IN his keynote address at Invest Malaysia 2019, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad made several pertinent points on the role of science, technology and innovation (STI) to spur our economic advancement.
First: “The government recognises the importance of the digital economy and the infrastructure required for it to grow. Both large and smaller companies need to embrace digital connectivity, use of data analytics and explore opportunities to build digital businesses.”
“The government will encourage and provide incentives for investments and collaborations in turning Malaysia into a hub for digital services and communications.”
Second, he reminded about the need for international collaborations: “The government is also encouraging Malaysian companies to enhance their capabilities in these areas by collaborating with multinationals in order to become global or regional champions.
“These businesses are increasingly becoming borderless and we need to look at building scale, which can only be achieved through collaborations within the country and with others outside.”
Third, he singled out government support for the manufacturing sector, which he hoped will continue to attract high value-added, high technology and knowledge-intensive investment in areas such as aerospace, chemicals and chemical products, machinery and equipment, medical devices, and electrical and electronics industries.
His emphasis on the aerospace and maritime industries was only natural during his opening remarks at the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace exhibition 2019.
This is vintage Dr Mahathir. His championing of STI was espoused eloquently in his Vision 2020, launched in 1990, almost 30 years ago. That target may not be possible now. However, as he pointed out during an address at the 24th Nikkei Conference in Tokyo last July, with the right policies and the willingness of Malaysians to work very hard, that vision could be achieved by 2025.
The sixth challenge laid down in that vision document was “to establish a scientific and progressive society, a society that is innovative and forward-looking, and one that is not only a consumer of technology but also a contributor to the scientific and technological civilisation of the future”.
In Turkey last week, I had the honour to serve as a panellist in a session of the annual Uludag Economic Summit, jointly organised by Capital, Ekonomist and Start Up magazines since 2012.
Fashioned after the World Economic Forum, many of the summit’s speakers and business leaders were from around the globe and like our prime minister, pointed to STI as key to economic well-being and progress.
Turkey is a leader among emerging economies. A foreign visitor could quickly detect the sense of urgency and purpose among its citizens. It recently hosted two international bodies that cater to the needs of developing countries.
They are the United Nations Technology Bank for the Least Developed Countries in Gebze aimed at helping to achieve Sustainable Development Goal Target 17.8.
This to fully operationalise the technology bank and science, technology and innovation capacity-building mechanism for least developed countries and enhance the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology.
The second body is the Secretariat of the D8, an organisation for development cooperation between Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan and Turkey.
The current secretary-general is Malaysian ambassador Datuk Ku Jaafar Ku Shaari.
It is worth noting that while the main remit of D-8 is economic development, it has a strong emphasis on the use of STI to achieve this aim. For instance, the secretariat is setting up the D-8 International University in Iran with the following objectives:
USING STI for economic advancement of the D8 countries;
TRAINING and developing human resources in the prioritised areas of the D-8 governments;
STRENGTHENING the status of Muslim developing countries through higher education and science and technology development, and,
SHARING knowledge among intellectuals, academics and scientists in developing countries in the Islamic world.
Turkey’s progressive outlook was shaped by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who founded the republic in 1923 out of the rubble of the Ottoman Empire.
Ataturk was convinced that for Turkey to become a modern nation, the Turkish people needed to develop new traditions and outlooks. The popular leader often travelled the countryside to encourage citizens to “let science and new ideas come in freely”.
There are many parallels, therefore, between Malaysia and Turkey. Both look at STI as the bedrock of economic advancement. Both invest heavily in education and allocate substantial funds for research and development (R&D).
Among Organisation of Islamic Cooperation countries, Turkey and Malaysia spend the most on R&D, although neither spends anywhere near the levels of industrialised countries, such as Germany, Japan or South Korea.
Malaysia and Turkey are open to international cooperation and collaboration, a move that enables leap-frogging in development.
Such enlightened attitudes are associated with political leadership in both countries that sees STI as the way forward in our complex world.
The writer is vice-chair of the Governing Council of the United Nations Technology Bank for the Least Developed Countries, based in Gebze, Turkey