Rafizi Ramli: Sharing data among govt depts, digitalisation the way forward for Malaysia

Rafizi Ramli is one who does not fancy attending launches.

But he was all smiles at the launch of the OpenDOSM NextGen by the Department of Statistics Malaysia (DOSM) in Putrajaya earlier today.

“I’m not a big fan of launching ceremonies, the protocol and all. But this has a huge significance to our economy,” said Rafizi, Malaysia’s newly-minted Economy Minister at his first official launch – a website that catalogs, visualises, and analyses data in Malaysia.

Having spent slightly over a month in office, Rafizi is a huge fan of data. He firmly believes that Malaysians need to fully embrace the digital sphere.

“I’ve been on the job for about 40 days, working closely with personnel in the ministry, various departments and agencies. We are aware of some of the important decisions the government needs to make,” said Rafizi.

He said that ministries and government agencies should start sharing data, stressing that the data, when combined, would be invaluable in making decisions.

“It is also important to upgrade our data infrastructure,” Rafizi added.

In his speech, Rafizi zeroed in on the three main economic challenges facing Malaysia. They are:

  • strengthening the nation’s fiscal position.
  • increasing income.
  • restructuring the economy.

“Many suggestions have been made to strengthen our fiscal position. Among them are cutting expenses, ministers’ allowances, and avoiding wastage,” said Rafizi.

“It’s the same in a household. We have to ensure that our monthly pay is sufficient, so that we don’t have to downgrade our lifestyle and have enough savings for the future. What we do in our household (in managing the finances) is the same as what we do in the government.”

He added that based on the nation’s current source of income, Malaysia is at the bottom of the scale. Using a football analogy, Rafizi said Malaysia was in “Division 2 or 3 in the league, compared to the average source of income of other Southeast Asian nations”.

“Our tax revenue is 11.4 per cent of our economic size, compared to the average (tax revenue) in the region, which is about 15 per cent. This will continue to be a challenge for the government and my ministry.

“We can help the sectors in accelerating economic growth, but if the economic growth does not generate enough income for the government, that is a problem.”

Rafizi also said that restructuring the economy would help by offering higher salaries and enable companies to explore new, untapped markets.

“What has this got to do with DOSM? All this will hinge on how advanced and accurate our data is, not just at the government level, but also within agencies, private organisations, the people, and consumers.

OpenDOSM NextGen is a website that catalogues, visualises, and analyses data in Malaysia. Everything on this site is open-sourced and available for free.

“The basis of the three economic challenges that the government plans to address also boils down to embracing digitalisation and data.

“I’m blessed to have a statistics department in my ministry, as it is the pillar in overcoming the three challenges I raised earlier.”

He added that accurate data will help the government make informed decisions regarding targeted subsidies – a subject that has been widely spoken about for decades.

“If we don’t take steps to initiate targeted subsidies, at least 35 per cent of the government’s (annual) expenditure would be to ensure that energy prices remained at the same levels.

“This will have an impact on other things. It takes over the expenditure from other sectors.

“We are also worried that if we channelled the expenditure elsewhere without enough data, it may contribute to inflation and other issues.

“So, to implement targeted subsidies, we cannot run away from having the right infrastructure and quality data, so that the subsidies will go to those who truly need it.

He added that not having proper, or access to data, would be a barrier to making sound economic decisions.

“As such, one of my responsibilities is for us to quickly upgrade the government’s infrastructure and data (collection) capability.

“So that when a decision is made, it is fair to all parties and achieves our objectives in overcoming challenges in ensuring that those who need the subsidies will receive them,” he added.