One criticism that had been levelled at the previous administration was that, at times, Ministerial appointments seemed to be based on political rather than practical considerations. This was reflected in how some occupied high office because of their party positions or as a thank you in recognition for years of political loyalty, rather thanactual ability. Malaysia’s newly appointed Minister of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change 35-year-old Puan Yeo Bee Yin shatters this in the best possible way and sets the example of the New Malaysia that only those who are best suited for the job be appointed to the right positions.
Better known as MESTECC, the Ministry was formed by amalgamating parts of the former Ministry of Energy, Green Technology and Water and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment with the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation. As a PETRONAS and Gates Cambridge scholar with a Masters in Advanced Chemical Engineering from Cambridge University and work experience in the oil and gas sector, the dynamic Puan Yeo has both the educational and professional credentials that make her eminently qualified to lead the new Ministry.
Given that she has four different areas to look after – namely Energy, Science and Technology, Environment and Climate Change, the Minister has identified key targets or achievements for each of them.
For the energy sector for instance, her focus is on reform and making the market structure for efficient. This involves introducing more competition in order to drive costs down, while at the same time placing greater emphasis on energy efficiency and renewable energy. This ties in to the new government’s plans to increase renewable energy usage from 2 percent currently to 20 percent.
In that statement, we can see the no-nonsense, scientific mind of the MESTECC Minister at work. For her, the main priority in science and technology is to ensure that R&D funds are channelled properly into research that is industry relevant and market driven. The end goal is to move up the value chain and break Malaysia out of the middle income trap.
All of these, she notes, requires the right people, a vibrant capital market, and most importantly, the right ecosystem to ensure the continuation of policies and processes.
It is worth noting that Puan Yeo decided to pursue her studies and career in chemical engineering owing to her interest in optimisation. In many ways, her position as MESTECC Minister requires a lot of optimisation between her Ministry and other Ministries in the government.
The way to do this, she explains, is to work in tandem with one another and break out of the silo mentality, which she observed was one of the problems which plagued the previous administration. One example of this was how different Ministries in the past would come up with the same type of plans, which resulted in a lot of redundancies. The Minister quips, “Malaysia has a lot of plans, and if we implement half of them, we’d already be a developed country.” Although that statement may have been made in jest, there is no denying the unfortunate reality of the situation.
Another bad habit of the past which Puan Yeo is determined to do away with, is on how vast amounts of money would be spent on launching ceremonies for plans and policies which would then not be implemented.
For the Minister, action speaks louder than words. As she told International Business Review, “In this fast changing world, we cannot be so rigid and we cannot keep on planning. We must execute them.”
As mentioned, one of the most exciting aspects of Puan Yeo Bee Yin’s appointment as Minister of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change is her background in the engineering field. This gives her a scientific grounding that enables her to appreciate the importance of promoting science and technology in society, especially among the youths.
When asked about her plans for this, she revealed that a review of the nation’s science promotion agenda will be undertaken. One of her aims is to look at ways of improving centres such as Pusat Sains Negara (National Science Centre) and make them world-class attractions that are able to generate interest in the sciences. Similarly, her Ministry will also be working with the Ministry of Education to explore ways of enhancing the science curriculum and programmes in schools.
A greener energy sector is also in line with the environmental goals of creating a less-polluted Malaysia. In this aspect, Puan Yeo is cognisant of the problems caused by plastic waste. As she pointed out, Malaysia – despite having a population of just 30 million – is the third largest producer of plastics in the world, the largest in Asia, and one of the top eight plastics polluters in the world.
It is a sobering revelation and one that requires immediate action. After all, if the plastics waste problem is not tackled with immediacy, the world could end up with a situation where there is more plastic than fish in
While tackling this is the responsibility of all countries, Malaysia’s position as a major contributor to the problem means that it is imperative that we take an active role in addressing this issue. And MESTECC, under Puan Yeo’s leadership, is doing just that by formulating a roadmap.
Pollution, plastics or otherwise, is also a major factor contributing to climate change. Incidentally, while closely interrelated to one another, climate change and the environment are not necessarily the same.
As Puan Yeo explained, climate change affects many areas that are the responsibilities of other Ministries. One example she gave was on how changes to water temperature affect food production which comes under the purview of the Ministry of Agriculture and Agrobased Industry. Also, in terms of cutting down carbon emissions, one-third of all emissions in Malaysia come from transportation, which is the responsibility of the Ministry of Transport. As such, MESTECC’s responsibility under its climate change portfolio is to act as a facilitator for other Ministries to make climate change a mainstream focus in their decision making process.
Ultimately, the goal is to transform Malaysia into a vibrant, modern and progressive society, and this is where science and technology plays an important role. As Puan Yeo explained, “Our focus is on creating wealth through science and technology. A lot of people are talking about the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and they like to use a lot of buzz words. But all these will not bring any benefit to our country if they are not in the market.”
In the New Malaysia, where the best are chosen for the task, regardless of race, creed or gender, it might seem odd to highlight the new Minister’s gender. However, while being a woman had nothing to do with her educational, professional or political achievements, Puan Yeo Bee Yin’s success is symbolically powerful. In a society where many young girls are discouraged from pursuing science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), she has shown that there is a future for them. And hopefully inspire many more to follow her footsteps and help in the betterment of Malaysia’s future.