UNDP launches Regional Synthesis Report and a Malaysian case study on the global financial and economic crisis

Nov 30, 2009

On 30 November 2009, UNDP launched a new report calling for Asian countries to pursue an equitable approach to economic growth as the region emerges out of the current global economic and financial crisis.  While commending the region for rapid recovery, the new report argued that not enough was being done to reset the region to a new more sustainable growth path, and called for a new development paradigm in Asia to ensure its long-term economic recovery.    The UNDP Regional Synthesis Report was officially launched at the Institute of South East  Asian  Studies (ISEAS) in Singapore by S. Pushpanathan, ASEAN Deputy Secretary-General for the ASEAN Economic Community, who said in his keynote address, “I would like to congratulate UNDP for undertaking this important study on, in particular the social dimension of the (financial and economic) crisis, as it will certainly serve as valuable input to Asian countries in achieving stable, sustainable and equitable growth, fully cognizant of the changes the world economy is undergoing due to shifts in consumption and investment patterns, capital flows, climate change phenomenon, rising food and energy prices and rapid urbanization.”   

Introducing the Report was Dr. Ajay Chhibber, UN Assistant Secretary-General and UNDP Assistant Administrator and head of its Asia and the Pacific bureau, who said, “If Asia wants this to be its century, it must more vigorously find an alternate development path away from its old export led growth model and instead view this crisis as an opportunity to re-balance and re-direct Asian growth through domestic demand expansion.” The Report has emphasized the importance of more equitable growth and the need to avoid the huge imbalances that underpinned the massive global expansion of the 1990s in which developing Asia expanded capital to the developed West. Dr. Chhibber, a co-author of the report, added, “There are worrisome signs that some may be tempted to return to the old export led model which is unsustainable given the debt laden economies of the West.” 

The Report also urges that Asian countries to modernize social protection policies that not only serve as welfare measures to protect human development, but also act as counter-cyclical buffers in periods of macroeconomic downswing, in view that the poor, as well as vulnerable groups such as women and children, are the worst effected by the economic crisis.  According to the Report, Asia as a whole has very low social protection coverage, with only 30% of the elderly receiving pensions and only 20% of the unemployed having access to labour market programmes such as unemployment benefits, training or food-for-work programmes. Healthcare is also cited as a major concern region-wide, with only 20% of the population having access to health-care assistance, and Asia recording the highest rates of out-of-pocket health care expenditure in the world.           

The Regional Synthesis Report is co-authored by Dr. Ajay Chhibber; Dr. T. Palanivel, Senior Policy Advisor and Programme Coordinator, The Millennium Development Goals Initiative (MDGI), UNDP Regional Centre for Asia and the Pacific, Colombo, Sri Lanka; and Prof. Jayati Ghosh, Professor of Economics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India.

The launch event also featured a series of workshops that provided a strategic platform for the exchange of views on the future economic development path of ASEAN countries and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. Participating ASEAN member countries include Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, andVietnam.    

On 1st December, a second UNDP report was launched in Kuala Lumpur entitled “The Global Financial Crisis and the Malaysian Economy: Impact and Responses, which called for Malaysia to prioritize technology and innovation in order to realize its aim of transforming itself into a high-value economy and creating a more stable and sustainable future for the nation. Opening the launch was Kamal Malhotra, UN Resident Coordinator for Malaysia and UNDP Resident Representative for Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei Darussalam, who said, “For Malaysia to emerge successfully from this crisis and transform into a high value economy, there must be an urgent and much greater shift towards technology and innovation, as strengthening its technical competency and capacity through R&D and technological upgrading, will be critical to ensuring its long-term economic stability and sustainability.”     

Malhotra added, “A major part of the economic transformation needs to focus on human capital development; there is hence an urgent and systematic need to build a critical pool of scientists and a technologically skilled workforce which needs to be given the highest priority, especially since such investments often take decades to bear fruition.”      

Commenting on Malaysia’s recovery from the ongoing economic and financial crisis, Malhotra said, “While  Malaysia announcement of two stimulus packages worth RM60billion is commendable, the bigger challenge remains in ensuring  that the stimulus packages and programmes are well targeted for impact, but also ensure a future growth trajectory that is equitable and fair and one through which the growing disparities between urban and rural sectors are reduced and the welfare of  all people are equally prioritized.”

The keynote address was presented by Dr. Ajay Chhibber, followed by a presentation on the global financial and economic crisis and its impact on developing counties worldwide by Dr. Rathin Roy, Director, UNDP International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth, Brazil. 

A Question and Answer session followed both speakers, which was moderated by Tan Sri Jawhar Hassan, Chairman and CEO, the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS).

The Malaysia report was commissioned by UNDP and co-authored by a team led by Prof. Dr. Rajah Rasiah, Dean, Faculty of Economics and Administration, University Malaya and Dato’ Dr. Mahani Zainal Abidin, Director General, Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS). 

The report presents a package of eight (8) recommendations for policymakers on how Malaysia can achieve its goal of becoming a high-income economy, as the country seeks to prioritize both short-term responses and longer-term economic restructuring measures to deal with the crisis and its implications. 

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