By Mohd Sheriff Kassim
I refer to the glowing media reports on the completion of Phase 1 of the MRT Sungai Buloh-Kajang (MRT-SBK) line and would like to join the public in congratulating the government and MRT Corp for implementing the project on time and within budget.
The project represents an important achievement in improving the urban transport system in the Kuala Lumpur region to world class standards.
By providing fast rail services, and reducing transport costs, the project will not only help to make city life less stressful but more importantly, it will contribute towards raising work productivity and improving the income of the working population.
Time saved in traffic congestion will translate in many ways into a healthier lifestyle for city residents.
We are also happy to hear that the government will proceed to extend the rail services network of the other MRT and LRT lines to a larger part of the KL urban area.
Thus, in a few years’ time, together with the high speed rail project between KL and Singapore, and the several ongoing projects to make the city an attractive place for work and living, we can expect KL to rival other great cities as one of the most livable, making it competitive in attracting more foreign investments, multinational corporations, professionals, entertainers, international universities and tourists to come to our country for business, education and pleasure.
As with all primary growth centres, the accelerated development of the KL-Klang Valley region will have spillover effects in terms of lifting up other regional growth centres, such as Penang and Johor.
They, too, will need to improve their transport systems and public services so that these second-tier cities will develop in an orderly manner to create affordable living for the working population.
The federal government should plan to provide more resources for urban growth in Penang and Johor so that they can complement the central region as catalysts for spreading economic expansion into other states and into the hinterland, and creating a trickling down process of pulling up the rural towns and kampung into the modern economy, thereby making development more balanced across regions and states.
The government deserves credit for making city development an important strategy for achieving a high-growth economy. This is only logical considering that more than 60% of the population are living in urban centres, and this is expected to reach 75% in the next 10 years at the present rate of rural-urban migration.
Cities are the lifeblood for creativity, innovation and innovation in the economy, and for enhancing the cultural, educational and artistic aspects of social development. We should congratulate our government for its long-term foresight of putting soul into our economic development.
An economic plan must have a soul in it to lead the change. The large investments needed to develop the urban transport and other high impact city–centric projects will require a lot of financing, mostly through public sector borrowing.
As public debt is already high, the planning to expand development projects must be carried out within the framework of sound macro-economic policies so as to inspire confidence in the financial markets on the country’s capacity to undertake such a large spending programme.
In addition to sound financial, fiscal and monetary policies, there is also a need for government to introduce structural reforms for improving the standards of public sector governance, with emphasis on strengthening institutional checks and balances to prevent abuse of power, corruption, nepotism and favouritism.
At the same time, in an effort to win public support for its development efforts, the government must also control the dangerous politics of race and religion as they are harmful to our national unity.
It must urgently improve its record on human rights and democratic freedom to preserve Malaysia’s image as a progressive Muslim country, committed to the system of constitutional democracy and rule of law.
In particular, the administration of Islam must be modernised in line with international standards of justice as proof of Malaysia’s seriousness towards achieving developed-nation status.
We are living in an age where investors and the international community place a high premium on countries with good governance, transparency and integrity in their administration.
If Malaysia can successfully introduce necessary confidence-building measures, there is no reason for the country to face problems in undertaking the large projects that the government is implementing and planning, in order to take this country into the ranks of first world economies.
Mohd Sheriff Kassim is adviser to the G25, a movement comprising 25 eminent Malay moderates and former Secretary-General of Treasury, Ministry of Finance. -FMT