2013 BUDGET: Focus on promoting business and job opportunities
PREPARING a national budget can be nightmarish, with policymakers and planners having to blend benefits and belt-tightening measures, making it people-friendly, yet one that will lead to positive growth of the economy.
The 2013 Budget will do well to concentrate on enabling long-term sustainability -- with "Vision 2020" in focus -- when we look ahead to achieving developed, high-income nation status.
We in Malaysia are blessed with considerable natural resources, abundance of human resources, impressive gross domestic product growth -- despite coping with downturns in difficult times -- and a bustling private sector.
But, we cannot afford to be complacent.
Firstly, businesses must be provided support to be innovative, competitive and to move up the value chain. Entrepreneurship must be given the highest priority, be it at micro-level or small, medium or large enterprises, in urban and rural areas. These are the real centres of wealth generation and job creation, providing people with increasing incomes and decent lives.
There must also be a commitment to closely monitor global developments and identify opportunities for trade and investment, at home and abroad.
Next, there has to be targeted and significant investment in research and development (R&D) in all economic and social sectors. R&D cannot be selective or an adjunct to other developmental efforts.
It is only by continued and focused investment in R&D that we can raise our productivity and performance to compete in an increasingly challenging global market.
A focus on job creation, in particular quality jobs, is necessary. Incentives must be available to the private sector to create jobs, provide on-the-job skills training and individuals who qualify must be able to access higher quality jobs and incomes.
It is laudable that Malaysia invests heavily in education. This investment in education needs to be directed, not only towards infrastructure, facilities and personnel costs, but also to developing a high quality education curriculum, raising academic standards of all national schools, introducing creativity in pedagogical and learning methods, in student assessments and, most importantly, enhancing the quality of teacher-training.
Investment in the teaching of English and making proficiency in English a prerequisite in the education system as well as gaining access to the job market and improving one's career prospects cannot be overemphasised.
There needs to be investment in close and continuing coordination between the education system, skills training and the job market.
Our economy has, over the years, been supported by a steady influx of foreign labour, to take up jobs that locals will not due to low wages and poor conditions and to keep direct costs down.
However, this comes with hidden costs.
An economy powered by cheap foreign labour cannot be sustainable. Wages, particularly of lower-skilled individuals, tend to get depressed and the increasing burdens on infrastructure stretches them to the limit.
Investments and incentives, through consultations between the authorities, employers' and workers' organisations must be made available to employ local workers, providing them with decent wages and working conditions while facilitating skills training. This, in turn, will be an advantage to industry and business and for workers' own gain.
Finally, special assistance, benefits and opportunities should be made available to all lower income earners, the disabled, the elderly and poor and single female-headed households. In addition, there need to be incentives, alongside proper monitoring, for daycare cum preschool centres and creches, where practical, at workplaces.
A national budget should never serve as a means of giving handouts. Such "sweeteners" only perpetuate the dependency syndrome, stifle initiative and, even if popular in the short-term, everyone loses in the long run.