Malaysia is facing a number of challenges. It has managed to make impressive progress with its very ambitious and far-reaching Government and Economic Transformation Programmes, and this has certainly contributed to the country’s strong economic growth in recent years.
It has also managed to make progress in many important areas in comparison to other countries. This has been evidenced by improved rankings on various international tables which compare the performance of countries around the world. These range from business and economic rankings like ease of doing business and economic competitiveness to lifestyle rankings like best shopping destinations or best countries for retirement.
Last year, the economy grew at 6%, which exceeded most people’s expectations. This year seems less rosy, however, with most economists lowering their growth forecasts below the 5% level. This will still be a good performance. The ringgit has also weakened more than most people would like, falling over 10% against the US dollar in the last six months. It is not expected to strengthen much in the foreseeable future and some quarters predict it will weaken further.
Malaysia has other significant challenges to overcome. Most people agree there has been some deterioration in race and religious relations in the country. A number of factors have contributed to this situation. Concerns have been expressed by non-Muslims that the country is slowly moving away from being the moderate Islamic country it once proclaimed to be. Some expats have told us they are concerned about what they perceive to be the growing authority of Sharia courts, and their apparent desire to no longer be subordinate to the Federal Constitution. However, it should be noted that, in a recent landmark case, the Court of Appeals reiterated that Islamic Law cannot violate any rights contained in the Federal Constitution.
The imprisonment of the Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim was met with many critical statements by various world leaders and organisations, and it remains to be seen what impact, if any, this will have on Malaysia’s ambitions to increase its participation in international affairs and grow its share of the global economy.
On the positive side, newer government agencies are showing they can be very effective. InvestKL, which was created to focus on attracting major multinationals to set up a regional operating centres in Malaysia, announced it is running ahead of target. Malaysia has traditionally struggled to be taken as a serious candidate to host regional headquarters, with Singapore always taking the lead role. Major multinationals are very cautious about where they place regional hubs, so this is an implicit endorsement of the progress Malaysia has made. It also shows how effectively this relatively small unit operates. We have also noticed that any queries we send to them are answered promptly, whereas many other government agencies ignore repeated e-mails and phone calls when we seek information.
Freedom of expression is still an issue in Malaysia. Whereas there are some compelling reasons why the country would not allow the same freedoms that exist in most fully developed countries, there are many people, both internationally and locally, who feel that restrictions are too severe. The decision not to repeal the Sedition Act was seen as further evidence of this. Clearly this is a very sensitive area, especially to the extent that the government is looking for ways to improve racial harmony.
So the country faces a number of hurdles, but it has shown before that it can address and overcome the various bumps in the road. As in every country there are always plenty of citizens who are unhappy with the direction their country is heading and with decisions made by their respective governments. Malaysia continues to show steady economic growth, most people are enjoying higher incomes and better lifestyles, and the improvement in the country’s infrastructure is evident to everyone. We continue to love Malaysia and remain confident that it will successfully overcome the challenges it currently faces.
Source: The Expat Magazine March 2015
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