Speaking to StarBiz, Alliance Bank chief economist Manokaran Mottain said the country’s competitiveness has declined over the years, even as regional countries such as Myanmar, Cambodia and Indonesia are becoming more business-friendly. PETALING JAYA: At a time when there is an increased attention on whether foreign investors are ditching Malaysia for other Asean countries, the Statistics Department reveals that the rate of return on foreign direct investments (FDI) in the country has dropped sharply in the past decade. In the latest Malaysian economic statistics review, it pointed out that the return on investment (ROI) for FDI have halved from 16 sen in 2010 to just eight sen in 2019 (for every ringgit invested). It also raised questions on the quality of foreign investments and whether they were adequate in assisting and complementing the country’s economic growth. “Does the current FDI to Malaysia bring in the required quality, namely transfer of technology, management and skills enhancement as well as other opportunities? “With gross domestic product (GDP) estimates to be unfavourable in 2020, the government may need to find a quick solution in gaining more dynamic investments, plus the Covid-19 pandemic may make it more challenging to boost foreign investments into the country. “Thus, all the relevant agencies have crucial responsibilities to bring in quality foreign investors that could assist in elevating Malaysia’s economy to be back on track, ” said the Statistics Department. Speaking to StarBiz, Alliance Bank chief economist Manokaran Mottain said the country’s competitiveness has declined over the years, even as regional countries such as Myanmar, Cambodia and Indonesia are becoming more business-friendly. “While we acknowledge that Malaysia has good rankings in several global indices, the fact is that there are still many areas where the country can improve on to attract foreign investors. “Lack of transparency, lengthy process to obtain a business licence and high cost of compliance such as foreign workers levy are among the factors that have affected foreign investors’ interest in Malaysia, ” he pointed out. Meanwhile, Bank Islam Malaysia Bhd chief economist Mohd Afzanizam Abdul Rashid said the declining ROI for FDIs coincides with the proliferation of unskilled foreign labour for many years. Commenting on the ROI downtrend, he said it showed that foreign firms are not able to produce “respectable profits in relation to the amount invested.” He explained that it could be because it takes a lot of labour, especially unskilled employees, to produce an output, thereby affecting a firm’s productivity. “Therefore, Malaysia would need to be selective in accepting the FDI. “Ideally the FDI could raise the complexity by leveraging or integrating themselves with the local businesses. “There must be effective means for the transfer of knowledge and technology without compromising the trade secrets of the FDI. “More importantly, the FDI could be the catalyst of employing the skilled workers among our graduates, ” he said. Mohd Afzanizam added that the government must also ensure that there is enough talent pool domestically that could accommodate the needs of high quality FDI firms. In recent years, Malaysia has attracted more than 5,000 foreign investors from over 40 countries to set up their operations in the country, particularly in the manufacturing sector. As at end-2018, foreign firms have hired 858,172 persons or about 5.7% of total workforce, with compensation of employees valued at RM48.4bil. However, the report highlighted that a high dependency on foreign workers has been observed among many of these FDI companies, instead of opening up more job opportunities for local workers. “This is reflected through the workers’ remittances in which the contribution of outflow remittances to their origin countries were RM29.6bil which contributed more than 80% of total payments under the secondary income of Malaysia’s balance of payments, ” it said. Meanwhile, data provided by the Statistics Department showed a marked reduction in the reinvestment of earnings by the FDI firms in the recent years. According to the primary income statistics on balance of payments published by the department, the FDI firms in 2019 have repatriated nearly 97% or RM55.6bil of dividend from the total profits generated in Malaysia to their home country and shareholders abroad.Only RM1.8bil has been retained in Malaysia. In contrast, the FDI firms have reinvested about 26.5% or RM13.3bil of their profits in Malaysia back in 2016. Commenting on the trend of FDI flows into Malaysia, the Statistics Department said they have remained stable over the years with the contribution of FDIs to Malaysia’s GDP rising from 0.6% in 2001 to 2.2% in 2019. In 2019, the FDI into Malaysia was recorded at RM31.7bil while the GDP increased to RM1.51 trillion.
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