Budget 2021: A #kitajagakita approach for all

We hope that the govt uses all the available data to ‘connect the dots’ and eventually put forward a few but out-of-the-box recommendations


LET us look at some random data about Malaysia and make sense of any possible correlation. We successfully moved up 10 places in Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perception Index last year.

A foreign publication has rated Malaysia among the top 10 countries to retire abroad. For our highly criticised education system, the latest international PISA ranking results also moved the country up into the middle one-third of countries from being in the bottom one-third in previous cycles.

On the not-so-positive side, the unemployment rate of 5.3 % in May in this country has been the highest in 30 years, with nearly 750,000 people still jobless. The growth in the skilled labour market since 2016 is flat and the country’s Poverty Line Income has recently adjusted from RM980 to RM2,280.

With the present situation now being coined as “The Great Lockdown” after the 1930s Great Depression, the global economy in 2020 will need to be managed delicately by a playscript that has never been used before. The biggest challenge is that existing solutions take too much time, too expensive and lack actionability. Invigorating the human ingenuity in crisis is probably the best option that we must give greater emphasis.

In the era of IR4.0, the power of big data analytics has seen organisations take full advantage to make decisions with high degree of predictability and tremendous speed to achieve their desired outcomes. This, coupled with greater adoption of artificial intelligence, also helps reduce biasness and emotional factor that we humans confront all the time.

For the coming budget to be tabled in the Dewan Rakyat on Nov 6, we hope that the government uses all the available data to “connect the dots”, un-surface new insights and eventually put forward a few but out-of-the-box recommendations.

In short, the government will need to propose measures that will deliver a realistic source of revenue streams, manage public expenditure without hindering confidence in spending and recommend bold policies to spur the economy back to recovery phase. Ultimately, we need to ensure the execution of the policies will be smooth and sustainable in the long run.

Just take the tourism industry, being a major economic sector as a case in point. In 2019, the industry employs 3.6 million people and contributes 15.9 % of the GDP. We need to accept as a foregone conclusion that the “Visit Malaysia Year 2020” campaign is a failure due to the pandemic. But that does not mean that we give up entirely the original plan since even major events like the Tokyo Summer Olympic Games is now pushed to 2021.

On the contrary, the government should aggressively promote domestic tourism in anticipation for the pandemic to subside. Since we are now limited to our travel destinations, most Malaysians, especially our well-deserved frontliners, will be looking forward to go for holidays to rejuvenate their state of mind.

Companies should hire unemployed Malaysians into highly skilled jobs in this sector that was not available in the past. We are talking about jobs such as virtual reality tour operators, drone pilots and YouTube holiday content creators to name a few. Companies that voluntarily upskill and reskill their employees and get them registered under the Malaysian Board of Technology training programmes must be rewarded with tax incentives.

Subsequently, the agenda to future-proof the workforce to produce 20,000 data professionals in this country by the end of 2020 will be revived. More importantly, companies need to pay the skilled workers commensurately. This will then curb corruption and trigger a reform in the labour market compensation structure.

A holistic implementation across the industry value chain will ensure our readiness to welcome more international retirees when we eventually open up our borders. In the meantime, happy parents and teachers returning from their holidays will indirectly influence the students’ performance to get Malaysia’s PISA ranking improved in the next cycle of assessment scheduled in 2022.

Shifting into a new mindset, the government must cease to depend on oil revenue as tempting as it can be during difficult times. Petroliam Nasional Bhd, being the only Malaysian Fortune 500 company, should not be that goose that we kill for the golden eggs. Let them reinvest in new renewable energy technologies for our future generation. Fuel pump price can be kept as low as possible to excite Malaysians to travel more during this recovery phase.

It has been widely accepted that data is now the new oil and one study has predicted that the collective sum of the world’s data will grow from 33 zettabytes (ZB) in 2018 to a 175ZB by 2025, for a compounded annual growth rate of 61%. From 2021 onwards, it is timely that the government seriously study ways to monetise data as the future revenue stream to support the federal budget.

Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah has advised MPs to fully support the 2021 budget for the sake of harmony and the rakyat’s livelihoods, as well as for economic recovery. Let us all echo to His Majesty’s words of wisdom and pray that we have a #kitajagakita budget for all Malaysians.

Farouk Abdul Khalid
The Centre of Applied Data Science

The views expressed are of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the stand of the newspaper’s owners and editorial board.