Address to Malaysian Community in the Lao PDR
Assalamualaikum w.b.t. and salam satu Malaysia.
Yg Berhormat Dato’ Khalid Nordin, Menteri Pengajian Tinggi,
Yg Berhormat Dato Shabery Cheek Menteri Belia dan Sukan,
Ambassador to Lao PDR, Zainal Abidin Ahmad,
Encik Zulkifli Abdullah, President Malaysian-Laos Association (MASLA),
Seterusnya tuan-tuan dan puan2, fellow Malaysians.
I am very happy to have this opportunity to meet with the Malaysian community in the Lao PDR. I’m aware of the significance that this meeting is held in the Malaysian-owned Don Chan Palace Hotel, one of only two five-star hotels and the tallest building in Vientiane belongs to a Malaysian. And of course I think all of you are familiar with the background of the Palace Hotel: it was completed in a record time of 9 months prior to the ASEAN Summit of 2004. And so, the result of this hotel being completed in record time actually saved the Summit and the Summit took place here in a Malaysian-owned hotel. So we can be proud of the fact that we’ve made our presence felt in places like Lao PDR.
And I hope that this will serve as an encouragement to Malaysians here and around the world – that the entrepreneurial spirit is strong and must be something that we can leverage on and be imbued with. We look at possibilities in many places – even far-flung places, places that we are not familiar with – but there are opportunities for us. And Malaysians must seek opportunities wherever they are.
A country like Lao PDR has a number of things going for them. In the sense that they are starting from a low base, and the fact that they started from a low base means you can achieve phenomenal growth rates. You can achieve quantum increases which you cannot achieve in a country or market that is already well-saturated or well-developed. They would require investment in infrastructure, investment in connectivity, investment even in basic things like retail trade and of course banking. It is very important to provide financial stability and access to credit. We have two Malaysian banks operating here in Lao PDR.
Although the volume of trade is very small, about 7 million USD per year, I believe it has the potential to grow very significantly because this country is poised to grow at about 7 – 7.5 per cent according to the projections that have been made. And I believe that those kinds of growth are achievable for this country. I am delighted that there are more flights between Vientiane and Kuala Lumpur. AirAsia now flies three times a week and I hope that the connectivity between the two countries can be enhanced. We are seeing a greater number of Laotians visiting Malaysia. Last year something like 36,000 Laotians visited Malaysia, and probably the numbers will increase in the future. We have signed the avoidance of double tax between the two countries and that should be a very strong framework for us to increase investment and trade between the two countries.
I hope that you will live in this country with a strong positive contribution and be careful about the tainting the name of Malaysia because there already two black sheep among us, unfortunately. I don’t think we have to go through details to know who they are. One is still missing which we have to trace because he has been sentenced in absentia. The other one conducted himself very responsibly and was allowed to go back to his wife’s funeral, and he actually came back to this country to serve the rest of his sentence and he has been acquitted since then, which shows that if you behave well then that good behaviour is taken into account by your host country. But then again if you behave in a very irresponsible way by breaking the laws of the country then I am afraid we cannot protect you and you have to face the consequences.
But overall I think, notwithstanding the two developments, overall, there are still very warm sentiments and positive vibes about Malaysia and I hope the Malaysian community here as well as those who are looking at investment possibilities in this country can leverage on the warm sentiments and positive attitude that this country has towards Malaysia. I don’t think I need to talk too much about what’s happening in Malaysia because in the days of the internet you are very well-informed wherever you are. In fact, the president and the prime minister are both well-informed about Malaysia. In fact, through the interpreter they could quote 1Malaysia, Rakyat Didahulukan Pencapaian Diutamakan. So whatever we are doing in Malaysia is followed very closely by leaders in this country, and I am sure Malaysians are well aware that we are having our own set of challenges. Our challenges will be different from those challenges faced by Lao PDR, but we cannot rest on our laurels because the environment has changed very significantly.
For example, in the 70s and early 80s, when we were enjoying high growth rates before the Asian financial crisis, there were many countries that their economies were closed – closed up economies. They were not prepared to reformed, they were not prepared to liberalise. But today practically every country has adopted market-friendly policies. The only that has not changed is the system of governance. You can have a western type of democracy, or you can have the communist edifice. But in the communist edifice it doesn’t mean that there is no democracy. According to Stiglets, he said the western kind of democracy is a horizontal democracy whereas the communist type of democracy is a vertical democracy. He goes to some extent to say what he means by vertical-type democracy. In a sense, there are elections taking place albeit in a small constituency but there are elections taking place and there are certain rules; for example there are changes taking place from time to time in a communist system.
To say that there is no democracy at all is not true. To say that they are not sensitive to changes is also not true. There may not be a one-man one-vote system, but the fact is that they have to go through a process of internal examination and process of accountability which takes place in a country like Lao PDR, which means they can also embark on reforms. And because these countries can embark on reforms, countries like Lao PDR, Cambodia, Vietnam and other countries which were not in the game – certainly even big China was not in the game in the 70s – they only came into play in the 80s with the famous dictum of Deng Xiaoping: it doesn’t matter what colour the cat is as long it catches mice. So it means they’re very pragmatic people.
So the world has changed. Malaysia has no choice; either we get stuck as a middle-income nation and if we get stuck, there could be a possibility that other countries will leapfrog ahead of us. Because they are not looking at incremental changes; they are looking at massive technological changes which will enable them to leapfrog over other countries.
So I don’t believe we should rest on our laurels, and we shouldn’t think that the same set of policies that were good for us in the 70s and 80s will continue to be the type of policies that should be continued if the world has changed, if the environment has changed. Therefore we have to come out with a new set of policies that are designed to make us globally competitive. The keyword is globally competitive. We cannot succeed if we are not globally competitive.
So let us now define what we mean by being globally competitive. I think all of you in this room can appreciate why we need to be globally competitive. If we are globally competitive then Malaysia can achieve Vision 2020. We want to be a developed nation, we aspire to be a developed nation. We have defined what developed nation means in per capita terms. Moving our income per head from roughly about US$7,000. Using the latest exchange rate and the latest figures we are about US$8,000 Per Capita. We want to move to US$15,000 in 10 years. And that is how we have defined developed nation.
But at the same time Per Capita is not everything; it has to be inclusive, in the sense that the fruits of our success as an economic nation must be shared by all Malaysians. It cannot be just an elite group that is enjoying the fruits of our success. It must be spread around equitably. So inclusiveness is important and no one should be marginalised. That is why we came up with mantra 1Malaysia, People First Performance Now. 1Malaysia is about being together, about sharing the success of Malaysia, that everyone should benefit from the economic success of Malaysia and that is a fair and equitable distribution. So that in essence is what 1Malaysia is all about.
We also believe that this economic transformation is a journey that will be challenging but an exciting journey because Malaysians can do it. And we have proven within a year two major successes. We sometimes get understated or played down or have been subsumed by some issues from time to time, but the fact is that within one year we have turned the economy around from a recession to an economy that achieved a 10.1% growth in one quarter. How many countries have achieved 10.1% in one quarter?
And another achievement that we have achieved within one year is our global competitive index which has jumped from 18 to 10 within one year. Again, we are now a top ten nation in the world. We can be proud of that. Never mind the football ranking is at 140 or something. But globally, we are top ten in the world. Can you imagine, we can go around the world and say, “look, Malaysia is one of the top ten most competitive nations in the world”. Again, we are not going to stop at top ten. I want it to be top five, I want to go up the scale.
We are pushing as hard as possible. I am working. I’ve said on my Twitter yesterday or two days ago, I’ve said, “I feel the the strain now, my days are getting longer my nights are getting shorter.” But I don’t mind the hard work; I think that hard work is good in a sense that I feel driven that we want to do our best. As a government we have to do our best. I have to take the leadership, I have to show that I am serious, committed, dedicated and I can assure you, as your Prime Minister, I will do my level best to transform Malaysia.
Of course this journey I cannot make alone; I need my colleagues in the government, all of you in the private sector. I need the ordinary Malaysians, wherever they are, to join me, to work hand in hand to achieve something. It is not about politics; it is all about achieving results. And I don’t want people to go around shouting here and there playing up issues because at the end of the day, what is it all about? It must be about Malaysia. It must be about changing, transforming Malaysia. It is about leading Malaysia towards something better, towards achieving higher goals. And that is the journey that I want all Malaysians to feel a part of, the family of 1Malaysia. And God willing we will get there. With your support we will get there.
So that concludes my message to Malaysians in Laos and I hope Malaysians in Laos, as you said, you carry Malaysia in your heart – whether you are married here or working here – but above all I want you to feel proud that you are Malaysian and proud of the fact that Malaysia is progressing, and progressing well as a nation.