SMEs role in NEM? It’s between the acronyms

“Do you think the 12 NKEAs and 131 EPPs are sufficient enough to carry out the programmes of the ETP that would lead to achieving the objectives of the NEM?” asked James while gruffly slurping his tomyam soup.

Seated on his right and visibly eating with more finesse, Goh answered: “I guess it all depends if the PPP are able to deliver on the six NKRAs that would be measured by the MKPIs under the overall GTP.”

I put down the cup of hot honey lemon on the table looking rather bemused. It was a Saturday and I wanted to take break from my wife’s CSI and NCIS marathons, as well as get away for a couple of hours from the overdue SWOT analysis report.

“Do you guys actually believe that these plans will benefit you as entrepreneurs?” I looked at both of my kopitiam companions.

James, with sweat rolling off his forehead, did not bother to look up from his soup as he replied with a no. Goh, who runs a 5-year-old software and e-commerce development company, said, “On the national level, I guess yes. But as an SME owner in my line of work, I guess not really.”

Goh however acknowledged that PEMANDU seems to be very active in educating and encouraging public feedback from these programmes, while PEMUDAH looks to be serious in making it easier to establish and operate businesses in the country.

It’s often mystifying to an economic rookie like me to figure out why the country’s SMEs are never given proportionate mention in our annual Budget speeches. For 99% of total business establishments, 31% of GDP, 56% of employment, and 19% of exports from the country, you would think they would allocate at least an hour of the speech just solely on Malaysian SMEs.

James – owner of a corporate training business – finally placed his spoon down. “Ok mah, we have got no toll increase for the next five years!” I reminded him that it was only for four highways and does not include the NKVE and LDP highways he pass through at least four times each day.

His shocked expression told me that he did not know of this earlier. “Aiya, I thought I can save on the increasing travel expenses for my sales executives and trainers over the next five years.” I told James he could look forward to the proposed RM40 billion MRT project to be built within the Kuala Lumpur vicinity to alleviate his staff travel expenses and help ease traffic congestion.

“But that means I’ve to relocate my office to somewhere near the MRT station, and looking at how property prices escalate unreasonably nearby those existing facilities, I cannot afford it, lah!” retorted the 35-year-old corporate trainer, who also argued that the 1% hike in service tax means that his employees would be spending more on their meals.

Our techie comrade Goh gingerly placed his iPad on the table and expressed that perhaps they should both go into the retail business, which was given several boosts including the abolished import duty on approximately 300 goods, as well as the introduction of the TUKAR programme.

“How would the building of a RM5 billion 100-storey tower, marked to be the tallest in Malaysia, benefit SMEs?” queried Goh, “We know that the proposed location of the tower means that rental would not be affordable to most SMEs.”

Instantaneously, opportunistic business ideas such as t-shirt souvenirs, memorabilia, photography, and tour guide services were uttered around the table. As Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak asserted during his 2011 Budget speech last month that “We must change or risk being left behind”, this may be what our entrepreneurs need to do to take advantage of the changing times.

In the same address, the PM remarked, “We are not dreamers. We are realists.” Perhaps the message is clear then that SME owners and entrepreneurs should not dream of more than what the government can offer to them for now.

As for me however – with all due respect to the PM’s esteemed intent – I will continue to be a believer of Carl Sandburg’s reflection that “Nothing happens unless first we dream,” as well as George Bernard Shaw’s reasoning that “Some men see things as they are and say, “Why?” I dream of things that never were and say, “Why not?”

Why not to setting up an SME ministry? Why not to having entrepreneurial subjects in secondary schools? Why not to establishing our own SME University? And for now, why not to stopping policy makers from crunching up more weary acronyms as they work towards lifting the GNI?



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