Malaysia Inc gets boost, with less red tape

KUALA LUMPUR - Florist A. Karuppiah takes a monorail ride to Pudu in downtown Kuala Lumpur, renews his business and driver's licences and pays his bills - all at one counter - before heading back to his shop in Brickfields. Total time spent on this journey: 20 minutes.

"It's good and fast lah - an old man doesn't have to run all over the place," said the 63-year-old.

Ten years ago, when he opened his shop, it took him hours to trek to the various government departments to get the same errands done. To avoid the hassle, he would pay RM10 (S$4) to a runner to process each document.

Now, he goes to the shiny new one-stop centre in Pudu, located inside a busy bus terminal. There are two other such centres, in Malacca and near Ipoh.

The so-called Urban Transformation Centre is just one of a raft of changes that Malaysia has implemented in recent years to make the country more business-friendly. Businesses have noticed.

This year, for the first time, Malaysia vaulted into the ranks of the world's top 10 in terms of ease of doing business. In all, 189 territories were rated in the 2014 World Bank Doing Business report.

Singapore took top spot for the eighth year running, Hong Kong placed second and New Zealand third. Malaysia was sixth, behind the United States and Denmark.

The World Bank ranking is a rare boost for Malaysia on the international stage. Its success in cutting red tape might even help in an area where it is doing less well - corruption.

"If you streamline the processes, for instance, by reducing the number of applications for getting a construction permit, you reduce the points where rent-seeking can occur," said Mr Frederico Gil Sander, a Bangkok-based senior economist at the World Bank.

In the 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index issued by the Berlin-based Transparency International, Malaysia placed 60th out of 176 countries.

The improvements did not come about by accident.

Former premier Abdullah Ahmad Badawi got the ball rolling in 2007 by appointing a high-powered public-private panel - called Pemudah - to cut red tape in business. Current Premier Najib Razak also made it a priority when he took office in 2009 to improve public services.

Under Datuk Seri Najib, the government introduced an easy-to-remember phone number, 03-8000 8000, to connect the public to 17 front-line government services such as the Immigration and National Registration Department for general inquiries.

Many government services, particularly those for paying bills and licence fees, were put online, usually via commercial banks' websites. "With an Internet connection, you can do anything," said Mr Wilson Wong, 34, a chemical supplier in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.

The World Bank assessed the ease of doing things such as registering a company in Malaysia, transferring ownership of property, getting a construction permit, resolving insolvency and getting a work visa for an expatriate.

The improvements show "the power of public-private sector collaboration as a common and effective platform in moving Malaysia's development agenda forward", Tan Sri Datuk Yong Poh Kon, Pemudah's private-sector co-chairman until September, wrote in The Star daily last month.

With a wish list from the business community and political will behind government departments and courts, Pemudah pushed for commercial court cases to be resolved within nine months, quicker refunds for overpaid corporate taxes and faster cargo clearance, among other things.

A new enterprise can now be registered within two hours for RM60 over the counter at the Companies Commission of Malaysia, said Mr A. Shammur of WebNet Enterprise, who for four years has run a service to help businessmen start up new companies.

"You can even do the registration online," he said.

He said his business has not suffered though. Some clients still prefer to pay someone to help out, especially during busy periods.

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