As I shared with you in a recent post on my blog, walkabouts allow me to observe communities up close, both urban and rural, and interact with Malaysians of different backgrounds.
It’s apparent to me during these walkabouts that stark differences exist in the way we live and get about. More than once I’m reminded that basic facilities sometimes taken for granted in towns and cities, such as clean water, electricity and roads, are unavailable in rural kampungs.
Currently, 7.1 percent of rural Malaysians live below the poverty line. This can no longer continue. Such a deficit must be bridged so that Malaysians of diverse ethnic and cultural groups in less developed areas can enjoy a better standard of living. The 10th Malaysia Plan seeks to ensure exactly that.
In the Plan which I unveiled last week, I stated the Government’s aims to improve the quality of life and incomes for all Malaysians, including rural inhabitants, over the next five years. During the course of this period, the Government will focus on supporting Malaysia’s rural population by upgrading more than 11,000km of paved roads, thus benefiting 3.3 million people; building 50,000 new houses for the hardcore poor by 2012; providing more than 140,000 homes with access to 24 hour electricity; and ensuring that more than 300,000 households have access to clean or treated water. Information and communications technology (ICT) facilities and basic rural transport services will also be provided. Indeed, improving rural basic infrastructure is such a priority that we named it one of our six National Key Results Areas (NKRAs).
Furthermore, under the 10MP, the rural bottom 40% can look forward to new employment opportunities and an improvement in their living standards under specific programmes that include providing rural entrepreneurs with business ownership opportunities, linking rural employment to employment in cities, and increasing sustainability of income in the agriculture sector through contract farming.
The Plan also incorporates an important development strategy that I feel strongly about: leveraging on cities to drive economic growth in rural areas. Instead of a balanced development approach where projects are distributed across states and districts equally, a focus on clustered development would allow allocated resources and the potential of each area to be maximised more efficiently and strategically. Cluster development is best driven by public-private partnerships, which was also featured in the 10MP. Projects should be implemented in areas where it brings maximum gains. Major cities and towns will be developed based on the comparative advantage it has. Meanwhile, these development programmes and projects must be economically and socially integrated to the suburbs, which in turn, will be matched by the connectivity to the villages surrounding these suburbs.
I am excited by our plans for rural Malaysia outlined above and believe that they will make a difference to people’s lives (indeed I hope to see evidence of change in future walkabouts). If you have any thoughts meanwhile, please share them by submitting a comment.