(From left) Speakers Tan Sri Mohd Sheriff Mohd Kassim, Tan Sri Dr Sulaiman Mahbob, Tunku Zain Al-’Abidin Tuanku Muhriz, Rushdi Abdul Rahim and moderator Professor Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria during the UNITAR Economic Forum at UNITAR International University. Pic by SADDAM YUSOFF
Students attending the UNITAR Economic Forum at UNITAR International University.

SUSTAINABLE development is an approach to economic planning that attempts to foster economic growth while preserving the environment for future generations.

Sustainability, which encompasses environmental preservation, social equity, education reform and economic development, has gained widespread acceptance since the 1980s.

It is being pursued so that a country can have a better future.

Malaysia has aggressively undertaken a sustainable development agenda as the country moves towards becoming a high-income nation.

In line with the government’s effort on sustainable development, UNITAR’s Faculty of Business Technology and Accounting recently organised the UNITAR Economic Forum, a platform to raise awareness and understanding among their students.

Present were Plus Malaysia Bhd chairman Tan Sri Mohd Sheriff Mohd Kassim, Telekom Malaysia Bhd chairman and non-independent non-executive director Tan Sri Dr Sulaiman Mahbob, Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs president Tunku Zain Al-’Abidin Tuanku Muhriz and Strategic Intelligence and Foresight senior vice-president Rushdi Abdul Rahim. They were panel speakers for the forum.

The session was moderated by Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Institute of Ethnic Studies principal research fellow Professor Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria.

The panel speakers discussed and deliberated on the situation, challenges and advancements relating to sustainable development, including economic growth in the country.

Sheriff said the fiscal consolidation measures implemented by the government, including the Goods and Services Tax and subsidy rationalisation, were necessary to strengthen the country’s finances.

He said although the actions were seen as hard on consumers, it was necessary to finance social and welfare initiatives and reduce the country’s deficit.

“The country’s financial stability allows the government to continue to fund welfare programmes,” he said.

Sheriff said the macroeconomic fundamentals in Malaysia were stronger than ever and as Bank Negara Malaysia had stated in its recent annual report, the government should take the initiative to carry out more economic reforms for future prosperity.

He said reforms could involve a labour market that was closely linked to raising the earnings of the bottom 40 per cent group.

“In addition, reforms for institutions, such as Parliament, the Attorney-General’s Chambers and civil service, are to improve or give people the opportunity to speak, participate and give an opinion on the country’s affairs,” he said.

Sulaiman said the government’s move to reduce subsidies was necessary because of sub-pricing when expensive products became cheaper and vice-versa.

“Subsidised goods often become items for smuggling because the prices are cheaper. For example, sugar and petrol are smuggled into neighbouring countries so that those items can be sold at higher prices,” he said.

“Reducing subsidies allows people to appreciate the real value of oil, education, and healthcare, among others.

“It is important that people must also bear the burden of finance by paying a little bit more, so that the government does not have to subsidise it entirely.

“They should realise the importance of valuing goods and services according to their real value.”

He added that the government’s decision to reduce subsidies were timely, in line with sound public financial management, and it assisted economic growth to achieve the country’s long-term goals.

Tunku Zain said the future of Malaysia depended on institutions that were created during Independence Day in 1957 and affirmed during Malaysia Day in 1963.

“The younger generation should ask the older generation, such as their parents and grandparents, what they think about politicians back then. What do they think about Dewan Negara and Dewan Rakyat, or how confident they were with the Election Commission, just to name a few,” he said.

“For me, institutional solidarity and confidence (from the people) are absolute key if we want to have a sustainable economy.”

He added that the younger generation’s understanding of development had changed, and their expectations as young Malaysians were different from what their parents and grandparents had.

UNITAR vice-chancellor Associate Professor Mohamad Kamal Nawawi said sustainable development was indeed an important topic as it involved people from all walk of life, such as government servants, academicians and also students, who will lead the country in future.

“We hope this forum will stimulate discussion, produce fresh ideas, as well as offer forward-thinking approaches to issues confronting businesses, government and civil society,” he said, adding that the forum was also among the faculty’s effort to promote learning outside the classroom.

Also present was UNITAR Faculty of Business Technology and Accounting dean Professor Dr Susela Devi K. Suppiah.

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