Fred Mweetwa: I have a dream

Seven miles boots

Idris Jala: the entrepreneurial minister

INTERVIEW WITH IDRIS JALA by Jeroen Geelhoed, &samhoud consultancy

Malaysia is a melting pot of 28 million people from more than 25 different ethnicities with diverse cultural values, in a country rich in natural resources. In the past, its strategic geographic location has made it a natural target for colonisation until its independence in 1957. Since then, the country has been undergoing economic and cultural transformation with high growth energised by the diversity of its people and rich heritage.

The government setup Performance Management and Delivery Unit (PEMANDU) under the Prime Minister’s Department, to act as the lead change agent and encourage entrepreneurship in order to support an accelerated program towards achieving Wawasan 2020 (Vision 2020). PEMANDU is mandated to catalyse bold changes in public and private sector delivery, support ministries in the delivery planning process and provide an independent view of performance and progress to the Prime Minister and Ministers. Idris Jala was asked to lead PEMANDU due to his vast experience in Shell for 23 years followed by his leadership at Malaysia Airlines, where he turned around the ailing company which was losing RM1.3 billion in 2005 to a 60-year highest-ever record profit of RM851 million in 2007. Idris Jala is a native ethnic Kelabit from Bario, a remote highland village in Sarawak, Northern Borneo and only accessible by trekking or rural air services. He is now the Minister without portfolio in the PM’s office and CEO of PEMANDU. So, this intermezzo is about making entrepreneurship happen in a country with the help of an entrepreneurial Minister: Idris Jala.

You have realized a lot. What is your philosophy on change?
“My philosophy has been to stretch targets which force leaders to go for the impossible. I share with my people targets that are seemingly impossible, such as turning around a company within a year and making huge profits within three. Everyone said it couldn’t be done. The conversation must end with the stakeholders saying, “It’s OK to fail”. That takes out a lot of the fear before the journey begins. The keyword is seemingly impossible. Is it impossible? Yes. Can it be done? It can. As an entrepreneur you must believe deep inside that it can be done. When I had to turn around Malaysia Airlines – which was a huge job, we had cash for only three months and we would be bankrupt- I gave myself a 50/50 chance of success. So, there is a tremendous chance of failure, and it was very important for me to conquer that fear. My wife and I had a lot of discussions about that. If I hadn’t conquered the fear of failure, I wouldn’t be able to do the job. If you always do safe things, then you will never realise your potential. But if you stretch your targets and push yourself to the limits, you will be surprised at what you can achieve.”

Well, it seems that Malaysia has a sort of impossible goal as well. What can you tell us about “Wawasan 2020” (Vision 2020)?
Wawasan 2020 was conceived in 1991 by YAB Tun Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad (Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad). The goal was to elevate Malaysia to a “Developed Nation Status” by 2020, with its own unique character. It also aspires to be amongst the top 20 nations globally, transform the country not just from an economic perspective but socially, culturally, its system of government, quality of social and spiritual values, national pride and confidence and become a fully caring society. There are three elements in this. In the first place we want Malaysia to become a high-income nation. But that is not the only element. We want also inclusiveness and we want it sustainable. Therefore, we will not seek short-term progress on one element at the expense of delaying progress on the others. Therefore, we use the following three elements in the name of the programme:

1Malaysia, People First, Performance Now
The 1Malaysia concept seeks to reinforce national unity, with respect for values of the different communities and is anchored on the principle of fairness and equity. In economic terms, this means that opportunities and growth will be shared equitably. People First refers to a rakyat-centric approach to planning and delivery, which means that we really want to improve the lives of our people (the rakyat). And Performance Now shows the Government’s determination to have a sharp focus on delivery and results. We also needed a national icon to symbolize our path to success and the Petronas Twin Towers was commissioned. It was the tallest building in the world, designed by Cesar Pelli, architect for the Canary Wharf in London and World Trade Centre in New York together with Djay Cerico, whilst the construction was led by Japanese and South Korean contractors. Scepticism was addressed with the actualization of this iconic symbol which represented the ability for Malaysians to see and experience the future in the present.”  

Vision 2020 started in 1991. So, now we are in the last decade?
“Yes, Malaysia is now in its last leg of its 30-year visionary journey. The global landscape had witnessed disruptions which were deep and long lasting. YAB30 Dato’ Sri Mohd Najib bin Tun Haji Abdul Razak (Prime Minister Najib Razak), leading the last decade of the visionary journey realized that doing things the same way will not work to achieve Vision 2020. He needed a change in the approach and reframed the path to fit the current realities to achieve a progressive and harmonious nation.”

How did the last decade journey start?
“Well, I am responsible for driving this national agenda, which no other government in the world has embarked on such a large scale. It is driven by the Government Transformation Program, Economic Transformation Program and aligned to the policies in the 10th Malaysia Plan and the New Economic Model. The Government Transformation Program and Economic Transformation Program involve strong public and private sector partnership. We need entrepreneurship on both sides. Drawing expertise from the private sector allows the acceleration in the efforts to achieving Vision 2020. Underlying this mammoth program are the ambitious goals developed in labs (a place for the congregation of selected people “locked away” for a period of time, to develop end-to-end planning for issues deliberated) and forums through private and public co-creation.”

“An important factor in this phase of our journey is to make our plans public. You need to publish what you want to achieve. The whole nation has to know it. Because, when you do that you create a lot of sense of urgency with it internally. You promise something to the outside world. And when you promise it publicly, you will be held accountable for really doing it. So, it forces us to action. That’s the first advantage. The second advantage is that publishing helps in building a winning coalition with other stakeholders. Being upfront about our plans and making it all transparent is very important to bringing the coalition together. And that is what we need, because a strong partnership between the public and private sector is mandatory.” 

What is the end goal? How do we assess success?
“The development of the current strategies and plans were crystallised through regular dialogue and interaction with the Rakyat (people) by adopting professional and creative approaches. This is crucial for the success of the transformation as the programme was designed to benefit Malaysians. Achieving the status of a high income nation is the key outcome to be achieved. It is forecasted that there will be a growth of 6% over 10 years with Gross National Income per capita increasing from US 6,700 (RM23,000) in 2009 to US 15,000 (RM48,000) by year 2020. A very clear and transparent roadmap has been planned for execution to encompass the bold and unprecedented programmes under the Government Transformation Program and Economic Transformation Program.” 

Tell us more about that. What is the Government Transformation Program about and how can it contribute to the nation?
Under the Government Transformation Program, Malaysia will improve the lives of the Rakyat (people) with initiatives identified under the 6 National Key Results Areas and 29 Ministerial Key Results Areas: reducing crime, fighting corruption, improving student outcomes, raising living standards of low income households, improving rural basic infrastructure and improving urban public transport. For these key areas, ministerial accountability is created and measured with specific Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). So, our Ministers are responsible for reaching the targets (KPIs) on the Key Areas. For example the Minister of Energy, Green Technology and Water is responsible for increasing reliability of electricity supply and reduction in downtime, increasing usage of renewable energy based on green technology applications, improving treated water supply and expanding sewerage services in urban areas. These improvements will in turn act as catalysts in other areas that will boost the living standards and the overall Malaysian economy. We have to deliver, and the consequence is that we manage the government with real targets and KPIs as well. We have to make it happen!” 

Why Economic Transformation Program and what are the areas of focus?
“Malaysia is striving to increase its competitiveness in the global front for markets, capital and talent. To do that, Malaysia is focusing on twelve National Key Economic Areas which have been identified as key growth engines. These are the areas we need to focus on. They will help us to grow and to reach our Vision 2020 goals.” The areas are:

  • Oil, Gas and Energy
  • Palm Oil
  • Financial Services
  • Tourism
  • Business Services
  • Electronics and Electrical
  • Wholesale and Retail
  • Education
  • Healthcare
  • Communications Content and Infrastructure
  • Agriculture
  • Greater Kuala Lumpur/Klang Valley

In order to deliver and show performance in these areas Malaysia owns or controls the most important companies in these areas. These are the so called Government Linked Companies. Apart from percentage ownership, controlling stake also refers to the government’s ability to appoint board members, senior management and make major decisions. The transformation of Government Linked Companies into high-performing entities is critical for the future prosperity of Malaysia, and vital to achieve Vision 2020. The Malaysian government helped those companies in getting better and better by implementing an improvement program for each of the Government Linked Companies. The program helped the companies develop in for example board effectiveness, optimizing capital management, intensifying performance management practices, social responsibility and strengthening directors capabilities.

In the list of Key Economic Areas you see a focus on different markets, but also a regional focus. Why is the focus on Greater Kuala Lumpur/Klang Valley?
“The Greater Kuala Lumpur is highlighted showing job creation for an additional 1.7 million Rakyat and allowing Greater Kuala Lumpur to support a large population of 10 million people. It is designed to be a magnet targeting Multi National Corporations; provide connectivity for intra-city movements via Mass Rapid Transport as well as connectivity to Singapore via high speed train; offer new places to enhance liveability for residents and tourists; and the enhanced services for a well functioning and liveable city.

An example of one of the key initiatives is on transport. The Greater Kuala Lumpur/Klang Valley-region aspiration is to achieve a 50% public transport modal share by 2020. The Mass Rapid Transit infrastructure is being implemented to provide relief to congestion and increased accessibility. It will contribute directly to growing its Gross National Income contribution by 2.5 times, from RM258 billion to approximately RM650 billion per annum. As Malaysia’s largest ever infrastructure project, it will employ an estimated 130,000 people during the peak of construction with a significant multiplier impact in associated industries.” 

Achieving Big Results Fast
On the 1st of April 2011, the scorecard was shared with the people (Rakyat) with impressive results.

Results Malaysia

Reducing Crime

• 15% drop in index crime, 35% drop in street crime

Urban Public Transport

• 2.43 million increase in Light Rail Transit ridership, 192%

improvement in Bus Expressway Transit ridership

Enhancing Education

• 54,569 children are benefiting from 1,500 pre-school classes

• 9,814 schools (primary & secondary) have been ranked

• 70% schools in Band 6 and 7 (145 out of 209 primary schools) achieved 40% improvement in UPSR (Primary School Examination) Results 

Improving Rural Basic Infrastructure

• 775km of rural roads have been completed

• 35,291 rural houses with clean/water supply

• 16,926 houses for rural poor built & restored

• 27,209 rural houses with electricity supply

• Touching the lives of more than 2 million people living in rural areas 

Reducing poverty

• 99.76% reduction in hardcore poor (Dec 2009 = 44,643 families, Dec 2010 = 108 families) 

Fighting Corruption

• Transparency International Global Corruption Barometer, improved from 28% to 48%

But there is more. In January 2011, an International Performance Review Committee (IPR Committee) comprising of experts in various fields including transparency, governance, global public sector

practice and who have been serving in leading international organizations and government, conducted a review process and commended on the following:

• the Government Transformation Program has driven real transformation that can and will be experienced by the Rakyat;

• the government has met many ambitious first year targets of the Government Transformation Program – the delivery of Big Results Fast has set a truly positive tone for the forthcoming years;

• the establishment of systems to monitor and evaluate progress at all levels of government including at the Prime Minister’s level.

PEMANDU’s data showed that the country had planned investment projects with a combined value up to RM127 billion in 2011. “Even if we realized only 70% of the planned projects by the end of the year, our total private investments (at RM89billion) for the year would still have exceeded our target.” 

Is this success planned, or does Malaysia have some luck as well?
“There is a very important principle people don’t talk about in the corporate world. I call it divine intervention. More than 50 percent of what happens to you in life, is outside your control. It is important for everyone in an organization, particularly the top leaders, to understand that. If you are a spiritual person, you’d better pray. Everyone must come to realize that we only control a small component, so you do the best you can with that and relax about the rest. It gives you peace of mind. You know, when you run a really hard race, and others around you too. You want to go home every single day knowing you’ve done your best, and if you fail it’s OK because we all recognize that you can fail. It has a calming effect on the organization. But this is never a handy excuse to fail!”33

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