Thursday October 13, 2011
Jobs, innovation and taxes
ALONG THE WATCHTOWER By M.VEERA PANDIYAN
The RM100mil allocation to boost innovation under Budget 2012 may be paltry, but it is still a step in the right direction.
APPLE founder Steve Jobs who died last week created a remarkable company that has had tremendous impact on the lives of billions of people around the world.
He transformed computers, brought about new advances in digital animation and left us with amazing devices to communicate and amuse ourselves with.
The Mac Powerbook, iPod, iTunes, iPhone and iPad are the results of his challenge against conventional wisdom and his affinity to shatter norms.
While he had his share of human shortcomings, there were no limits to his imagination or to his zeal to scale new heights.
His philosophy of staying foolish and hungry and to always have a “beginner’s mind” contributed greatly to Apple’s triumphs in innovation.
Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Datuk Seri Dr Maximus Ongkili is banking on instilling a similar creed in Malaysians.
The catalyst to encourage such creativity, he believes, has come through the declaration of 2012 as the Year of the National Innovation Movement and a RM100mil allocation under the Budget.
Over a late dinner on Tuesday, he shared the ministry’s views and efforts to promote innovation in all its aspects through all sectors of society.
“We want to make innovation a culture of the people, even at the grassroots level. There are already many simple but smart ideas, even from students in school and people in remote villages,” he said.
The minister cited the example of FloodWarn, an alarm made from plastic piping and other simple materials invented by three 16-year-old schoolboys from Penang last year that had won several prizes.
The affordable portable device, made from a PVC (polyvinyl chloride) pipe, a rechargeable mobile phone battery, a solar cell, a buzzer, a sensor and an electronic circuit is designed for individual households or properties.
The minister said other notable examples were new methods of drawing water from deep tube wells, ways to protect crops from birds and other pests, and processes to preserve food.
Dr Ongkili said that the rich ethnic mixture of the country’s population was an added advantage for innovation.
“There is a lot of creativity within our diversity because the main races in the peninsula, the indigenous people in Sabah and Sarawak and even the orang asli, think differently and go through dissimilar experiences,” he said.
He said as with Jobs, a broad set of experiences spreads out wider understanding, leading to better breakthroughs.
The ministry, which already has a list of more than 2,000 innovations, ideas and concepts, will help by adding input wherever needed.
He admitted that there were still many problems. Among the current setbacks are inability to match inventions with investors, shortage of loans for commercialisation and a lack of publicity for “grassroots innovators”.
Dr Ongkili may be pleased with the RM100mil shot in the arm for his ministry to spearhead innovation, but the allocation is actually measly when compared with what Singapore is investing – US$16.1bil (RM50.7bil) – over the next five years.
Still, it’s a significant step in the right direction and one that should be lauded.
Innovation and the development of human capital are indeed the new currencies of the future, and Malaysia cannot afford to be left behind.
The Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation has to build new synergies with the education sector, which has been given a whopping RM50.2bil.
It has already taken notable steps to push the development of new ideas and marketing of innovative products from the rural areas, through the Jejak Inovasi (Innovation Trail) programme organised under the Malaysian Foundation for Innovation.
But let’s go back to the 2012 Budget, which has been hailed in numerous superlatives for the goodies offered to the poor, the rural folk, civil servants, pensioners and also to certain business sectors.
Not all are happy though. It was more than a bit of disappointment for middle-income wage earners in the private sector, who are already taxed even before their monthly salaries are remitted into their accounts.
Save for the existing subsidies, the Budget, themed “National Transformation Policy: Welfare for the Rakyat, Well-Being of the Nation”, offered little benefits and relief to those trapped in this bracket.
As my colleague in Star Business, B.K. Sidhu, lamented in her column last week, the Government should spare a thought for these people who are not as privileged as the super rich, nor get frequent handouts like the poor.
Our personal income tax rate is 26% – way too high when compared with 17% in Singapore and 15% in Hong Kong. Besides, a huge slice of the taxes collected comes from this group of people who, unlike those in business, have zero chance of avoiding taxes.
Of the total RM232.8bil from taxpayers’ funds, RM52bil is being spent on salaries of civil servants and pensioners. Don’t middle-income workers in the private sector deserve better? Surely, there must be many innovative ways to help ease our yearly pain.
> Associate Editor M. Veera Pandiyan likes this quote from Steve Jobs: Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.