Shahrull Allam Shah Abdul Halim
Iskandar Malaysia has been successful at attracting new industries to the area since 2006. Nevertheless, the long-term success of these industries, and of the economic corridor in general, will depend on their sustainability, and this is my main takeaway. As such, and to reiterate the sentiments of other roundtable participants, it is essential to work together collaboratively to ensure the meaningful and sustainable development of talent and inclusiveness among the local population.
Moreover, consistent government policy is a crucial growth driver and I would add that additional enforcement and standardisation is very important in the port industry. There are a number of ports in Johor and so a standardised approach to how regulations are applied and interpreted, particularly in regard to the GST, is a fundamental part of avoiding potential double standards and creating a level-playing field conducive to sustainable growth.
In addition, and regarding policy, the Malaysian relationship with Singapore is highly relevant to the port industry. Malaysia’s border with Singapore is, of course, maritime and the latter controls the vast majority of the channel to the east of Johor port, around the Singaporean island of Pulau Tekong. In light of this, and in addition to ongoing reclamation work being undertaken in this area, bilateral relations are incredibly important to the long-term prospects of Johorian ports in terms of maintaining open passage to ships travelling through the channel. Consequently, open dialogue and cooperation between the governments of Malaysia and Singapore, as well as stakeholders more generally, is fundamental to the success of the project moving forward.
In terms of the low-hanging fruit, efforts should focus specifically on a ‘do-no-harm’ basis and fulfil the promises that have been made since the inception of Iskandar Malaysia, before the ‘do-good’ approach can be applied across the board. This should include bridging the gaps we have discussed, from enhancing public transport, to improving accessibility to Singapore and ensuring ongoing talent development. A number of blueprints and plans have been devised by IRDA over the first ten years and that is perfectly natural; it was a planning phase. Moving forward, it is important that these plans are viewed as living, changeable proposals based on realism and which are able to evolve according to the particular circumstances of the time.
Regarding priorities moving towards 2025, the Malaysian public and GLC sector, including IRDA and Khazanah, have achieved solid progress and laid the groundwork over the first ten years of Iskandar Malaysia’s development. However, the Malaysian Government, as well as a large number of governments around the world, is presently facing not only fiscal constraint, but also an increasingly demanding and fragmented society. Consequently, it is important that the impetus to execute ‘do-good’ programmes over the next ten years is shifted towards non-State stakeholders, including the private sector, civil society and academia.
It is critical that these players come together in non-State circles to address the major issues with a view to maximise both project potential and legitimacy. Within those circles, existing players, including Khazanah, can continue to play a facilitating role in linking the constituent parts. This may include for example, design, technology, start-up, environmental, NGO and English clusters from distinct institutions coming together to formulate industry and community-based strategies that will help to ensure sustainable growth and inclusiveness across Iskandar Malaysia.
Great possibilities lie ahead for Iskandar Malaysia and conversations at roundtable meetings such as this are exactly how these opportunities are transformed into reality. They afford stakeholders the chance to express their views and to create a workable platform moving forward, so more of these endeavours are required.
Nor Mohamed Yakcop
Moving on from key takeaways and priorities moving forward, what is the biggest potential threat to consolidating the success of Iskandar Malaysia over the next ten years?
Iskandar Malaysia is positioning itself to become competitive on the global scale and, consequently, we are somewhat dependent on foreign markets and investors. Therefore, one potential threat is widespread uncertainty on the global stage. As a result, stakeholders need to be ready and the best way to mitigate this type of threat is twofold: one, to stick to our collective long-term vision and objectives; and two, ensure that our strategic planning is sufficiently flexible to adapt to changing circumstances.
A very serious threat is complacency. The real danger is that stakeholders become complacent and shift their focus away from the attitude that ‘today is the beginning’, which is a fundamental part of being able to come up with fresh and innovative ideas. If we are not wary of complacency, the objectives and ideas discussed at this roundtable will not be fulfilled and the next decade will not live up to its potential.
Nor Mohamed Yakcop
Adopting a long-term view is certainly important, as too is avoiding complacency, and so it is essential to continuously focus on what comes next. In truth, the ten-year anniversary marks only the beginning of the journey that may last way beyond 2025. Accordingly, it is crucial that this long-term view permeates from the top down, starting with the participants sitting around this table.
Moving on to the final topic, one of the first steps to constructing a new and meaningful community in Iskandar Malaysia is to create a distinguishable culture to which people can collectively identify. Clearly, this is not be an easy task and will involve laying the appropriate foundations throughout all organisations, both large and small. A culture of excellence, of not taking things for granted, of commitment and passion: these are the kinds of things that will help to ensure the long-term success of the communities we hope and expect to bring about. And as has been said, these efforts must continue to resist the temptation of complacency because complacency marks the beginning of decline.
With that in mind, what are the most important factors in efforts to encourage the development of a tangible Iskandar Malaysia culture over the next decade?
One important aspect is to ensure that any culture arises naturally and is compatible with the local reality, rather than via imposition of a contrived way of life with no meaningful relevance to the area. Johor has a rich cultural tradition of its own and inevitably some of this will be absorbed into the new economic corridor, together with the traditions and customs of those stakeholders from other regions and countries.
The most recent forecasts indicate that the population of the economic region will rise to 3 million by 2025, up from 1.5 million in 2005. Therefore, managing this doubling in size will be a fundamental aspect in the creation of any new Iskandar Malaysia culture.
This population growth will be attributable to three defined segments: that caused by natural growth; migration from other parts of Malaysia; and highly skilled foreign-born individuals who choose to work, live and retire in the area. This growth, particularly regarding the latter two, highlights some of the positive achievements we have been discussing at this roundtable, including the pull factors of high economic growth and good quality of life. Consequently, it is important that steps are taken to envision how the current goals of creating modern, low carbon, and smart towns and cities are realised in such a way that continues to uphold Johorian history, culture and heritage.
One factor that must be preserved in this regard, and which, in fact, should help facilitate the creation of an Iskandar Malaysia culture and shared identity is the rich tradition of ethnic and national inclusiveness in Johor. I frequently visit places where people from Malay, Chinese and Indian backgrounds, and from all walks of life, are happily mixing and talking to one another. This tradition must be safeguarded.
Nor Mohamed Yakcop
That marks the conclusion of what has been a very positive discussion. We have discussed at length the key achievements and most important takeaways of Iskandar Malaysia at its ten-year anniversary and the project continues to go from strength to strength. One of the most important aspects that has arisen from this roundtable is the need for regular and open communication and ongoing coordination between the public and private sector moving forward, ideally in forums such as this roundtable meeting. Only through open, constructive dialogue can the major issues be confronted and overcome.
I look forward to reconvening to discuss progress on some of the issues raised and to identify further ways to improve our mission to transform Iskandar Malaysia into a strong and sustainable metropolis of international standing. Thank you very much.