legislated by Parliament and decreed by MIDA.

Calling the Klang Valley "Greater KL" is, I suppose, a branding exercise to the global customer base. I have no problems with that just as most of us have no problems with the KLIA being called KLIA even though it is in Sepang. It's about global branding.

Two key takeaways for you

All the foregoing is intended to lead to 2 points that I wish to make:
  • First, how about extending the IDR-type incentives to the whole country?
  • Second, how about (here I go again) reducing the corporate and personal income tax rate to 18%?
What a stimulus and seriously positive economic multiplier these will have on the whole country.

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