Opening Remarks for Malaysia’s First National Human Development Report (NHDR) Public Seminar

Jul 10, 2013

by

Ms. Michelle Gyles-McDonnough

United Nations Resident Coordinator for Malaysia.
Resident Representative, United Nations Development Programme for Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei Darussalam; and
Representative, United Nations Population Fund Malaysia.

Yang Berusaha Mr. Kamarul Ariffin Ujang, Director of the Distribution Section, Economic 
Planning Unit, and the National Project Director of the National Human Development 
Report, 
 
Yang Berbahagia Tan Sri Prof Dr. Kamal Salih, Lead Consultant of the National Human 
Development Report, 
 
Yang Berbahagia Tan Sri Dr. Sulaiman Mahbob, Chairman of the Malaysian Institute of 
Economic Research, 
 
Tan Sri-Tan Sri, esteemed Members of Parliament and Members of the State Assembly, 
Dato-Dato, Datin-Datin, 
 
Members from the Government of Malaysia, Academia and Civil Society Organizations, 
 
Distinguished Guests, 
 
On behalf of the United Nations Development Programme, I warmly welcome you all to this seminar on the National Human Development Report (NHDR) 2013. 
 
As this is my first engagement with you as the UNDP Resident Representative for Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei Darussalam, please allow me to express my appreciation for the very warm welcome I have received from the Government and people of Malaysia. I have been in Malaysia now one week and it has already become home. Terimakasih. 
 
All of you, I am sure, are familiar with UNDP’s Human Development Reports. The global Human Development Report is an annual milestone publication of UNDP’s Human Development Report Office. The reports are guided by the simple premise that “people are the real wealth of a nation” and as such, the analysis in each human development report since 1990, places people at the centre of the development process and explores 
options and approaches to enlarge people’s choices and enhance the richness of human life in all its dimensions. This concept has guided more than 20 years of global Human Development Reports, more than 600 National Human Development Reports, as well as the many regionally focused reports supported by UNDP’s regional Bureaux. These reports are important tools for raising awareness about human development and have profoundly impacted an entire generation of policy-makers and development specialists around the world. 
 
It is important for me to note here that human development reports are independent publications commissioned by UNDP. In the case of national reports, this independent intellectual exercise, guided by the human development approach of the UNDP, is fully conducted by national teams and the reports are researched, written, and owned nationally. The same will be the case here in Malaysia, and you will meet the very accomplished Team Leader and other members of the Malaysia National Human Development Report Team here today, and whom I wish to thank for the hard work they have accomplished so far. 

I am delighted that UNDP is embarking upon its first National Human Development Report in collaboration with the Government of Malaysia. And I thank each of you who have joined us today for your interest in analyzing the development context through a human development lens, and crafting development solutions that put Malaysians and their aspirations for a good quality of life, first. 
 
Malaysia’s National Human Development Report 2013 will explore the theme of inclusive growth with the hope to contribute a perspective of broad-based, shared and sustainable growth that prioritises those most vulnerable in society, to the national development discourse and policy formulation. It will examine the more people-oriented dimensions of growth that are not easily captured by traditional macroeconomic indicators. It also will aim to build upon the policy priorities outlined in the 10th Malaysian Plan and the New Economic Model, which emphasize inclusiveness alongside high income and sustainability. 

Malaysia has consistently promoted and implemented a growth-with-distribution strategy for the past three decades, which has resulted in more balanced participation in national economic and social life. Using the framework of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a disaggregated assessment of Malaysia’s performance in respect of MDG targets ranging from halving extreme poverty rates to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education, and from promoting gender equality to reducing child mortality and improving maternal health, as well as ensuring environmental sustainability, all by the target date of 2015, confirms the overall findings that Malaysia’s achievements are impressive in aggregate terms. 
 
Still, attending to some emerging areas of concern to cover the remaining distance is now urgent in view of Malaysia’s ambitions to promote inclusive development and become a developed high-income nation by 2020. Remaining gaps, such as addressing poverty and inequality in income, as well as across other development dimensions of education, health, participation in economic, public and social life, need specific attention. 

Over the past 40 years, for instance, Malaysia through implementation of its growth-with-distribution strategy has reduced poverty from almost 50% in 1970 to a mere 3.8% in 2009, with further reductions in poverty levels to 1.7% of the population living below the household poverty line in 2012. Malaysia also narrowed the income gap as shown by the reduction of the Gini coefficient from 0.513 in 1970 to 0.441 in 2009, and to 0.431 in 2012.

This story of Malaysia’s efforts to improve citizen well-being shows that while there was an important improvement in spreading benefits of development more broadly across the population from the 1970s, today, income inequality remains stubbornly high, moving only marginally in the last five years.

Human development remains a significant challenge for certain segments of the Malaysian population, especially for the bottom 40% of households that have a total household income of less than RM2300. Pockets of poverty, especially among the Orang Asli in Peninsular Malaysia and Bumiputera minorities in Sabah and Sarawak, require specific policy action to secure redress. There are other vulnerable population groups, including female-headed households and youths and children under 15-years old, who make up 27.6% of the Malaysia population that also require attention.

Enabling social mobility for all as a primary pathway for the development process, especially in the expansion of the middle class; reducing interstate disparities and urban-rural imbalances; securing gender parity in the context of women’s participation in the labour force and women’s earnings, and addressing women’s and children’s health and family development; as well as ensuring a quality education for all towards increased
productivity and knowledge-production, as well as to maintain a civil, respectful and democratic community are key to securing inclusive growth and developed country status in Malaysia.

The NHDR will seek to explore these issues and to contribute, in the end, robust analysis and policy options and approaches that can better ensure that the benefits and processes of growth are shared by all. The evidence is clear that economic growth does not automatically translate to better quality of life and needs to be complemented and guided by evidence-based policy and informed state intervention.

The imperative for inclusive growth in creating a peaceful and just society demands this focus. As witnessed around the world, unequal growth can cause social exclusion, economic insecurity and barriers to upward mobility, and can slow continued progress in human development. Despite aggressive growth, Malaysia has marginally improved its Human Development Index scores from 0.674 in 1995, ranking 59th out of 174 countries, to 0.769 in 2012, ranking 64th out of 186 countries; the share of the bottom 40% of households in total household income has increased only half a percentage point from 14.3% in 1990 to 14.8% in 2012; and the income gap ratio between rural and urban areas has not changed much since the 1970s. While going the last miles in the distance are hard, these indicators suggest that Malaysia might be falling short of its potential to accelerate the socio-economic development process to equitably benefit its people from its
moderately strong growth. We hope the NHDR can provide expanded analysis of the issues and alternative approaches and solutions.

We also have come to realize the importance of multi-dimensionality in poverty measurement. While absolute poverty measurement such as the single poverty line income has served the nation well, it has its limitations. Around the word and most recently resoundingly so at the Rio+20 conference, government and citizens have insisted that poverty cannot be just measured by income; rather it needs a more comprehensive approach, taking into consideration education, healthcare and other social protection measures.

As such, the National Human Development Report for Malaysia aims to include UNDP’s ongoing work with the Economic Planning Unit in developing the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), an index developed by the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI), and first used in the Global Human Development Report in 2010, to further strengthen the identification of the poor and vulnerable in Malaysia in a way that
better captures the multiple dimensions of people’s lives and enables more nuanced and targeted policies and action.

This national report also will take a deeper look at intergenerational social mobility in Malaysia, an under-researched area that perhaps deserves more academic and policy attention, as a core mechanism to understand the triangular interactions between growth, income distribution and poverty.

In particular, we hope to survey the emergence and expansion of the middle class in Malaysia’s development and analyse policy interventions and social processes that enhance social mobility. On top of that, the report will put forward a “New Economic Paradigm” that integrates inclusive growth as a core element to frame future policy thinking and direction.

UNDP is fortunate that the NHDR team of dedicated and respected Malaysians is led by Tan Sri Datuk Dr. Kamal Salih. He is supported by two national consultants, Dr. Muhammed Abdul Khalid and Dr. Lee Hwok Aun. The role of the NHDR team is to produce the report with analysis based on data provided by the governments and inputs from consultations with various stakeholders to formulate the inclusive growth framework and give concrete policy recommendations to the government for the 11th Malaysia Plan.

Having started preparation and conceptual formulation in June 2012, we are now pleased to present to you some initial findings and results based on the first draft of the report. A series of background papers also has been commissioned from 11 national experts from academia and think tanks to provide thematic insights into the main body of the draft.

I would like also to take this opportunity to thank our partners from the Distribution Section in the Economic Planning Unit in the Prime Minister’s Department, the Department of Statistics, and all the government ministries, agencies, and departments who have been supportive in the provision of data, analysis and feedback thus far, ensuring realistic and implementable policy recommendations that can be taken into
consideration by governments and other key national stakeholders.

It is in line with our commitment to employ a participatory research methodology that UNDP organized this seminar today. We hope to tap on your expertise and experience as you provide your feedback to enrich the final report as the team thinks through the policy recommendations that will be incorporated into the report, and by way of the report, be submitted to the government.

Indeed, for the National Human Development Report to bear meaning and relevance, consensus-building and on-going participatory consultation are important and have been the guiding principles of this project, as they are of any Human Development Report. We believe that your inputs today are valuable for us; and your experience and involvement in various sectors will enrich our view as we continue to fine tune and eventually finalise the report.

I sincerely hope that the sessions today will result in a well-grounded report that speaks to the needs of Malaysian socio-economic planning at this juncture. We hope that the final product can serve as a meaningful reference to stimulate deeper thinking and continuing national discourse; and that it will impact on policy analysis and policy advocacy to mobilise support for action and change as Malaysia journeys to developed nation status by 2020.

I thank you for your presence here today and wish you a successful and fruitful seminar.

Thank you.

 

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