MB is on course to prove that he is a leader of sub­stance

New Straits Times - - Opinion - adie.zulke­ The writer is Kedah/Perlis NST bureau chief

IN De­cem­ber, the World Bank held a fo­rum to de­lib­er­ate on new ini­tia­tives and fi­nanc­ing in­stru­ments to de­velop small coun­tries, or small states, as they are re­ferred to by the or­gan­i­sa­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to the World Bank’s web­site, eq­ui­table growth, re­silience, and fi­nance and part­ner­ships were among the key is­sues de­lib­er­ated at the fo­rum.

The World Bank de­fines small states as coun­tries with a pop­u­la­tion of 1.5 mil­lion or less, with con­straints in terms of lim­ited hu­man cap­i­tal, which trans­lates into in­ad­e­quate pro­duc­tion ca­pac­ity for lo­cal pro­duc­tion or ex­port at scale, as well as a con- fined land area.

The other per­ti­nent con­straint for small states is the inability to ac­cess In­ter­na­tional Bank for Re­con­struc­tion and De­vel­op­ment (IBRD) fi­nanc­ing be­cause of a lack of cred­it­wor­thi­ness. The the­ory is sim­ple: with a small pop­u­la­tion, tax rev­enues are, by na­ture, lim­ited.

Above are few ex­am­ples of the 12 key chal­lenges faced by some 57 small states to achieve sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment goals.

Cor­re­spond­ingly, as the small­est state in Malaysia with a pop­u­la­tion of less than 300,000 peo­ple in 821 sq km, Perlis fits some of the World Bank’s cri­te­ria for small na­tions in the world.

Perlis is pop­u­lar for its pre­cious, ex­otic haru­ma­nis man­goes, and the state econ­omy is highly de­pen­dent on the agri­cul­ture sec­tor, backed by a small con­tri­bu­tion from the man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor.

With a small pop­u­la­tion and not much man­u­fac­tur­ing ac­tiv­ity, the Perlis gov­ern­ment not gen­er­at­ing enough tax rev­enues to sus­tain the state, it ex­plains its high de­pen­dency on fed­eral funds. Its bud­get for 2017 is RM208 mil­lion, with a deficit of RM83.46 mil­lion.

The amount is just a frac­tion of the RM3.5 bil­lion bud­get tabled by Se­lan­gor this year. Of course, it is un­fair to com­pare Perlis with Se­lan­gor, or even other states in the coun­try, due to its size and eco­nomic ca­pac­ity.

Datuk Seri Azlan Man re­alised the con­straints when he was sworn in as the sev­enth Perlis men­teri be­sar after the 13th Gen­eral Elec­tion in May 2013.

The in­ter­na­tional eco­nomics grad­u­ate of Den­ver Univer­sity, who once served as Malaysia’s Per­ma­nent Mis­sion coun­sel­lor to the United Na­tions in 1999 be­fore be­ing ap­pointed deputy di­rec­tor of the Pub­lic Com­plaints Bureau, is aware of the daunt­ing task in trans­form­ing the state.

De­spite mount­ing pressure to prove his met­tle in de­vel­op­ing the state, Azlan seems to be cau­tious in mak­ing pub­lic an­nounce­ment on po­ten­tial in­vest­ments un­less they are of­fi­cially signed and sealed.

Azlan had made it clear to news­men about his prin­ci­ple of not mak­ing an­nounce­ments for the sake of pub­lic­ity. For a first-term men­teri be­sar, it is ev­i­dent that Azlan is try­ing to es­tab­lish him­self as a leader of sub­stance rather than a pop­ulist politi­cian.

In spite of still be­ing far from achiev­ing his vi­sion of tabling a bal­anced bud­get, Azlan’s ad­min­is­tra­tion is mak­ing some progress in re­duc­ing the deficit, with­out com­pro­mis­ing on much­needed de­vel­op­ment pro­grammes for Perlis.

Un­like some states that are blessed with nat­u­ral re­sources, Perlis has to lever­age the boom­ing south­ern Thai­land ex­port mar­ket since it is strate­gi­cally lo­cated at the Malaysia-Thai bor­der.

Be­sides tourism, Azlan had iden­ti­fied the ser­vices sec­tor as one of the nodes for Perlis’s fu­ture de­vel­op­ment.

Last week, Azlan of­fi­ci­ated the Lo­gis­tics In­te­gra­tion Pro­gramme and Padang Be­sar KTMB Cargo Ter­mi­nal Fa­cil­ity Up­grad­ing Project, which is set to strengthen Padang Be­sar’s po­si­tion as the main gate­way for south­ern Thai­land’s grow­ing ex­port mar­ket.

The RM23.5 mil­lion project funded by the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment is spear­headed by the North­ern Cor­ri­dor Im­ple­men­ta­tion Au­thor­ity (NCIA).

Once com­pleted by the end of next March, the ini­tia­tive would see a sig­nif­i­cant jump in its cargo-han­dling ca­pac­ity from 120,000 TEUs (twenty-foot equiv­a­lent unit) an­nu­ally to more than 150,000 TEUs an­nu­ally.

It is a cru­cial project for Perlis as the state is vy­ing to fur­ther lever­age Padang Be­sar’s po­si­tion as a main gate­way for south­ern Thai ex­ports by tap­ping into the to­tal 400,000 TEUs of cargo move­ment an­nu­ally.

In ap­pre­ci­at­ing the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment and NCIA’s com­mit­ment to trans­form the state, Azlan said the ter­mi­nal would com­ple­ment his plan to build the first Perlis in­land port to tap the fu­ture growth of cargo move­ment from south­ern Thai­land.

Malaysian In­vest­ment De­vel­op­ment Au­thor­ity (Mida) chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer Datuk Az­man Mah­mud re­marked that the Padang Be­sar ex­pan­sion pro­gramme was a sig­nif­i­cant mile­stone of the Na­tional Lo­gis­tic and Trade Fa­cil­i­ta­tion Master­plan, of which the agency was ac­tively in­volved in.

He said the project would boost Perlis’s in­ter­nal ca­pa­bil­i­ties and im­prove com­pe­tency and trade com­pli­ance, as the state has al­ready at­tracted 48 man­u­fac­tur­ing projects worth RM1.03 bil­lion in in­vest­ments.

Ac­cord­ing to Az­man, the in­vest­ments, mainly in elec­tron­ics and elec­tri­cal (E&E) prod­ucts, food man­u­fac­tur­ing, non-me­tal­lic min­eral prod­ucts and plas­tic prod­ucts, had cre­ated 6,033 jobs in Perlis.

Az­man urged in­vestors to lever­age all pro­grammes and fa­cil­i­ties pro­vided by Mida, such as the Less De­vel­oped Area scheme, which of­fers com­pa­nies 100 per cent in­come tax ex­emp­tion for up to 15 years.

Perlis is set to re­ceive an­other boost with the launch of Chup­ing Val­ley next week, which is set to trans­form the state’s man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor and cre­ate enor­mous spillover ef­fects on the state econ­omy.

It is un­der­stood that the project, to be spear­headed by NCIA, will fo­cus on three main com­po­nents, namely, re­new­able en­ergy, green ma­te­ri­als man­u­fac­tur­ing and green E&E man­u­fac­tur­ing, and the ha­lal in­dus­try.

Be­sides NCIA, Univer­siti Malaysia Perlis, which pro­duces highly sought-after tal­ents among em­ploy­ers in the en­gi­neer­ing sec­tor, is also ex­pected to play a crit­i­cal role in the project, par­tic­u­larly con­cern­ing tech­ni­cal ex­per­tise.

The two projects will com­ple­ment Kuala Perlis’s mixed de­vel­op­ment mar­itime city plans and the Kan­gar City Cen­tre launched by Azlan last month as Perlis moves to­wards achiev­ing city state sta­tus by 2030.

Th­ese projects, and more in the pipeline, will take sev­eral years to be com­pleted, but Azlan seems to be on course in prov­ing that he is, in­deed, a men­teri be­sar of sub­stance in­stead of a mere pop­ulist politi­cian.

In spite of still be­ing far from achiev­ing his vi­sion of tabling a bal­anced bud­get, Azlan’s ad­min­is­tra­tion is mak­ing some progress in re­duc­ing the deficit, with­out com­pro­mis­ing on much-needed de­vel­op­ment pro­grammes for Perlis.

Datuk Seri Azlan Man

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