A Malaysian Global Ambition Realised

PEMUDAH or The Special Task Force to Facilitate Business Malaysia’s ambition to be ranked among the top 10 in the world was realised when Malaysia was ranked 6th in the World Bank Ease of Doing Business Report 2014 (DB 2014), up from 12 in 2013 and 25 in 2007 when Pemudah was established.

Pemudah is a partnership between public and private sectors established in 2007 to improve the ease of doing business in Malaysia and to enhance the nation’s competitiveness.

This achievement is very significant as Malaysia competed with 189 economies to be counted among the best in a race where competition was intense and benchmarks were high.

I would like to share the 6-year journey from 25th to 6th rank in the DB rankings. Pemudah was set up by the then prime minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi mainly to address weaknesses in public service delivery and continuous civil service “bashing” in the media.

He wanted to adopt a fresh approach and saw the value of a joint private-public sector committee in improving public service delivery.

A small group of 23 leaders from both the private and public sectors was appointed to the task force which was co-chaired by the then Chief Secretary to the Government, Tan Sri Mohd Sidek Hassan and me. The vision adopted at the first meeting was to have “a globally benchmarked, customer-centric, innovative and proactive service in support of a vibrant, resilient and competitive economy and society”.

This vision was underpinned by the following values: A sense of urgency, proactive public-private sector collaboration, facilitation, not hampering; no more regulation than necessary; zero tolerance for corruption. We announced our aim was to be among the top 10 most competitive economies globally.

How did Pemudah deliver on the promise? A shared vision, a common multi-agency platform, commitment and clear rules of engagement contributed to delivering the outcomes. Meetings were scheduled at the beginning of the year, fixed on the last Friday of each month, except when parliament was in session when meetings were convened on Tuesdays.

Setting meeting dates early ensured high attendance at meetings where no alternate members were permitted.

The commitment of members was not only confined to the monthly meetings of the task force as Pemudah worked through two main working groups (WG) and more than 10 focus groups (FG) which focused on specific areas.

Each group was chaired either by the public or private sector and reported progress on a monthly basis to the main task force. No allowances of any kind were paid and members contributed voluntarily for the common good.

The WG on Efficiency Issues focused on operational efficiency including licensing, e-payments and immigration-related matters. The WG on Policy Issues deliberated on national competitiveness issues like FIC, liberalisation, education, FTAs, etc.

The FGs covered specific issues like paying taxes, registering property, enforcing contracts, business processes, DBKL to name a few. While membership in Pemudah was confined to appointed members, membership in the WGs and FGs was wider.

To enhance awareness by the business community and citizens, the secretaries-general/heads of ministries/agencies wrote articles in the press and publicised their email addresses to enable direct communications to be direct and instantaneous and the media used to publicise improvements made.

Pemudah was supported by a strong secretariat in the Ministry of Trade and Industry (Miti) that issued minutes of meetings within 48 hours to facilitate quick follow-ups to decisions made.

The key improvements to public service delivery were varied with significant gains registered in many areas. A case in point is the issuance of construction permits, ranked 137th in 2007.

Datuk Arpah Abdul Razak, then director-general of Local Government Department and currently the secretary-general of the Housing and Local Government Ministry, set up one stop centres which allowed concurrent submission of all applications.

The centres then obtained approvals from all technical agencies within a stipulated time-frame. Kuala Lumpur mayor Datuk Seri Ahmad Phesal Talib further streamlined the procedures/timelines.

Timelines for approvals were reduced from 420 days to 100 days while procedures declined from 39 to 10. Malaysia’s rankings in construction permits leapfrogged to 43rd in DB 2014.

Another area of significant improvement registered was Trading Across Borders. Miti secretary-general Datuk Dr Rebecca Fatima Sta Maria chaired a multi-agency FG comprising Customs, Transport Ministry, Finance Ministry and permit issuing agencies to reduce time taken to import and export though pre-clearance of cargo and reducing documentation for such transactions.

The work of this FG improved Malaysia’s rankings from 46th to 5th in the six years.

In streamlining processes to start and close a business, credit is due to former Companies Commission of Malaysia (CCM) chief executive Datuk Abdul Karim Abdul Jalil and his team. Today, you can start a business in one hour compared to three days in 2007. In addition, the introduction of the Malaysian Corporate Identity by the Malaysian Administrative Modernisation and Management Unit has also contributed to Malaysia’s ranking improving from 71st to 16th in 2014.

The ranking will strengthen further with the impending introduction of a new Companies Act by CCM chief executive Mohd Naim Daruwish that will further reduce costs and improve efficiency.

Malaysia’s ranking in Paying Taxes was 49th in 2007, 15th last year and 36th in DB 2014. Several initiatives were implemented by former Inland Revenue Board (IRB) CEO Tan Sri Hasmah Abdullah and current CEO Datuk Dr Mohd Shukor Mahfar to facilitate electronic services, prompt refunds of overpaid taxes and enhance transparency of the tax process.

Hasmah reported that she received more than 500 messages on the day her email was made public and a special mechanism was set up to allow her to reply to each of them. Such was the commitment of this former civil servant.

Businesses used to complain about the backlog of court cases and often commercial contracts included provisions for determining courts to be in Singapore.

Former Chief Justice (CJ) Tun Zaki Tun Azmi and current CJ Tun Ariffin Zakaria were instrumental in motivating their team to clear the backlog. They also took up Pemudah’s proposal for new commercial courts to be established with a client charter of resolving all new commercial cases within a nine-month period – a timeline that is world class by any standards.

The transformation and improved rankings from 81st in 2007 to 30th in DB 2014 was the subject of a special report by the World Bank on Malaysia as a best practice. Rankings will improve further as the focus moves to the enforcement of judgements.

We have experienced the speed of issuance and renewal of passports, due largely to the work of past and present Immigration directors-general, including Tan Sri Mahmood Adam, who subsequently assumed the position of Home Affairs Ministry secretary-general. He also adopted and adapted Pemudah’s point system for evaluating eligibility for permanent residence and made it easier for foreign spouses and expatriates to work here.

When the proposal to disband the FIC was presented to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, he was decisive. The decision has contributed significantly to improving the investment climate for Malaysia.

The 6-year journey of Pemudah is evidence that with the right focus and right commitment by the right parties, our rankings in world benchmarked public services can be even higher. It also indicates the power of public-private sector collaboration as a common and effective platform in moving the Malaysian development agenda forward.

I wish to congratulate all members of the civil service, past and present and to thank my private sector friends who have contributed to the incredible journey of Pemudah.

A special word of thanks to the former chair, Mohd Sidek, for his strong leadership and for throwing the challenge to be top 10 at us – we have done it in partnership with everyone.

I am confident that Chief Secretary to Government Tan Sri Dr Ali Hamsa and the new private sector co-chair, Datuk Saw Choo Boon will be successful in maintaining or improving Malaysia’s ranking with the continued support of the private and public sectors.

Tan Sri Yong Poh Kon stepped down as co-chair of Pemudah in September 2013. He is the current president of the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers and the managing director of Royal Selangor.

Source: BUSINESS NEWS, The Star Online

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