KUALA LUMPUR: Minister in the Prime Minister Departement Idris Jala was greeted with cynicism from Chinese businesses apparently sceptical towards the government's "grand" reform efforts.
Many of those participanting in the MCA-organised Chinese Economic Congress here today wanted to know if the government has the politicial will to implement the various new economic initiatives under the Najib administration's New Economic Model (NEM).
There were also signs that the vigorous campaigning efforts to promote the NEM, a model Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak claimed would elevate Malaysia from its shoddy middle-income economy, have not been succesful when some questioned the need for a high-income economy.
"All the programmes sound good but the hard part is the execution: how to implement the 10th Malaysia Plan (10MP) and the NEM. The public perception is that the public sector is corrupt and incompetent. Is there political will to change this?" asked one participant.
Another participant criticised the contradictory policy of the Najib administration: on the one hand, it promotes free trade but on the other, it practises interventionist policy.
For example, he said because of its interventionist policy, prices of basic goods had increased, thus hindering their profits.
"Businesses are like this: not everyday is a Sunday. Sometimes we make more and have to save it for a rainy day. So when there are times to make money, we want to. If you want free trade, make sure it goes all the way," said the participant.
Another took the government to task over what he described as poor planning in terms of utilising key sectors to the country's economy such as oil and gas and tourism.
"An example is tourism. My foreign friend asked me where to go, so I told him to visit the museum and to take the rail transport. But there is none that goes straight to the museum. He has to cross the highway... there's no connectivity,” he said.
Another participant had doubts about the willingness of the top leadership to implement thorough reforms. He said one of the key drivers of economic growth is a performance-based stewardship.
Hence, he questioned if the government is willing to replace none-performing leaders given that their appointments are politically-driven.
Idris maintains reform on its way
Despite the apparent scepticism, Jala, who heads the government reform task force Pemandu, said the various laboratories held on government reform initiatives showed that confidence in the Najib administration's reform pledges remains high.
He cited the drastic reduction in street crime as one of the six major national key results identified by the Najib government.
"Yes I understand that the people are sceptical if we can deliver but look at the reduction in street crime. I believe, with the right stewardship, we can deliver," he said, adding that Najib himself is personally overseeing the reform efforst by chairing the task force's monthly meeting.
He also said that not all reform initiatives required political will in a bid to quell fears that the nation's economic overhaul programmes may be stalled by politics.
Najib has been on a vigorous offensive charm, promoting tirelessly his NEM and economic reform initiatives, in a bid to win the hearts and minds of the sceptical electorate.
But his flip-flop on policies such as the contradictory position on Bumiputera corporate equity quota have left businesses and investors doubting his reform pledges.
Najib may be all fired up to sell his liberal brand of economy but today's event shows scepticism still persists.
Idris Jala is the current Minister without Portfolio in the Prime Minister's Department and CEO of the Performance Management and Delivery Unit (PEMANDU) - unit monitoring for implementation of the Key Performance Indicator (KPI) initiative.