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Who's off the rails, Bernama?

Bernama news agency recently commented that I have "gone off the rails" because of my article in the Asian Wall Street Journal.

Bernama is owned by the Malaysian government, it is no surprise that they would feel obliged to say something critical.

But who really is off the rails? It is too bad that Bernama went into attack mode before it did its homework. Indeed, the article reads like it was written by a PR firm, trying to spin the truth.

So let's take a look at what
Bernama said.

It cites two alleged errors. First, Bernama said I was wrong about how fast Malaysia's economy needs to grow in the coming decade to achieve Wawasan 2020.

Second, it appears my crystal ball is out of order, because I did not know that one week after my article appeared, Prime Minister Najib Razak would suddenly attend a meeting of the Malaysia Inter-Faith Council (which, by the way, was a good thing to do).

Let me deal with the economic issues today, and save the Inter-Faith Council issue for Part 2 tomorrow.

says that I took a potshot when I said that Malaysia, once one of the developing world's stars, has underperformed over the past decade. I said that reforms are necessary and that foreign investors would shun Malaysia unless they are undertaken.

Who else has said that? Answer: The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

In its report on the 2010 Annual Article IV Consultations with Malaysia, the IMF said that there is "a stark choice for Malaysians and their political leadership, a choice between muddling through in a business-as-usual mode - or going for an historic transformation of the economy". The report also says that "rolling back affirmative action" and improving human capital are "necessary to revive the business climate and double Malaysia's per capita income by 2020."

For its part, the World Bank has said in their
report, "Until solid implementation of reforms is seen, there is unlikely to be a groundswell of positive sentiment of foreign investors towards Malaysia."
From the horse's mouth

Bernama also says that I had "claimed that Malaysia needs to grow by 8 percent annually if it hopes to attain developed status by 2020, contrary to what has been projected by the government, which is a modest 6 percent annually for the rest of this decade."

So who told me that Malaysia needs to grow by 8 percent over the coming decade to achieve 2020 and not 6 percent?

The answer is Prime Minister Najib Razak. Check out the big chart on page 47 of the government's official report, 'Challenges to Realising Vision 2020', issued last year. It clearly shows that the required growth rate is 8 percent.

At the bottom of the chart, it says that the source of the information is the World Bank - and an August 2009 speech by Najib. So I Googled for that speech, and here is what the PM said:

"For Malaysia to qualify and meet our goals, we must grow at an annual growth rate of 8 percent over the next ten years. Anything less will delay our goal."

What about the 6 percent growth rate that Bernama claims is correct? Najib said, "Annual growth of 6 percent means reaching high income status would be delayed by ten years - to 2030 rather than 2020."

It's all on the Prime Minister's
official website. Check out paragraph 6. The whole issue of economic growth rates can get very boring, very quickly. That's why they call economics the dismal science. But for certain, Bernama's attempt to play "gotcha journalism" also was a dismal failure.

Tomorrow: Part 2

JOHN MALOTT is former US ambassador to Malaysia.

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