INVESTMENTS & OPPORTUNITIES

Malaysia 2017 | CONSTRUCTION & REAL ESTATE | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Datuk Seri Dr. Wee Ka Siong, Minister in the Prime Minister's Department, on opportunities with the OBOR, encouraging SMEs and entrepreneurs, and micro-credit.

Datuk Seri Dr. Wee Ka Siong
BIOGRAPHY
Datuk Seri Dr. Wee Ka Siong has been the Member of Parliament for Ayer Hitam, Johor since 2004 and has served as a Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department since 2014. His portfolio includes SMEs, micro-credit, and Chinese New Villages. Prior to his appointment, he was the Deputy Minister for Education from 2008-2013. He is the deputy president of the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA). He studied civil engineering at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) and later pursued his master’s in traffic engineering at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. He returned to UTM to obtain his PhD in transportation planning. He is a member of the Board of Engineering Malaysia (BEM).

How do you assess the opportunities for Malaysia with the One Belt, One Road initiative, especially with regards to the recreation of the Maritime Silk Road?

Among Malaysia's strengths are its central geographical position in the economically vibrant and fast-growing ASEAN region between the major economies of China and India. Our nation's cultural diversity and political stability also plays a strong role in attracting FDI over the long term. Because of these factors and more, major sources of investments see opportunities in working with their Malaysian counterparts and this will develop into greater Malaysian economic integration into the global supply chains moving forward.

How should investments from China be channeled to benefit Malaysian society at large, and how do you work to attract more investments into these structural growth areas of the economy?

Certainly, as far as possible, we will urge for the skilled manpower and other local resources to be used in joint projects with China. However, in the large sense, large-scale FDI can be beneficial as a major catalyst to our smaller construction suppliers and auxiliary industries. The government will ensure that local SMEs and large businesses will not be left out of the mainstream of economic development and craft policies to that effect.

SMEs are often seen as the backbone of emerging economies—especially for job creation—how do you encourage SMEs and young entrepreneurs to become more active in the international arena?

SMEs currently make up 98% of all registered companies in Malaysia but contribute only 36.3% of the nation's GDP, and our administration's goal to reach 41% by 2020. It is crucial for SMEs to leverage information technology in order to make the leaps needed to compete sustainably in the global economic arena. Malaysia's overarching plan is to introduce a digital free trade zone in 2017 to further solidify the ecosystems that enable SMEs to scale up, from financing to human capital development. With ICT as an enabler of other sectors, hopefully this enhances technology absorption in SMEs in sectors such agriculture and manufacturing to legal and healthcare and to support the adoption of e-commerce by online platforms for micro-enterprises.

Human capital development is a key enabler of an innovative society. What should be done to bridge the gap between education and industry demands?

Malaysia is undergoing a revamp of its entire education landscape, from pre-school to post-secondary education via the 2013-2025 Malaysia Education Blueprint. The core objective of this restructuring is indeed to bridge the knowledge gaps between today's methods of teaching and learning and how they translate to future workforce needs. In terms of building core character, students should develop holistically and not only have academic achievements as a main criterion for good grades. Not only are students required to adopt at least one sport and co-curricular subject, they will also be given opportunities to equip themselves to learn global languages such as Spanish, French, or Japanese, in addition to Malay, English, and other mother tongues. On infrastructure, the national education system receives heavy investment with more laboratory and workshop facilities for the teaching of STEM subjects in more normal classroom and vocational learning institutions.

What are your ambitions within your portfolio of SME, micro-credit, and Chinese New Villages for the year ahead?

All portfolios are integrated at various levels and from village to village in their respective states. SMEs' needs for financing information and government-related procedures will continue to be served by the Secretariat for the Advancement of Malaysian Entrepreneurs (SAME), which is set up under my office. One major initiative under SAME, the Alternate Funding Program will continue to find promising SMEs and invite them to pitching sessions heard by our panel of 18 venture capital firms, angel investors, and equity crowd funding from Malaysia, Singapore, China, Taiwan, the US, and the UK. Chinese New Villages are growth centers with cottage industries and tourist attractions.