Government will create right ecosystem for Malaysia to be globally competitive

  • MESTECC minister says end of pet projects, focus on building strong ecosystem
  • Consolidation into two types of agencies, R&D and entrepreneurship coming soon

Government will create right ecosystem for Malaysia to be globally competitive

TWICE, she was interrupted during her speech by applause from the corporate leaders present at the What’s Next conference on Aug 30.

Malaysia’s Minister of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change, Yeo Bee Yin (pic), got her first round of applause when she shared that she had put a stop to the practice of hundreds of civil servants from her ministry attending conferences the ministry, which goes by the acronym MESTECC, is supporting and where she is speaking.

The days of 300 of her almost 800 strong staff strength attending conferences are gone.

She was also applauded when she shared that her message to the almost 40 agencies that sit under MESTECC was that – “you will be judged by the work you put in and the output of your programmes. Not by any praise you shower on me or how many times you attend my programmes.”

After 60 years of rule under the previous government, Yeo and many of the new ministers sitting in power today are demonstrating a clear break from the personality based leadership style of past ministers. What that also means is that there will not be anymore “pet projects” championed by the minister which then suck up most of the resources and time of the ministry.

Underpinning this new way of working is the reality that in the new Malaysia, a change in government is possible. So how then does one create meaningful impact on the job when one’s tenure beyond a five year period, or even shorter if there is a Cabinet reshuffle, is uncertain?

To Yeo, the answer lies in focusing on strengthening the ecosystem. “In coming up with relevant policies in science, technology and green technology, I am constantly thinking about the ecosystem in these areas.”

 She highlights that an ecosystem consists of the talent, technology, capital and policy where a government’s key role is to provide the right macro environment. And, among the components of a right macro environment would be a government that operates in a transparent manner and one that shares as much public data as it can around the open data concept for the public to use that data and innovate around it.

“At the end of the day, we need to help entrepreneurs to do business more easily in Malaysia,” she said.

Creating a vibrant capital market for private funds

One key ingredient identified here to create a vibrant capital market for private funds to come in, Yeo believes. The task ahead is for government to create the right regulatory environment for this.

Creating such an environment will not only encourage more funds to come into the country but also help fill the gap left by the coming consolidation of various government science, technology and digital funds

“We have found that many agencies are working on entrepreneur development programmes and with many of these agencies under my ministry now, we will have a consolidation among them into two types of agencies. Those doing R&D and those focusing on entrepreneurship.”

One benefit of the coming consolidation, with October said to be a likely date for this to be firmed up, is that Yeo hopes to see an end to the “grant-preneur” trend ie where individuals shop around the various agencies that offer funds with their business plans or ideas, hoping to get funding.

These passionless ventures, driven by getting free money and not by a burning desire to solve a market problem are guaranteed to fail and also deprive genuine entrepreneurs of funds.

But the change of government under Malaysia4.0 or Malaysia Baru with a new breed of minsters such as Yeo will see this practice come to a welcome end.

One other legacy of the past that will end is the penchant for ministries to come up with strategic/master plans.

“On my first day in the ministry, I was shown a desk with a bunch of thick folders, each representing some strategic plan. In the past we did not have the will to implement all the plans created. I told my officers that I am not here to cut ribbons at the unveiling of any plans. We need to implement,” she said.

And not just implement, but implement fast against the backdrop of a fast changing world. “We live in a disruptive and fast changing world where the fast fish will eat the big fish, she says, paraphrasing a quote from Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum.

And she is under no illusions that Malaysia, with its 32 million population, is anything but a small fish. “We need to recognize that Malaysia is a small market where it is hard to acquire scale. This is why global ties are important to us. And why having a talent pool that can adapt to changes and be quick in learning, unlearning and relearning is very important for us. Malaysia absolutely needs such agile and adaptive talent to help the country compete in a fast changing world.”

With the government determined to create and nurture a robust ecosystem that will help the country compete in the digital era, Yeo also reached out to the corporate leaders attending What’s Next. “We need you corporate leaders to help us make Malaysia a better country.”

She cautioned however that the government is not here to (hand)feed them in building a globally competitive Malaysia. “We expect people to be hungry, to work hard, to innovate and to be optimistic that tomorrow will be better for Malaysia.”

Yeo stressed that this positive belief in a better future was a crucial if intangible ingredient that has to be infused in all parties working together to build a stronger, globally competitive nation.

Held on Aug 30th, What's Next: The Business Impact of Digital Disruption is curated by Digital News Asia with EY Malaysia as Presenting Partner and Malaysian Digital Economy Corporation and Fusionex International as Supporting Partners.

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