Friday, October 6, 2017

I warmly welcome Your Excellencies to Kuala Lumpur  for the 10th ASEAN Ministers Meeting  on Rural Development and Poverty Eradication  On behalf of the Government and people of Malaysia  I would like to wish you all Selamat Datang.

I would also like to take this opportunity  to congratulate ASEAN which is celebrating its 50th Anniversary   It is indeed a historic milestone for us  celebrating the success in building an ASEAN Community that is rule-based  people-oriented  and people-centred in promoting regional cooperation  and contribute towards peace  progress  and prosperity in the region.

In the face of globalisation  free trade  and social media influence  the challenges we are facing today are certainly different  and more complicated than 50 years ago. As the world becomes more inter-dependent  it is difficult for one nation to survive by isolating itself. We depend on each other on many aspects including defence and food securities  while business value chains are located in many countries instead of only one. Therefore  it is more important than ever  for us to continue working together  towards our goals as outlined in the ASEAN Community Vision 2025  under the theme of One Vision  One Identity  One Community. 

Ladies and gentlemen  

ASEAN combined GDP for 2016 was 2.55 trillion US Dollar  making us the 6th largest economy in the world  The share of ASEAN exports within the total world exports  has also increased to 7.2% in 2015. ASEAN continues to be the preferred destination for investment  with FDI flows of 96.72 billion US Dollar in 2016  With a population of 634 million  ASEAN is a community of opportunities  not only for ASEAN people  but also for those outside the region

Despite all these  there are still many challenges that we need to address such as poverty  unemployment  and lack of basic infrastructure. For your information  in 2015  the percentage of ASEAN Member States’ population living below their national poverty lines  had reduced from 31% in 1990 to 14% in 2015. However  the rate is still considered high  despite the various measures taken to eradicate poverty. Meanwhile  the un-employment rate in 2016 is approximately 4.1%  with youth un-employment at 12.9%  This is indeed alarming  as youth should be more employ-yable due to their adap-ta-bility to changes  especially in terms of new technology.

We are also facing challenges in terms of infrastructure development  Some areas  mainly in the rural  still lack basic infrastructures  such as clean drinking water and electricity. Based on ASEAN Statis-tical Report on Millennium Development Goals 2017  in 2015  only 81% of ASEAN population has access to clean drinking water source  while access to electricity is approximately 85%. All these challenges have contributed to the common phenomena among the developing country  which is rural-urban migration  The migration can lead to the high-density population in an urban area  which incurs productivity losses  and causes poor quality of life.

Ladies and gentlemen

In realising the over-arching goals of an ASEAN Community 2025 that envisioned a more inclusive community  the ASEAN Ministers Meeting on Rural Development and Poverty Eradication  is the best platform for collaborative effort towards shared growth. The theme of this meeting  Rural Transformation  Enhancing Human Capital Towards a Resilient Rural Community  resonates with ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community goal to build a resilient community  with enhanced capacity and capability to adapt  and respond to social and economic vul-ne-rabilities  disasters  climate changes  as well as emerging threats and challenges  

In 2016  the statistic has shown that  50.1% out of 634 million people  live in the rural areas  a significant decrease from 63.5% in 1997  when we formally established the ASEAN collaboration in the rural development and poverty eradication . While the increased migration from rural to the urban areas  can be considered a norm especially in developing countries  more efforts are needed to develop the rural areas  to make it more attractive for the population  especially the youth to stay and make a living.

In this context  development should not be limited to just physical and economic only  While I am not denying the impact of infrastructure development  human capital development should not be neglected as well  as it can be the main engine of growth  We must leverage the existing human capital resources towards a holistic approach to rural development. This approach is reflected in Malaysia’s policies on rural development  where we gave equal emphasis on infrastructure and human capital development  One of our major initiatives is of course  the Rural Transformation Programme that was launched in 2015.

Known as RTP  this programme emphasis on six focus with 19 initiatives  The initiatives include human capital and youth development  entrepreneurship  and development of infrastructure. Our objective is to enhance the overall economy of the rural areas  to ensure that rural folks enjoy similar opportunities as those in the city. The prime mover of RTP is the Rural Transformation Centres or RTCs  These RTCs provide new economic  social  and educational opportunities for rural residents.

RTCs offer skills training  microcredit and health services  as well as opportunities to take part in high value-added agricultural activities. Besides that  the RTCs are also equipped with ICT facilities that enable rural residents to access key government services over the Internet  Interestingly  most of the RTC complexes are located in existing under-utilised government facilities that we have fully refurbished. In addition to the RTCs  we are also creating over 200 mini-RTCs to extend the reach of government services to all communities  These mini-RTCs act as local hubs for economic and social activities  connecting remote communities with better economic opportunities  and bringing government services closer to their homes

This is Rural Transformation Programme the Malaysian way

Ladies and gentlemen

Development of infrastructure can lead to increase of economic activities in the rural areas  This translates into higher income for the rural population  This also means that  we must pay equal attention to the development of human capital  or we will fail to capitalise on one of the most important assets that could be the key  to narrow the gap between the urban and rural areas. In this regard  education and skill enhancement training  as well as capacity building programmes for rural communities  should be given a priority. Through this  the rural population can lift themselves out of the vicious circle of poverty  increase well-being  and become less vul-nerable to external shocks. For example  rural communities should be given the opportunity to venture into entrepreneurship  taking advantage on the surge of social media  and internet connectivity.

Ladies and gentlemen

Poverty eradication continues to be a priority  not only in the ASEAN region as stated in ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community Blueprint 2025  but also globally as outlined in the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Efforts to eradicate poverty require multi-dimensional approach  not only in terms of income  but also en-compasses health  education  and living standard  Therefore  there is a need to have sustainable  holistic and inclusive strategies that include the development of human capital.

At ASEAN level  we have developed strategies and action plans for rural development and poverty eradication  such as promoting human capital development  economic self-reliance  and sustainable live-li-hood  I sincerely hope that  not only the officials are involved in the strategies and plans  but also the communities. This is because  exchange of views  as well as exposure to new technologies and cultures  can foster creativity and spark innovation among the rural communities. In this regard  I welcome the continuous efforts towards effective Public  Private  and People Partnership engagements  This integrated and participatory approach  can ensure an inclusive rural development.

Ladies and gentlemen

The development gap among us  is something that we all have to acknowledge  However  I believe we can work together towards developing resilient rural communities  We should embrace our diversity  and learn from each other’s experience and good practices. It is my hope that we can achieve our goals in rural development  and eradication of poverty  without compromising our ASEAN values which make us unique  As we progress  we should not neglect our moral values and beliefs  for the sake of development  

On that note ladies and gentlemen  it gives me a great pleasure  to officiate the 10th ASEAN Ministers Meeting  on Rural Development and Poverty Eradication.

Thank you