COMMENT Malaysia Day commemorated Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore, Sarawak and Sabah coming together to form, on Sept 16, 1963, what we know as Malaysia today. However, since then, this partnership has increasingly grown unhappier.
Singapore left the federation promptly in 1965 due to disagreements on fundamental issues, while separatist movements like “Sarawak for Sarawakians” have been recently gaining popularity in that East Malaysian state.
Furthermore, East Malaysians are starting to doubt the sincerity of the federal government after looking at the disparity in development between East and West Malaysia, resulting in rising tensions between the two regions.
But for now, let us put aside our personal perceptions, prejudices and agendas, and approach this issue in an objective manner – by evaluating the available numbers.
From 2011-2015, the federal government used the 10th Malaysia Plan as a blueprint for governance, in which many targets and forecasts were set for Sarawak and Sabah.
With the 11th Malaysia Plan published in May 2015, we can now evaluate whether the federal government achieved what it had set out to do in that five-year period using statistics obtained from the aforementioned Malaysia Plans.
Incidence of poverty
East Malaysia is generally regarded as one of poorer and underdeveloped regions in Malaysia. Here, one of the key issues are the incidents of poverty among the native communities.
According to the 10th Malaysia Plan, the incidence of poverty among natives in Sarawak and Sabah stood at 6.4 percent and 22.8 percent respectively in 2009.
A target was set to reduce this to three percent and 12 percent respectively by the end of the plan period. However, there is no mention of this statistic in the 11th Malaysia Plan.
Based on figures produced by Khazanah Research Institute, the incidence of poverty among native communities now stands at 7.3 percent in Sarawak and 20.2 percent in Sabah. Not only did the federal government not achieve its targets, the situation has worsened in Sarawak.
One might then question the reason behind the lack of progress in the standard of living of East Malaysians, especially among the native community. To answer that, one must examine whether the poor - who largely live in rural areas – have been given the adequate conditions and access to basic infrastructure needed to succeed.
Chart 1 (below) contains the targets that the federal government has set to improve the rural infrastructure for Sarawak and Sabah in the 10th Malaysia Plan, compared with the actual results achieved (as published in the 11th Malaysia Plan in 2015, in which the figures provided are estimates ).
Here, we can see that the federal government has alarmingly failed to achieve all six targets for rural infrastructure in Sarawak and Sabah. To be fair, the rural infrastructure for these two states did show improvement during the plan period.
However, it is unacceptable that in 2015, about one in five houses in the rural areas of East Malaysia do not have access to water. The rural water supply coverage target fell short during this period by an average of 15.35 percent, and only 1,320km of the target 2,819km of rural roads in Sarawak have been built.
If Malaysia really wants to achieve a ‘developed nation’ status by 2020, such complacency cannot be afforded.
In looking at the economy of East Malaysia to further evaluate whether the federal government has achieved its targets, not just for the rural population but for the urban population as well, Chart 2 and Chart 3 contrast the annual growth rate forecasts for each industry by the federal government in the 10th Malaysia Plan against the actual results published in the 11th Malaysia Plan for both Sabah and Sarawak.
For Sarawak, the federal government has done quite well in meeting or surpassing its forecasts in three out of five industries, with the construction sector doing particularly well.
However, the same cannot be said for overall Sabah, where all other sectors did not meet projected targets.
While it is understandable that these numbers are hard to predict with accuracy, consistent underperformance, in the case of Sabah, is entirely unacceptable and indicates that there are fundamental issues with the federal government’s approach.
To get a clearer picture of the overall situation, Chart 4 observes the gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate of Sarawak and Sabah during the 10th Malaysia Plan.
Here, GDP growth rates for Sarawak and Sabah were not as high as was forecast. Despite Sarawak doing well in a few industries, it fell 2.2 percent short of its forecast, mainly due to underperformance in its manufacturing and services sectors.
Sabah did even worse, failing to even reach half of the federal government’s forecast.
To put these figures in perspective, Sarawak and Sabah’s performance was in the bottom four among all states in Malaysia, with Sabah tying with Perlis for the worst performing state on this measure.
This signifies a major negligence on the federal government’s part and highlights the need for serious accountability measures.
In looking at the unrealised targets left over from the 10th Malaysia Plan, the federal government has brought home a report card filled with red marks that would have got a child grounded for a month at best, disowned by his or her family, at worst.
Any ounce of credibility that the federal government previously possessed is quickly disappearing. Despite some improvements in certain areas, the federal government has, beyond any questionable doubt, failed East Malaysia in almost every area in the last five years.
The key problem with the federal government is not its vision and planning, but rather its capability to implement what has been proposed.
There has been too much talk on government strategies (strategic thrusts, game changers, big ideas and national key result areas) and too little on actually achieving targets and forecasts.
West Malaysians also need to join the fight and realise that problems in East Malaysia are ultimately problems affecting Malaysia as a whole.
As a country, we need to stand up and speak out for one another to keep the government accountable in all areas.
The federal government has to wake up and start walking the talk if it desires to retain any hope in achieving Vision 2020.
After all, we are 1Malaysia.
JOSEPH SIM is currently reading economics at the University of Warwick, UK
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