Malaysia is going abroad for advice from scientists and economists on ways to speed up development through reforms in the country’s health care, education and palm oil industry, officials said Wednesday.
The efforts come as prime minister Najib Razak’s administration struggles with public complaints about stagnant living standards and rising costs before national elections widely expected within a year.
Najib met a panel of technological and economic experts in New York on Tuesday to discuss Malaysia’s ambition of becoming a high-income nation by 2020 by more than doubling per capita income to $15,000, said the prime minister’s scientific policy adviser, Zakri Abdul Hamid.
Opponents insist the goal is unattainable because Malaysia has fallen behind other Asian nations in recent years, especially in 2009, when foreign investment slumped 81 percent from the previous year to $1.4 billion.
Zakri said the government will work with the panel created in partnership with the independent New York Academy of Sciences to coordinate policies that can attract foreign investment.
“The prime minister’s inclination is that this will be an undertaking funded mainly by the private sector,” Zakri said in a telephone interview from New York. Details about financing have not been determined.
The panel’s members include Prof Jeffrey Sachs, head of the Earth Institute at Columbia University; Rajendra Pachauri, who chairs the UN climate change panel; and others from China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, the Netherlands and United Kingdom. It was not immediately clear how many were at Tuesday’s meeting, but some are expected to travel to Malaysia in the coming months.
Ideas include intensifying research in Malaysia’s key palm oil sector to increase crop yield and produce efficient products for food and biofuel, Zakri said. The plan would explore reducing waste and minimising the use of land to grow palm oil — a problem that conservationists say has caused rapid deforestation.
Ellis Rubinstein, the president of the New York Academy of Sciences, which has worked on economic innovation programmes in Mexico City and Russia in recent years, said other plans include improving Malaysian health care involving disease prevention and devising education programmes that inspire more students to become engineers and scientists.
Zakri said Najib was serious about implementing the plans. The prime minister has announced other ambitious strategies over the past year to boost the economy, but opposition leaders say the policies have faltered because of cronyism, red tape and poor transparency.