A Critique of the ETP: Part 6 – Socio-Economic Impact – The ETP will make the rich even richer

By Dr. Ong Kian Ming BSc (LSE), MPhil (Cantab), PhD (Duke)
Teh Chi-Chang, CFA, BSc (Warwick), MBA (Cantab)


The ETP will be bad for wage-earners. Workers’ share of national income under the ETP will be just 21%, compared to 28% currently. Wage-earners’ losses will be corporate gains. The corporate share of ETP income will be 74%, up from 67% today. We fully support a vibrant corporate sector, but a healthy middle class is also crucial for sustainable high-income status. In developed economies, wages take about 50% of national income.

Income disparity will continue. The top 20% of households currently gobble up 49% of all household income. Under the ETP, the top 15% of wage-earners will tak 40% of all wages. The bottom 36% will have to make do with just 12% of total wages. It appears that KR1M thrift stores and Menu1Malaysia austerity meals will still be required in 2020 as the promised ‘high incomes’ benefit only a small minority.

The ETP will double our dependence on cheap foreign labour. If the ETP succeeds, there will be 16.2 million jobs and just 14 million workers to fill them. Who will fill the 2.2m million shortfall? The lower 1.2 million jobs the ETP creates will pay just RM1,100 in today’s terms. We would hope that Malaysians take the higher-paying jobs, which means that low-paid, poorly-skilled foreign workers will be required.

‘E’ for socio-economic impact. The newly generated wealth that the ETP promises to create will not produce a balanced economy where the fruits of its transformation are fairly shared by corporations, wage-earners and the government. Instead, it will do the reverse. The ETP may, in fact, exacerbate the already wide gap between the few rich Malaysians and the very many poor ones.

The ETP is elitist

The ETP1 claims that its projects and initiatives will transform Malaysia into a high-income economy. In 2020, GNI (gross national income) per capita will be RM48,000, and 3.3 million new medium to high-income jobs created. RM48,000 per year, or RM4,000 per month is far higher than the average RM2,500 income for the lower 80% of Malaysian households2. It seems most of us will be rich!

Sadly, the reverse is true. If PEMANDU3 achieves its ETP investment and income targets, only a small group of people and businesses will reap a disproportionate share of the new wealth, leaving the vast majority of Malaysians to pick up the crumbs, as it were.

We now focus on Socio-economic impact – the ‘S’ and the final criterion of the DEEDS framework with which we are evaluating the ETP. We are disheartened to find that the ETP will not transform real wages and the standard of living of the vast majority of Malaysians. Of the RM800 billion additional GNI that the ETP targets4:

  • 74% will go to corporate profits5. This is much larger than the already high 67% today. Put another way, the corporate share of gross national income is ¾ under the ETP, compared to ⅔ today;

  • Only 21% of the incremental income will go into the pockets of wage-earners. This is even lower than the 28% today. The ETP will in fact take us further away from the norm in high-income countries, where wage-earners’ share of national income tends to be closer to 50%;

  • The small share to wage-earners will be very unevenly distributed. The top 15% of wage-earners will take 40% of all wages. Put another way, the average real wage for the vast majority 85% of wage earners will be just RM2,300 per month in today’s terms;

  • The ETP will double our dependence on cheap foreign workers – at least an additional 2 million foreign workers will be required if the ETP is achieved.

It’s the bosses who will be the very big winners

Gross national income (GNI) is the value of the products and services produced by all Malaysians and Malaysian companies. As such, GNI comprises the profits generated by Malaysian companies and the incomes earned by the rakyat, and the portion of these profits and incomes that are taken by the government in the form of taxes.

The big winners of the ETP are entrepreneurs and capitalists:

  • RM594 billion of the incremental RM800 billion GNI that the ETP creates will go to corporate profits;

  • Just RM166 billion will go to wages for employees; and

  • RM40 billion will go to the government in net taxes6.

Figure 1: In 2009, employees took 28% of national income in Malaysia

Source: Razaman et al. As per footnote 7.

Figure 2: In developed countries, employees’ share is closer to 50% of national income

Country Wages as % of national income
Malaysia 28%
Singapore 40%
Korea 46%
Canada 51%
Japan 52%
UK 55%
US 57%

2005 data, except Singapore, 2007
Source: Government statistics, as per footnote 7.

Figure 3: Only 21% of the GNI created by the ETP will go to employees

Sources: ETP data from ETP Roadmap and authors’ analysis. 2009 data as per Figure 1.

Figure 4: So the ETP will take us even further away from the norm of developed countries

Sources: As per Figures 1, 2 and 3

The 28% proportion of national output that is currently given to wages in Malaysia is relatively low. In contrast, approximately 40% and 46% of national outcome is given to wages in the newly developed countries of Singapore and Korea respectively. In the older developed countries of Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States, this figure exceeds 50%7.

The ETP, if it goes as planned, will take us even further from developed status as just 21% of the incremental income it anticipates to generate will go to wages8. In fact, our calculation errs in PEMANDU’s favour. The 21% share is based on gross wages. It should rightfully be wages net of tax. We do not strip out taxes as the information is not available, but if we did, it would very likely take wages share to below 20% of the incremental income that the ETP targets to generate.

Sustainable high-income is about balance

We are not against enterprises and corporations making profits. We believe a healthy and vibrant private sector guided by a light government hand is the basis for sustainable economic growth.

However, sustainable economic growth is also dependent on a healthy and vibrant middle class. If Malaysia is to reach the status of a high-income nation, the share of national income that goes to wages should increase and should eventually approximate that of developed economies. It should be closer to 50% of GNI rather than the 21% or less level that the ETP targets.

In addition, the ETP does little to address the income chasm in Malaysia. The top 20% of households in Malaysia currently gobble up 49%, or nearly half, of household income9. The bottom 40% of households make do with just 15% of all household income. The World Bank says income inequality in Malaysia is one of the highest in Asia and not far from Latin American levels10.

The 3.3 million ‘medium to high-income’ jobs that PEMANDU aims to create under the ETP will do little to redress the situation:

  • The top 15% of wage-earners will take 40% of all wages;

  • The bottom 36% of wage-earners will take just 12% of the already small wage pie.

Figure 5: Top 20% of households take 49% of total household incomes currently

Source: New Economic Model. As per Footnote 2.

Figure 6: ETP will perpetuate the situation. Top 15% of ETP jobs will take 40% of wages

Sources: ETP Roadmap and author’s analysis

85% of ETP jobs will pay less than half of what a fresh graduate earns in Singapore

From another perspective, 85% of the 3.3 million ‘medium to high-income’ jobs that PEMANDU promises by 2020 will pay an average of less than RM3,000 per month. That may sound high, but remember that just like RM100 today is worth a lot less than RM100 nine years ago11, RM3,000 in 2020 will be worth a lot less than RM3,000 today.

Based on PEMANDU’s own inflation estimates, RM3,000 in 2020 is equivalent to only about RM2,300 today. That is an improvement over current levels12, but is nowhere near high-income status. It is equivalent to just SGD$975. Put another way, 85% of the jobs created by the ETP will, on average, pay less than half the SGD2,400 that a fresh graduate in Singapore can expect to earn13.

Figure 7: Distribution of jobs that PEMANDU promises – 85% will average <RM3,000 per month

Average RM750 monthly income* 3%
Average RM1,500 monthly income 33%
Average RM3,000 monthly income 27%
Average RM5,500 monthly income 21%
Average RM2,955 monthly income 85%
Average RM8,500 monthly income 10%
Above RM10,000 monthly income 5%

Note that the above is based on income in the year 2020.
* The ETP states that 3% of the jobs will pay less than RM1,000 per month. We assume RM750 is the average.
Sources: ETP Roadmap and authors’ analysis.

Figure 8: RM3,000 in 2020 will be worth a lot less than RM3,000 today. How much is it worth?

If inflation is 2.8% per year, as PEMANDU estimates, it is equivalent to RM2,340
In Singapore dollars @ RM2.40:SGD$1 =SGD$975
In US$ @ RM3.00:US$1 =US$780
Singapore fresh graduate starting salary 2,400

Sources: ETP Roadmap and authors’ analysis

Is the ETP creating more low-paid jobs for foreigners?

The number of available jobs in Malaysia will rise to 16.2 million by 202014. The 3% per year job growth rate is three times the 1% per year population growth that PEMANDU anticipates. As population growth is slower than job growth, the gap has to be filled by:

  • Raising the labour force participation rate, that is the percentage of Malaysians choosing to work;

  • Net migration – which could be in the form of tempting our vast, highly-qualified diaspora back; and/or

  • Bringing in foreign labour.

The labour force participation rate in Malaysia was 63% in 2010. Assuming this rises to the 65% average in developed economies such as Australia and the United States15, there would be approximately 14.0 million workers in 202016. Assuming all these local workers are employed, there will still be another 2.2 million jobs to fill from the 16.2 million total jobs anticipated in 2020.

Who will fill this gap? The ETP Roadmap does anticipate ‘150,000 high-skilled Malaysian Diaspora to return’. That covers the high-paying jobs, but scarcely makes a difference to the 2.2 million gap. It appears that more foreign labour will be required.

Figure 9: Majority of ETP jobs will pay just RM1,643 on average in today’s terms

Number of ETP jobs % of jobs Average monthly salary
Bottom 1.2 million workers 36% 1,122
Lower 0.9 million workers 27% 2,340
Majority 2.1 million workers 64% 1,643
Upper 0.7 million workers 21% 4,290
Top 0.5 million workers 15% 8,657

This assumes the very bottom 3% jobs earn an average RM750 while the very top 6% jobs earn an average RM15,000 per month in 2020. The 2020 incomes are brought back to 2012 levels assuming inflation is 2.8% per year as PEMANDU expects. Sources: ETP Roadmap and authors’ analysis

What type of foreign labor? 1.2 million or 36% of the new jobs that the ETP aims to create in 2020 will pay an average RM1,400 per month in wages in the year 202017 . This is about RM1,122 in today’s terms18, which is not particularly high. We would assume and hope that most Malaysians will be in the jobs that pay better. So the bulk of the remaining jobs will be low-paid, and likely filled by unskilled foreigners.

At a time when we are trying to reduce our dependence on foreign workers, it does not make sense to have an economic transformation programme that requires a minimum addition of 2 million foreign workers on top of the existing 2 million legal foreign workers in the country19. The continued over-reliance on cheap foreign labor lessens the incentive for productivity improvements and capital investment necessary to increase average wages and the share of national output given to wages.

Conclusion: E for socio-economic impact

We give the ETP ‘E’ for socio-economic impact. The newly generated wealth it promised to create will not be broadly spread across all Malaysians. It will not create a balanced economy where the fruits of Malaysia’s success are fairly shared by corporations, individuals and the government.

The reverse is true. Most Malaysians will not be much better off. The ETP will not help, and in fact may, exacerbate the already wide gap between the few rich Malaysians, and the very many poor ones:

  • Corporations will take an even bigger slice of national income – ¾ under the ETP compared to ? currently;

  • The share of national income going to wage-earners, under the ETP, will shrink to about 20%, much less than the 28% today and take us further away from the developed countries norm of about 50%;

  • The small share to wage-earners will, in turn, be largely devoured by a few Malaysians. The top 15% of wage-earners will take 40% of all wages; and

  • The ETP will double our dependence on cheap foreign labour – it requires at least another 2 million foreign workers, on top of the 2 million legal foreign workers who are already in Malaysia.

If not the ETP, what then?

Following the many weaknesses which we have identified, we have been asked a recurring question. What would we do?

There are two parts to our response. The first part comprises recommendations we have made in this series, such as improving data integrity and transparency, applying a high bar when naming projects related to politically influential entities as EPPs and making sure that the red tape cut for EPPs does not come back to stifle other entrepreneurs with ideas but not EPP status. Our hope is that this series results in constructive dialogue that will improve the ETP for the benefit of Malaysians, and sets some foundations for more effective policies by future governments.

The second part involves proposing a transformative strategy or framework or programme of our own if we had the opportunity to start over or if PEMANDU, for whatever reason, is dissolved. We will cover this in a series of subsequent Focus Papers.

A sneak peak: We consider productivity crucial. One of the main reasons a larger share of income in developed countries is given to wages is because of the higher productivity of workers in these countries. This could be due to higher skill levels, higher levels of capital per worker (in the form of machinery, for example) and involvement in higher value-added economic activities (such as research and development and design rather than low end manufacturing, for example). We think the ETP focuses too much on pushing through EPPs which may create many jobs but fail to significantly increase the productivity of the average worker. We believe measures to improve the productivity of the existing and future labour force need to be put in place. This involves not only improving the skill levels of the workforce but also making politically difficult decisions to reduce our dependence on unskilled foreign labour.

Appendix 1: Calculation of how the incremental RM800 billion ETP GNI is shared among Malaysians
Table 1: Annual wages of the 3.3 million ETP jobs in 2020

Average Wage (RM/month) No. of New Jobs (million) Monthly Wage Bill (RM million per month) Yearly Wage Bill (billion)
750 0.1 75 9.0
1,500 1.1 1,650 19.8
3,000 0.9 2,700 32.4
5,500 0.7 3,850 46.2
8,500 0.3 2,550 30.6
15,000 0.2 3,000 36.0
Total 3.3 13,825 165.9

Sources: ETP Roadmap Report and authors’ analysis

Total Incremental GNI from the ETP = RM800 billion
Total Yearly Wage Bill of the additional 3.3 million jobs from the ETP = RM166 billion
% of Incremental GNI going to wages = RM166 billion / RM800 billion = 21%
We assume the government share i.e. taxes net of subsidies is similar to today’s = 5%
The share to corporations under the ETP is therefore = 74%.
Note that this calculation overstates the share going to wages. 21% is gross wages from which taxes should be deducted.

Table 2: Average salaries of the 3.3 milllion ETP jobs in 2020

2020 average income RM per month No. of jobs % of jobs Total wages RMm per month Cumulative total income RMm per month Cumulative % of jobs No. of jobs Average Salary RM per month 750 0.1 3% 75 75 3% 0.1 750 1500 1.1 33% 1,650 1,725 36% 1.2 1,438 3000 0.9 27% 2,700 4,425 64% 2.1 2,107 5500 0.7 21% 3,850 8,275 85% 2.8 2,955 8500 0.3 9% 2,550 10,825 94% 3.1 3,492 15000 0.2 6% 3,000 13,825 100% 3.3 4,189 Total 3.3 100% 13,825 165,900

Sources: ETP Roadmap Report and authors’ analysis


1 The ETP calls for 131 entry point projects (EPPs) within 12 National Key Economic Areas (NKEAs), which will pour RM1.4 trillion worth of investment into the economy and create 3.3 million new jobs by 2020.

2 Extrapolated from 2008 data published in the New Economic Model, 2010 (pg 58). We assume 8% p.a. growth in average household incomes since then.

3 The acronym that the Performance Management and Delivery Unit within the prime minister’s department is better known by. PEMANDU is the government agency that created and is now steering the ETP.

4 Exhibit 2-3, ETP Roadmap Report (pg 79).

5 In technical terms, the share going to corporations and enterprises is gross operating surplus which is the ‘income from production of corporate enterprises’ and gross mixed income which is ‘the income from production of unincorporated enterprises’. Source: Measuring Gross Domestic Product – Using Income Approach’, Razaman Ridzuan, Syed Ibrahim and Mohd Jamaluddin. pg. 18.

6 Our calculations are set out in Appendix 1.

7 Malaysian and Singapore government statistics available at http://www.statistics.gov.my/portal/images/stories/files/journal/2.2009/Measuring_Gross_Domestic_Product.pdf and http://www.singstat.gov.sg/stats/themes/economy/ess/aesa111.pdf and Measuring Gross Domestic Product – Using Income Approach. Razaman Ridzuan, Syed Ibrahim and Mohd Jamaluddin, pg. 18, http://www.statistics.gov.my/portal/images/stories/files/journal/2.2009/Measuring_Gross_Domestic_Product.pdf. Retrieved 27 Feb 2012.

8 We estimate this will take the share of wages down to 25% in 2020 from 28% currently. Note that our 2009 data is based on the distribution of income by GDP whereas the ETP is based on GNI. This does not materially affect our findings as the difference between GDP and GNI in the form of repatriated profits has averaged only 5.6% of GDP from 2006 to 2010

9 Derived from data published in the New Economic Model, 2010 (pg 58).

10 Malaysia Economic Monitor: Inclusive Growth. A report by the World Bank, Nov 2010.

11 Do check out Part 2 We won’t really be twice as rich in 2020, for an easy explanation of the crucial difference between nominal and real incomes, illustrated by cups of ‘kopi’. Available at www.refsa.org.

12 80% of households survive on RM2,500 per month. As per footnote 7 above.

13 SGD2,418 to be more precise. Fresh Grad Salary in Singapore 2011. Available at http://www.salarysingapore.com/fresh-grad-salary-in-singapore-2011.html. The students from the top 21 courses at NUS, NTU and SMU can expect to earn a lot more – averaging from SGD2,900 to SGD4,000 per month. Salaries of our Fresh Grads. Available at http://www.transitioning.org/2010/04/07/graduate-employment-survey-2009-published-2010-salary-sg/. Retrieved 29 Feb 2012.

14 The ETP projects total jobs to rise by 4.5 million to 16.2 million jobs in 2020 from 11.7 million in 2009. Exhibit 2-12, ETP Roadmap Report (page 88). 3.3 million of the new jobs will be created by the ETP and 1.2 million new jobs under natural, business-as-usual (BAU, as PEMANDU terms it) growth.

15 See http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SL.TLF.CACT.ZS for a complete listing of labour force participation rate by country from 1980 to 2011. Retrieved 27 Feb 2012.

16 We assume that 70% of the 31.6 million population, which includes legal foreign workers, will be in the working age group by 2020. This is actually higher than the 64% average from 2006 to 2010. If we use the 64% figure, the additional number of foreign workers needed to fill the ETP jobs would increase further!

17 RM1,438 to be more accurate.

18 Assuming inflation is 2.8% per year as PEMANDU anticipates.

19 This 2 million figure predates the recent 6P program to legalise foreign workers without proper immigration documentation.


The story so far

Part 1, Let’s evaluate PEMANDU on its DEEDS, introduced this series. We assess PEMANDU and the ETP on the goals, plans and targets stated in the ETP Roadmap document. Doing so facilitates constructive debate as it uses the framework which PEMANDU has chosen to work within. In that vein, and in keeping with the spirit of the alphabet soup of NKEAs, NKRAs, SRIs, EPPs, GNI surrounding the entire GTP, we evaluate PEMANDU and the ETP on its DEEDS:

Data transparency was covered in Part 2, We won’t really be twice as rich in 2020. We declared, “It does not compute!” PEMANDU’s target is to double nominal income per capita to RM48,000 by 2020. But using its forecasts for income and population growth, and inflation, the target should be RM54,145, not RM48,000. Can this ‘roadmap to transformation’ be trusted when even the basic math is wrong?

Execution took three Focus Papers:
Part 3(i), PEMANDU strengthens the ‘know-who’ cancer, focuses on PEMANDU’s practice of taking credit for pre-existing projects and its role in cutting red tape. PEMANDU is institutionalising the role of middleman if it cuts red tape only for EPPs. Malaysian innovation, creativity and productivity will continue to lag if long-term policy changes are not made. It does not matter how good your product or idea is, or how efficiently you can make it, it depends on who you know to get it through the system.
Part 3 (ii), The hothouse labs probably killed innovation posits that large companies would naturally dominate the vaunted ‘labs’ that chose the EPPs. Also, the tight 8-week time frame to research best practices, distil them and support them with detailed analysis would have incentivised participants to select EPPs for which research was already ready, rather than pursue genuinely transformative alternatives.
Part 3 (iii), Doubtful EPPs; doubtful achievements and due diligence says the selection of projects with very little hope of success as EPPs raises serious doubts about the due diligence process at PEMANDU. The RM10 billion Karambunai Integrated Resort needs 2.8 million visitors per year to break even – more than all the travellers arriving at Kota Kinabalu airport! The multi-billion ringgit plan to transform Tanjong Agas from a fishing village to a petrochemical hub has REFSA aghast. It creates redundant infrastructure, and goes against the government’s own master plan identifying the already established Kertih and Gebeng as the focus areas for such activities in the Eastern Corridor Economic Region (ECER).

Enterprise is severely lacking so far. Part 4, Private enterprises are rejecting the ETP highlights that the private sector makes up only 35% of the total investments in EPPs, far below the 60% that PEMANDU says is required to take Malaysia to high-income status by 2020. It is understandable that priority is given to government-led, big-ticket infrastructure project in the early days of the ETP. However, PEMANDU’s attempt to paint a rosier picture by citing figures excluding large public sector projects like the MRT draws suspicion that something is amiss. REFSA debunks PEMANDU’s selective figures with a simple cake analogy and some telling numbers.

Diversity, or the lack thereof, was the focus of Part 5, The ETP so far is just a handful of mega-projects. 131 EPPs across 12 NKEAs are supposed to take us to high-income status. But two mega-projects – the MRT and Petronas RAPID project – account for more than half the apparently impressive RM176 billion of investments achieved in the first year of the ETP. The Oil, Gas & Energy NKEA dominates. There has been zero progress in Financial Services, which is crucial to high-income and the Palm Oil, Agriculture and Business Services NKEAs also languish. Broad-based transformation is not happening. Not yet.

Note on PEMANDU’s response

Upon hearing that we were writing an evaluation of the ETP, the communications team at PEMANDU kindly arranged interviews with a Director from the Minister’s Office who is also the Director of the Oil, Gas and Energy & Financial Services NKEAs, the Director of the Wholesale and Retail (W&R) NKEA and the Assistant Director of the Tourism NKEA. We are grateful for these interviews and will include clarification points from these interviews in our evaluation. These interviews were recorded by the ETP communications team and we hope that they would be made available online for public access.

About the authors

Visiting contributor Dr Ong Kian Ming holds a PhD in Political Science from Duke University and Economics degrees from the University of Cambridge and the London School of Economics. He is attached to UCSI University, which has been named as the project owner of two Entry Point Projects (EPPs). To avoid any potential conflict of interest, he will not make references to or analyse these two EPPs. He can be reached at [email protected]

REFSA (Research for Social Advancement) Executive Director Teh Chi-Chang holds a first class degree in Accounting & Financial Analysis from the University of Warwick, an MBA from the University of Cambridge and the CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) charter. Prior to joining REFSA, he headed highly-regarded investment research teams covering Malaysia, and was himself highly-ranked as an analyst. He can be reached at [email protected]

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  1. #1 by Bigjoe on Wednesday, 7 March 2012 - 3:24 pm

    The number should is just income. They should look at Disposable Income instead. After GST, higher tolls and utilities, 1Care. and oil runs out just after 2020 the percentage of disposable income of wage earners will fall like a brick

  2. #2 by waterfrontcoolie on Wednesday, 7 March 2012 - 11:45 pm

    The only way we can hit rm$40 K will be to exchange rm$6 to us$1 by 2020. Better still print more rm$1,000 note, maybe we will get the high income of rm$100,000.00! As noted the new graduate is still getting what his father got when the father graduated 25 years ago! And with inflation, he actually earns less a clerk some 25 years ago. To shiok sendiri, we offer 9 years or 108 months to hire-purchase Produa or Proton! How could this be? when a 5 year-old Proton is being sold like scrap? If exchange rate or even purchasing power is considered, our garduates are getting less ‘actual income’ than a clerk in Singapore! There is not much of hope for this nation if we continue to have such leaders leading this nation! The is choice is yours! Malaysians!

  3. #3 by k1980 on Thursday, 8 March 2012 - 12:48 am

    ETP = Eat The People aka Makan Olang

  4. #4 by Bigjoe on Thursday, 8 March 2012 - 7:37 am

    I don’t think people get it that does not even matter if higher income is achieved by 2020, with GST, removal of subsidies, tolls, 1Care, and other fees and taxes, the disposable income they will have will likely to fall definitely against inflation i.e., real disposable after govt and cronies take theirs share is what matter..

  5. #5 by PoliticoKat on Thursday, 8 March 2012 - 2:14 pm

    Given that our leaders aren’t really that dumb, I believe the effect of the ETP was intended. This is a great way to make the rich richer and squeeze more money out of the Rakyat.

    And yes, purchasing power and disposable income is more important that earning lots of banana money.

    Else Zimbabwe has some of the richest people in the world. A billion dollars in the local currency is spare change… literally.

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