MORE weightage must be given to appropriate sectors under the New Economic Model for qualitative growth to prepare the country to endure the economic race that has began.
The time is right for our country to adopt the qualitative strategy for most of its industries and social structures. To illustrate my point I will use two examples: the palm oil industry and the construction industry.
In the case of palm oil, increasing production should no longer be by raising acreage at the expense of rainforests, which can return higher value in the long run.
Oil palm production can be increased by continuous genetic selection, better management, improved harvesting techniques, reduced wastage, more efficient processing and further recycling improvement of “waste”.
The industry must shift more and more towards naturotechnology or biomimetics, mimicking nature by having a close recycling system with zero waste. Everything is treated as resource for some other industry.
With plantation as the core industry, an integrated eco-industrial park complex should emerge to create new industries and jobs.
At the molecular level, new and better edible oils, biomedical products, and products from fibre and kernel shells could be exploited. At the macro level, new technologies should be employed to enhance animal feed, organic fertiliser, waste-water recycling, fibre products, biofuel, machinery for harvesting and transportation.
Each of these components will eventually grow into an industry but remaining part of the whole. Even agriculture management consultancy skills and systems can be developed as a specialised service industry.
The single palm oil industry can by design create massive economic activities by copying nature’s ecosystem principal. What are needed are long-term policies and strategy commitments of the Government and private sector towards the qualitative growth model.
The second example is how the construction industry, through qualitative growth, will activate and accelerate economic growth and employment.
Most property developers will tell us the country needs more houses, apartments, business centres and office spaces, and they have no problem selling. True. But is there a real demand?
The issue that I want to bring forth is how with little new development, the construction industry can, though the qualitative mode, create economic activities, more jobs and better quality buildings.
First there has to be a government policy (and laws) on the qualification of all blue collar workers. No one can work in this country without specified training certificates or diplomas or memberships of specialised guilds – like the Guild of Carpenters, the Guild of Brick-layers, the Guild of Plumbers, the Guild of Electricians, etc.
All workers must be skilled workers and accordingly be paid a much higher wage. Skilled workers are cheaper than unskilled workers because they can work faster, make less mistakes, and deliver quality finish.
This policy, if implemented now, will eventually phase out foreign unskilled workers and create much needed jobs for the locals. This policy must go hand in hand with a schedule of standard building products in terms of size specifications.
Doors, windows, floor space for different usage and water and sewerage pipes must be manufactured to fixed standard sizes so that there is no glass cutting, tile splitting, aluminium cutting, unmatching pipes to taps and toilet outlets at the building sites.
Secondly, many buildings and infrastructure need upgrade or renovation. The industry could strategise on this to create economic and job opportunities. Developers could turn their marketing angle to “improve your existing home and have quality living”.
Capitalise on green technology to make energy/water use more efficiently.
The construction industry can thrive without building new structures excessively.
With regards to government land in urban areas it is wise to reserve them for public use such as open fields, gardens and parks and other amenities that the public will need in an already crowded city – people first as being promised.
The qualitative mode of economic growth can be applied to any industry including the education industry. Internationally recognised universities attract research funds, scholars, and are sought for consultancy work.
Such universities can also raise their fees and still attract students from all over the world.