Monday, May 09, 2005

It all started with car washes...

Hi hi. The Belacan is BACK!

Dang, it's good to be able to write again. No internet access for a mind-boggling 17 days was just too much for me to handle. But on hindsight, I got lotsa office work done. Hehehehe ;)

Impact of illegal immigrant workers
Over the weekend, something just pop'd into my observation radar. I noticed that at least 2 non-indian car wash operators in my residential area have bungkus'd. And the indian/mamak run car washes are doing a roaring trade, if the long weekend queues is an indicator.

As I was thinking about this, I realised that the repatriation of illegal indonesian workers from Malaysia has affected small business owners who relied on cheap immigrant workers. The car washes didn't close shop because of low business volume, but due to insufficient cheap labour.

Last weekend, I had dinner with two indian ex-colleagues and I found that they have opened a 24 hour indian "mamak style" restaurant. No wonder they looked so much prosperous (fatter) than before. They too are reliant on immigrant workers and have largely looked to Bangladeshi workers, thus was saved during the last "sending back" exercise.

It was also reported that maid agencies have difficulty in getting maids from Indonesia as their suppliers are rerouting them to more lucrative markets. Now I read that the government has approved more maids from Cambodia, Thailand and Sri Lanka. As I was sniggering at this news, Mrs B gave me a mental slap. She said that if this goes on, services of our weekend helper may also increase in tandem. Aiyak! More price increases... :(

Up tech!
Our PM Pak Lah said that we shouldn't be so reliant on cheap immigrant labour but should instead move up the technology chain (kind of like playing a real-time strategy game) to be more efficient and effective. I echo that but caution that the biggest employer of immigrant workers are actually SMEs, not multinational or local conglomerates. Access to cheaper funding and expertise has to be made widely available before SMEs can actually automate even 30% of existing manufacturing processes. In addition, not all processes can be automated economically. Some of these SMEs churn out simple assembled products that don't require automation more than a conveyor belt!

But one thing is clear to all. There's no way a country can sustain itself for the long haul with cheap foreign labour. No one ever said that economic structural change is easy. It is dang hard and Japan has been putting off theirs since PM Nakasone era. For us, this economic structural change was already written on the wall. It's been almost 30 years since we last made such a necessary change, from agriculture to manufacturing to heavy industry. The question now is are we made of sterner stuff to move to the knowledge industry?

Knowledge is Power
Yes, knowledge is power and information is the key, but do we have the people? I am not referring to graduates with BSc, MBAs, DBAs or PhDs. I am more concern with whether we have the people who are willing to pursue knowledge vigourously, to put their backs into research and development, to have that zeal or passion to create quality stuff to the global market.

I am wondering whether our institutions of higher learning do active R&D themselves, and then sell or licence their IP out successfully. I am wondering whether active partnerships (rather than for "show") between private sector and universities are thriving, and if not, why?

We don't have to look far for role models. We just need to turn to Philips. Consumers all over the world are not wrong to think of Philips as in lightbulbs and home and personal Av equipment. What a lot of people don't know is that a significant part of Philips revenue comes from licensing of its R&D technology to other manufacturers.

But Quality is a must
I was having a mamak supper with an old friend recently and our lamenting led to us questioning our image overseas. Let's not talk about graft, corporate governance, transparency, human rights and so forth. Let's just focus on QUALITY.

Yes, we are the top latex glove producer in the world. Yes, we are pretty good in rubber and palm oil. Yes, we are also pretty good in the contract manufacturing of apparels for the likes of DKNY, Ferrari, Ralph Lauren, Abercrombie, Gap and so forth. But unfortunately, these don't really stand out in foreign consumers mind about Malaysia.

When it came to a judgmental "cover all/blanket" remark about our quality, the general foreign sentiment is "a lot to be desired" and that's because they focus at Proton only. Yes, our national car manufacturer. Call it unfair but I feel that foreign analysts focus on Proton as an indicator of Malaysia's competitiveness and quality. Why? Because so much RM, protection and hype has been poured into Proton over the years, thus there's a lot of expectation for it to deliver quality goods. Please correct me if I am wrong, but I think Proton is the only local company that produces "high tech" consumer product from Malaysia that's easily recognisable by foreign countries. The other high tech consumer manufacturers such as Intel, Sony, Panasonic and Dell cannot be considered as Malaysian.

Therefore, when Proton fails to deliver, it not only fails its shareholders but to all Malaysian companies that inadvertedly got grouped with it. Like it or not, Proton has becomed our nation's spokesperson in the consumer manufacturing arena.

Allow me to elaborate. Let's take Skoda, the national Czech car manufacturer, as an example. Many many years ago, it's Niva cars had to be sold dirt cheap in Malaysia, if not no one will buy them. Based on that car, our view of Czech (or Eastern Europe) technological prowess wasn't complimetary. But now, Skoda churns out solid, good looking cars for the road. Of course a lot of help came from VW, their new owners, but with Skoda's success our viewpoint of Czech has also changed too, right?

Honestly, I am not even sure where I am getting to with this entry. Pak Lah, I don't envy your job. It is a huge balancing act with pressures from so many angles with ripple effects throughout. I echo you when you said we have to make "software" changes.

I am one of those who want to see Proton succeed, knowing full well that it will do some good to our nation's image. I am glad that it is finally taking its quality issues seriously.... or is it just hype again?

Belacan says... "Sorry, penned up blogging fingers ler.." ;)


shidah said...

the message that i read: you wonder too much after 17 days of disconnection. go! get a rest....:)

Twinsmom said...

if they want to improve Proton image, first thing the should do is sponsor a better football team instead of Norwich :P.

Pantani's 2nd Cousin said...

twinsmom - norwich is premier league club u dumb cow.

belacan - penned up blogging indeed ;)

Pantani's 2nd Cousin said...

i get defensive when it comes to all the slagging bout norwich coz i used to work there.

ah pink said...

What to do...our local workers are so damn lazy.

My friend also 'imports' Vietnamese workers for his factory (legal, ok). They generally cost about the same of our locals, but they are much more enthusiastic, disciplined and hardworking.

Lucia Lai said...

not only are they lazy but methink they are sombong. they don't want to work in such field which they think is 'low' or 'dirty'.

Twinsmom said...

I know, dumb bull.