M’sia must invest for the future or be a failed nation

Govt must create an ecosystem with venture capitals, fundings, innovators and technological disruptors

pic by TMR FILE

THE government last week tabled a proposal to acquire Kampung Baru, one of the last few Malay enclaves in the country’s capital, from its landowners in a deal which could rise up to RM10 billion.

The complex deal, if it goes through, will see 5,374 landowners — who own the 846 private parcels which have been earmarked for redevelopment — pocketing a handsome paycheck.

The land has been valued as high as RM850 per sq ft. Owners with a 8,000 sq ft plot could received RM6 million.

The previous Barisan Nasional (BN) government had offered about RM350 psf for the land, lower than the current offer, despite a disposed leader’s rambling on the low price offered by the current government. Sad as it may be, it is one of those evanescent moments again.

Authorities are keeping their fingers crossed as Kampung Baru has long been a sore point to the capital’s modernisation. Despite the area is just a stone throw’s away from the glistening steel facade of the world’s tallest twin towers, efforts to redevelop the land have been a fool’s errand.

Old trappings of greed, discontent, division and family feud have been the causes of many failed proposals.

The Federal Territories Minister Khalid Abdul Samad is hoping for “a breakthrough” this time around and 62.3ha of massive land redevelopment can finally take shape.

It is not as straightforward as it seems, although there is a huge carrot hanging at the other end.

But if the latest proposal fails, like the water of a duck’s back, the government should just pull the shutter of future proposals. Too much time has been wasted on the redevelopment of Kampung Baru.

Let the owners do as they wish with the land, who many had inherited from their forefathers. Turn it into a Malay enclave, a heritage site or leave it as it is. Some may argue the economic impact of these infrastructure and development projects to the wider economy.

Continuous real estate investment and its spin-off effects are like a shortlived joy of winning the semi-final of a match, but losing the final. People do not remember the loser in a final.

Development projects do not put the country on a sustainable path.

The government has already spent billions in reviving key institutions.

The RM19 billion bailout of Lembaga Tabung Haji, Felda’s over RM4 billion injection and the crown jewel — the over RM51 billion payments and debts related to Malaysia’s gift to global larceny — 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB).

Banking on infrastructure and construction alone to inject zest may have little impact today than 30 years ago.

It is a totally different world. The future looks all but brutal. Today’s world is about Internet, artificial intelligence, shared economy, big data, algorithms and innovations.

People will be replaced by computers, programmes, apps and mechanical arms. Jobs like front-end tellers at banks will become obsolete. Some McDonald’s restaurants are already using touch pads to take orders and wireless payment terminals to complete the sales.

Thousands will be axed at one point in the future. Loan applications will be evaluated by a set of programmed parameters. Risk management will be programmable and we may not even need investment bankers.

Tumours can be identified and mapped to billions of references of a single database. Even the most complex brain surgery could one day be done with laser point precision by machines.

Companies  will employ less people, but retain the levels of profits without all the human shenanigans.

It is a crucial juncture for the country.

Besides investing in infrastructure and development projects, the government must invest for the future. It is worth the gamble for Putrajaya to bet millions of ringgit to create the next Steve Job, Elon Reeve Musk, Ray Tomlinson, Larry Page, Sergey Brin and Travis Kalanick.

Malaysia must create an ecosystem which attracts venture capitals, fundings, innovators and technological disruptors to allow Malaysians to thrive in the future of “Skynet-equivalent”.

The country must prevent talents like Malaysian-born sisters Rhonda and Race Wong who founded Ohmyhome Pte Ltd to grow their fortune in Singapore.

Just like Grab’s story, which started as MyTeksi by local-born Anthony Tan.

The app-based people chauffeuring service is now valued at US$10 billion (RM41.7 billion) from an initial capital investment of US$25,000.

While we dwell on Kampung Baru and issues like what is the value of boycotts based on race, the world is passing us by.

In the end, we may end up to be a country of nothing. A scary future indeed by all accounts.

Mohamad Azlan Jaafar is the editor-in- chief of The Malaysian Reserve.