What is the role of the MICCI in Penang and the North? How do you facilitate businesses?
ARIFF: We are the coordinator of businesses and their issues, if there are any. So what we do is to coordinate all corporate members of the business sector in the northern region. We have meetings every month, where we discuss current business issues, which are relevant at the time, and problems that we encounter with authorities or with general businesses. We collectively represent the members at government and federal levels and eventually report back to the head office, which will convey what was discussed with the relevant ministries. We ensure that business is progressed and goes on in the right manner. Any obstacles in the way, we help our members to get over these. This is our task really, to make sure that businesses or members of ours have rights so that they can concentrate on business instead of concentrating on the authorities infrastructure and all of that.
What sectors or industries are showing the most growth in Penang and the North and how do you anticipate this will evolve going forward?
ARIFF: The industry that is showing the most significant growth is medical tourism. We now have a number of hospitals that register clients from all over the South of Asia. Penang accounts for 60-65% of all medical tourism in Malaysia. Our hospitals here have connections with the States of Indonesia, Thailand, and Southeast Asia in general. Around 70% of the people who go to our hospitals are foreigners. Thus, this is a large sector that is growing rapidly in Penang. I must mention that medical equipment, and companies producing medical instrument, are growing very fast too.
The Port of Penang is about to be privatized. What is the MICCI’s opinion on this development?
ARIFF: A lot of parties are interested in obtaining the management of the port, but speaking on behalf of MICCI, I think that the government has to choose a company or an organization that knows how to run ports. Thus, whoever is mandated by the government to run the port, has to be a professional. The first thing that needs to be done is to dredge the North Channel, which was due to be ready over 2 years ago. If these works are not undertaken soon, we will not even have little boats coming in because there is so much development in the northern region and there is a lot of silting. Thus, the port needs to be enlarged as soon as possible. Ultimately, our point of view is that whoever the government chooses to run the port, the number one priority should be to organize the dredging so that everything else will then fall into place.
What is your future economic outlook for Penang?
ARIFF: In history, Penang’s growth has always been 0.5-1% above the average country growth. Penang’s growth is still moving forward, but again lots of development comes from Penang’s government. There is the possibility that this trend will continue, but I think the whole country has to move forward. I think other State governments understand this. The State government is also very outward looking, very progressive, and transparent. So I think with all these ingredients we’ll be moving ahead. The island itself, it’s small and our main industrial sites are in the mainland, which also belongs to Penang. We are promoting that for the future.
How would you describe the infrastructure in Penang?
ARIFF: Penang needs a lot of different types of infrastructure, such as roads, an efficient traffic system, which is not ideal at the moment, mass transit, and so on. There are a lot of things that need to be improved, but we hope that in the near future all of that will come true.
Penang accounts for 60-65% of all medical tourism in Malaysia. Our hospitals here have connections with the States of Indonesia, Thailand, and Southeast Asia in general. Around 70% of the people who go to our hospitals are foreigners.
What are the major challenges facing local industrial players?
ARIFF: A challenge for new industry to come here is the labour force. We have quite a big pool of qualified labour, but it is not educated enough. Therefore, we are trying to go after the higher industry. We’re trying to go more high-tech. We can no longer do the normal run of the mill sort of industry. We have to go high-tech and to do so we have to go R&D too. This explains why the government is encouraging more R&D companies to come here and that will be the future trend for the industries in Penang.