By AKOMA CHINWEOKE & ANTHONIA ONWUKA
MalaysiaÂ gained independence in 1957 and with a population of seven million, which is about one sixth of Nigeriaâ€™s, both countries have a lot in common.
Yet, Malaysia is fast emerging asÂ one of the worldâ€™s most preferred business destinations. In this interview, Nik Mustafa Kamal Nik, High Commissioner of Malaysia to Nigeria, speaks on how Malaysia attracts over 20 million tourists yearly to its economy as well as how Nigeria can propel genuine economic growth by paying attention to the growth of SMEs.
The encounter with Sunday Vanguard took place in Lagos at theÂ corridor of seminar organized by Nigeria-Malaysia BusinessÂ Council in conjunction with Standard Chartered Bank.
NIGERIA and Malaysia have many thingsÂ in common. At a point, both countries were at par in terms of economic development but today your country is progressing faster economically while Nigeria is struggling to find its feet. How were you able to sustain your growth effort?
There are many similarities between Malaysia and Nigeria. I think the main reason Malaysia is able to progress much faster than Nigeria is because we have been able to get good leadership and relative peace over a long period of time whereas in Nigeria you have this terrible war and also the experience of military dictatorship which have derailed the countryâ€™s momentum towards greater progress and prosperity. However, I believe it is not too late for Nigeria and, like Nigeria, Malaysia hopes that by 2020 both countries would be able to achieve the goals of Vision 20:2020 and we are willing to assist Nigeria in attaining the vision because there are many areas that both countries can work together.
Could you give us insight into some of those things your country has done which has kept your dream of becoming one of the biggest economies of world alive?
Well, if I can tell you, in the case of Malaysia, no prime minister ever became one with the exception of the countryâ€™s first prime minister without first becoming minister of education. That shows the importance of education in our country. We spend the lion share of our budget in educating our people. So, we are making a lot of investment in our human resources. The other thing is that we have been able to build the necessary infrastructure which would help to propel our economy. It is going to be quite a challenge for Nigeria to achieve Vision 20: 2020 when your industries are suffering because of bad roads, poor supply of electricity, inadequate potable water and other infrastructure that driveÂ development. These are some of the things that need to be addressed by Nigeria.
SMEsÂ have proved to be theÂ major driver ofÂ great economies. Your country appears to be moving in the right direction. Could you share with us how that was made possible?
We have long recognized that SMEs areÂ the engine of growth. There is so much that the government can do before the multinationals can come to your country to invest.
So, you need to empower the private sector and, in the case of Malaysia, 99 percent of private establishments belong to the SMEs and we have many agencies providing assistanceÂ to SMEs in the areas of incentives andÂ training. So, if the SMEsÂ prosper, then it means so much in terms of export for the country, employment of youths as well as helping the country to register higher growth rate. So, the SMEs are doing a lot in bridging the linkages between industries including multinationals. So, they are actually very important and you cannot hope to have economic prosperity and stability without paying enough attention to the SMEs.
Another unique thing about Malaysia is that it never compromisesÂ when it comes to producing quality products. What is the inspiration behind that culture of quality in your economy?
When we achieved independence in 1957, we had a population of seven million people, so we knew right from the very beginning that Malaysia does not have a big domestic market; so we knew we had to compete at the global market place and, if you want your product to sellÂ abroad, you must have quality. Once people know that your products have quality, they donâ€™t mind to pay more for your goods, but if you donâ€™t produce quality products, they think your products are bad, as such, they wonâ€™t patronize them. So, it makes sense actually to do a lot to improve your productsÂ quality which means that you cannot stop from further improvement/innovation of your products.
You pointed out that, in Nigeria, prices of hotels and other things that promote economic growth are very high when compared to what is obtainable in your country. How were you able to provide those services back home at low costs?
Well, we are blessed. We have a lot of resources like Nigeria, so we can afford to keep the prices of goods and services also low and you have to bear in mind that we are competing withÂ Singapore and countries like China, India which also produce very good quality products atÂ very low prices. So, because of that, we always strive to keep our costs low so that we can sell our products atÂ low rates. For instance, five star hotelsÂ in Malaysia cost much less than two hundred dollars but you donâ€™t have to stay in a hotel which costs a hundred dollars to get good services. In Malaysia, there are so many three or four star hotels that can provide very good services.
So, we try not only to get customers but to get reaping customers, so we want people to come to Malaysia not once but again and again, whether to visit the country, to study, to get medical attention. That is the yard stick for our success.